This ideal is a fundamental tenet under the Bill of Rights of The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 (Act 108 of 1996). This Gender Policy Framework establishes guidelines for South Africa as a nation to take action to remedy the historical legacy by defining new terms of reference for interacting with each other in both the private and public spheres, and by proposing and recommending an institutional framework that facilitates equal access to goods and services for both women and men.
Education and awareness are vital tools in the fight to achieve this ideal. Education and awareness empower people and helps to create a sustainable environment. Our young democracy was hard won but can be lost in a heartbeat and so it demands that people liberate themselves from ignorance and remain so liberated.
The type of education spoken of and needed is not necessarily found in our school curriculum. It is more about tapping into the inner state of being, after all, democracy is protected by the vigilance of the people and vigilance is an off-shoot of awareness. It is the type of education and awareness that permeates the courts of the country, the school halls, police stations, mansions and kayas of a country. It permeates the billboards we read on the way to work, the things our friends say on social media, the lessons preached from pulpits, the way our fathers and brothers treat the woman in their lives, the stories and the way they are depicted in the newspapers and magazines, the way men and women are stereotyped. It is an awareness of all of this but still having the fortitude to live from a place of knowing the priceless value of self.
Being loved, accepted and empowered are at the heart of the knowledge of self-worth. It is the things families and loving relationships engender. Literacy, confidence, communication skills, networking, collaboration and mentorship are also drivers of healthy self-actualization.
Traditionally literacy is defined as the ability to read and write. However I would like to define the type of literacy that is required in this era as defined by Alberta Education, that is; “the ability, confidence and willingness to engage with language to acquire, construct and communicate meaning in all aspects of daily living.” Where language is explained as a socially and culturally constructed system of communication. This is the type of education that is required for empowerment and sustainability. Appropriate education and a high level of awareness allows people to be objective, gives them the ability to communicate and the tools to find solutions. Making the ideal a reality remains the challenge though.
This challenge is not only unique to SA, it is a global priority. By the mid-1990s, some 20 years after the first World Conference on Women in Mexico City in 1975, it was clear that gender equality and the promotion and protection of women’s rights required more than just educating and empowering woman, it required a political strategy that mobilized men in changing gender relations.
I was recently invited by a radio station to be a guest speaker and to talk about women empowerment as part of their celebration of National Women’s Month. The host was a proud self-proclaimed feminist. I should not have been startled then when he asked me if I was a feminist. Perhaps I was not surprised but rather silenced by a stark truth: I do not like calling myself a feminist even though he did. The bag of stereotypes and negatives the word comes with is off-putting. I would rather be known as a person passionate about social justice and human rights.
“Patriarchy makes women to shut up and ‘peace’ is established through her ‘silence,’ said Chimmanmande Adichie Ngozi while giving the Nelson Mandela lecture in South Africa in 2018.
We broached this notion when someone on the talk show made a comment that woman are silent which means they are ok or happy. The myth about silence is that it is assumed that the more silent the woman is, the humbler she is. Is it not a dangerous presumption to equate silence to happiness? Perhaps the person is silent out of fear of losing financial support? Perhaps they are ashamed, even though they might not even be responsible for the situation. Or they are painted as antagonists and deserving of punishment - called out to say sorry and to forgive. Is there anything beautiful about a silence such as this?
No. Such a silence serves only to dehumanize the woman and limit her potential. The silence she wears is a mask of anaesthetized pain. Men likewise can be vulnerable and caught up in unhealthy circumstances such as this. Vulnerability being the limited freedom to make choices and the incapability of protecting one’s own interests and, to a lesser degree, that of another. There is a great need to reclaim the voice. To allow men and women the freedom to express emotions in reclaiming self. To be allowed to be without having to conform to or be judged by a set of archaic stereotypes.
I am a woman – part of humanity. I have been educated – to know right from wrong. I am empowered – empowered to make decisions for myself, empowered to compete for a position, empowered to love. I have a voice and I will be heard:
“Treat me as you yourself would like to be, with respect and equitability. Treat me just the same as you would treat a man in my situation.”