The gender equality conversation

by Curswell Tshihwela

Women and girls represent half of the world’s population and, therefore, also half of its potential. Gender equality, besides being a fundamental human right, is essential to achieve peaceful societies, with full human potential and sustainable development. Moreover, it has been shown that empowering women encourages productivity and economic growth. Unfortunately, there is still a long way to go to achieve full equality of rights and opportunities between men and women.

Therefore, it is of more importance than anything else to end the multiple forms of gender violence and secure equal access to quality education and health, economic resources and participation in political life for both women and girls and men and boys. It is also essential to achieve equal opportunities in access to employment and to positions of leadership and decision-making at all levels. The AGDI (African Gender Development Index ) study notes that more girls finish school and enter institutions of higher learning. However, when examining employment statistics, we see that more men are in wage paying jobs, in high paying jobs and in managerial or decision-making positions more than women.

This is as a result of the deeply entrenched patriarchal system that benefits men and the process resulting in gender pay wage gap. As a result, patriarchy and its tendency to privilege men makes a mockery of the strides made to reach gender equality as women continue to be unequally positioned in the workplace. Women still bear the pressure of gender-based violence and other related to abuse. This is not limited to domestic violence but also sexual harassment both at home and workplaces. Women are unable to walk freely for fear of all sorts of harassment and abuses. According to statistics released by the South African Police Service for 2016/17 gender-based violence figures are still alarmingly high.

In a statement issued ahead of Women’s Day, PwC highlighted that for every 10 men, only eight women are employed or actively looking for work. On the AltX board of the JSE, 82% of executives are men while only 18% are women. In the financial services sector specifically, 72% of executives are male and only 28% are female. Another study by PwC which looks at what must change for women at work, surveyed over 3 600 professional women from 61 countries across 27 industries revealed that nearly half (49%) of women regard that the employer’s diversity status – such as age, ethnicity, and gender – as a career barrier. Of those surveyed 42% felt nervous about the impact of having children on their careers and 48% of new mothers said they were overlooked for career advancement because they had children.

The Gender Commission has realised that the absence of a national coordinating structure on gender-based violence has a ripple effect on the work that seeks to address the scourge. The cooperation between the Gender Commission and the Ministry of Women in the Presidency in various dialogues and nation-wide campaigns in addressing issues of women empowerment and gender-based violence against women and girls has seen enormous strides being made in conscientising society. The #100MenMarch and #Totalshutdown that the Gender Commission participated in also helped to raise the conscious awareness about the rampant abuse that is taking place against women and children.

The Gender Commission has through its gender transformation at the institutions of higher learning discovered that there were no policies that were geared into addressing the lack of women empowerment and sexual harassment which were on the increase. If there was a policy on sexual harassment that policy did not talk to the implementation part. It is for that reason that we began to work with institutions of higher learning to assist them in drafting empowerment policies and sexual harassment policies. Many professional women are deeply frustrated with their conditions of employment, and not easily convinced to talk about change.

This is mainly because for decades companies have discussed introducing change related to gender balance and women are now pessimistic of how long it will take to achieve equality. The World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap report concluded at the current rate of change, gender equality in the global workforce won’t be realised for another five generations or the next 217 years. women have low levels of trust in what their employers say about valuing and promoting them. “Greater transparency won’t benefit only women – it will foster more inclusive environments, which give everyone greater opportunities to fulfill their potential.

Women also need proactive networks of leaders and peers to help them progress in their careers. “Women don’t need men to back away. They need dedicated sponsors and role models of both genders. Lack of support from male colleagues will stall progress. Women want to be successful in their careers, but they want to enjoy their jobs and want better options when it comes to managing the demands of the different aspects of their lives. Employers must reconsider the approach or solutions to balance work, life, parenthood, and family care. This includes redesigning maternity and paternity leave, as well as a re-entry.

When the problems are defined in an open and transparent way and the prerequisites for success as described here are identified and in place, women of all generations and their employers, working together, can come up with the right solutions to address issues of gender equality in the workplace and empower female advancement. Apart from addressing historical inequality some companies have programmes to develop female leadership, they also have mentoring programs to equip females for the leadership challenges they often face at the executive level.

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