There is no reason the more conscious in society should not promote a progressive gender perspective in their own homes to secure tomorrow’s new family which gradually secures the emancipation of women throughout society.
DIALOGUES | SA needs paradigm shift in addressing GBV
One of former president Nelson Mandela’s eternally inspiring remarks is that: “Freedom cannot be achieved unless the women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression.”
But as it draws to a close, what little high water marks of Women’s Month there were are haunted by the recent cold-blooded killing of University of Fort Hare law student, Nosicelo Mtebeni, allegedly by her boyfriend in Quigney, East London.
The urgency with which our country must raise the stakes in the emancipation of women is once more being eloquently made, albeit via Mtebeni’s chilling killing.
She was dismembered and her body parts stuffed in plastic bags and a suitcase.
Such ghastly incidents are a stark illustration of the dearth of problem solving skills on the part of the perpetrator inasmuch as they lay bare the ugly innards of toxic masculinity in South Africa.
From the cradle to the grave, many a man and woman is schooled to embrace subordinate-superordinate gender relations as the natural and desirable order of things.
For the progressive, the challenge is how to change society’s thinking to humanise relations between the genders and the peoples of the world.
All societies require progressive ideas that inspire the expansion of the frontiers of human liberation.
Those who wish to change society for the better dare not forget this indelible lesson immanent in all struggles for social justice among many.
The criminal justice system should of course remain attentive to the scourge of violence against women and children.
But the truth is that for the most part, the criminal justice system can only intervene after a woman or a child has been brutalised, at worst murdered.
The police are neither present at the location where the rape or murder takes place nor do they promote behaviour.
That is the job that belongs elsewhere, which suggests the need for a multifaceted approach in dealing with the problem.
As some of the most powerful socialising institutions, the family, the school, the academy as well as the media, have an invaluable role to play in fighting gender-based violence.
It is high time that children are introduced to the idea of gender equality and related concepts throughout their schooling years in the same way that they should be introduced to antiracism.
When we grew up, it was the responsibility of girl learners to clean the classrooms and toilets which were dirtied by boys and girls alike.
This reinforced a patriarchal division of labour based on a gender subordinate-superordinate logic.
Hopefully, this practice is a thing of the past in our public schools today. If not, it must be changed; urgently so.
This change would be in line with the declaration of the Presidential Summit Against Gender Based Violence and Femicide of 2019 which states that: “The existing education and training system [must] be evaluated with a view to strengthening prevention initiatives in respect of, and responses to, gender-based violence and femicide at all levels of the said system.”
Some universities have conceived compulsory social courses for all students.
Such courses will hopefully become nationwide, ever more multidisciplinary and intersectional with time.
They would also gain greater traction were the private and public media to promote organised and sustained debate among young people as indeed all of society.
Society’s basic unit, the family, will sooner rather than later be impacted upon by the discourse in the wider society.
However, there is no reason the more conscious in society should not promote a progressive gender perspective in their own homes to secure tomorrow’s new family which gradually secures the emancipation of women throughout society.
That said, figures released by the Gauteng department of health last week which showed a 60% increase in teenage pregnancies are deeply concerning for obvious reasons.
In the very least, they illustrate a retreat from responsible adulthood at many levels which impact negatively upon individual families as they do the rest of society.
A recent report in the Sowetan indicated that non-governmental organisations in the Eastern Cape are overwhelmed by teenage pregnancies, a reality that points to the shocking nature of teenage pregnancy.
What is even more shocking is the revelation that some of the pregnant girls are 10 years of age, which begs the question: who are the fathers of these babies, a question that needs a multifaceted approach involving government and other stakeholders across the country.
Since the late 19th century, the left has held that: “The emancipation of women will only be possible when women can take part in production on a large, social scale, and domestic work no longer claims anything but an insignificant amount of her time.”
The relations of production that arise out of women taking part in production on a large social scale which renders domestic work insignificant produces new power relationships in society, including the relationship between men and women in and outside the home environment.
The economic empowerment of women is therefore integral to the resolution of many of our complex social problems and challenges.
It has correctly been pointed out that (black) women suffer the burden of triple oppression, this being their gender, colour and class.
We must never tire in our protest against the triple oppression of women.
And the most effective way of doing so is to elaborate a systematic and practical plan of women’s economic empowerment coupled with a deliberate programme of fighting the inculcation of toxic masculinity in our society.
This might require that government and the private sector deploy greater investments in women and, in so doing, the economy and society more broadly.
For example, how does the workplace assist the realisation of the National Development Plan’s 2030 early childhood development objective?
Based on a careful needs and impact analysis, can the government and the private sector pool resources in specific localities for investment in early childhood care and development which would in turn lessen the burden on working women while having a positive impact on childhood development, society and the economy in the long term?
Obviously, it would be difficult to achieve this and other initiatives in a context where the economy does not develop in the manner required.
It would also be a tall order in a setting where the political, economic and civil society leadership is oblivious to solving human problems.
Dialogue on these subjects is necessary and we all ought to heed the declaration of the Presidential Summit Against Gender-Based Violence and Femicide calling on all us to take responsibility and be accountable on gender-based violence.
But there are other issues that do not require debate. One of them is the principle of equal pay for equal work between the genders and across the racial divide.
The women’s movement as with other social formations ought to call out discriminatory practices that are unfortunately still in vogue in some work places.
And so, we should always bear in mind that the long walk to women’s emancipation is both ideational and practical.
But long as it might be, it is worth the undertaking for society desperately needs it.
The fight requires all of us to work together in fighting the scourge of gender-based violence and femicide.
Xola Pakati is executive mayor of the Buffalo City Metro and chair of the South African Cities Network Council.
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