SOUTH AFRICA: South African Women Need Mental Liberation

Monday, August 11, 2014
Huffington Post
Southern Africa
Southern Africa
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
General Women, Peace and Security

It has been four months since the 14th of April -- the beginning of a life-changing horror story for almost 300 school girls in Nigeria. The recent kidnapping of these girls reminded me, the G(irls) 20 Summit delegate representing South Africa, of my position in the world as a woman, and made me grateful for the opportunities that I receive. While the conversation about women empowerment in other African countries is still about whether women deserve education or autonomy, women in South Africa have at least achieved legal equality for the most part.

Despite this, South African women continue to face challenges. There is constant debate about the cultural oppression of women, especially in Zulu and other African cultures where women are wives of polygamists. Many of these women argue that they choose their tradition and so they are not oppressed, but they are still put in abusive and dangerous positions. Extremist religious organisations in Africa such as Boko Haram have also oppressed women through a misinterpretation of Islam. This results in gross human rights violations against innocent women and girls across Africa and is a microcosm of the global crisis of terrorism which hinders the education and protection of girls, which I found especially horrific after reading, 'I Am Malala,' by Malala Yousafzai.

According to Interpol, South Africa is the rape capital of the world. Frighteningly, a South African woman is raped every four minutes, proving that violence against women is especially rife in South Africa. Oppression of women also resonates in the workplace as women are still paid less than men and have to work a lot harder to retain their position as companies are deterred by the cost of maternity leave. A mindset shift is needed to tackle these issues. A 2013 report on National Gender Equity in South Africa found that men are more than twice as likely to be the top earners.

However, these issues are being targeted by policy-makers, as evident from the continued work of the South African Commission for Gender Equality which was formed in 1996 with the new constitution. The next step for South African women is mental liberation. More women should spend time deciding what they want, regardless of societal expectations, and put these plans into action. This can range from a top position professionally, or an escape from an abusive relationship. With regard to cultural issues, it must be the role of each individual woman to think about her traditions and decide whether following them is worth it. A linked community of support is vital for women to discuss how we are not defined by the limits that our parents or society set us regarding marriage or a career. Speaking out about issues like sexual violence can be an empowering and preventative solution to oppression.

Men also have a role to play in achieving gender equality. As the G(irls) 20 initiative, 'Fathers Empowering Daughters' promoted, it is the job of men to welcome this new type of feminism and not be intimidated by it. Men must learn not to abuse women in the first place. The solution is simple: here in the 21st century, society needs to resonate with the words chanted by South African women when they march against Apartheid in 1956: "You strike a women, you strike a rock!"

By Annabel Fenton, delegate representing South Africa at the G(irls)20 Summit 2014