In a policy framework prepared by the Office of the Status on Women as proposed by the Presidency to be adopted by Cabinet, the shaping of gender transformation relations in South Africa in a manner that divulges centrality and compatibility to the broader institutional “change process” has been identified as strain in the entire process of gender transformation. The framework acknowledges that women have an increased representation in the national, Provincial and local legislative branches of government and other parliamentary divisions of government. However, it also concedes that previous and present political institutions have failed to amend their culture in order to address the needs of women politicians and of civil servants which would ultimately manifest to the rest of society.
I sat with Nombuso Mashele to get her view on issues of transformation relating to women and also find out what is her contribution to this severely desired form of transformation in the country and the world over. Nombuso is a third year Law Student at the University of Johannesburg and works for FootPrint Foundation which is a NPO/NGO. Her contribution towards transformation of gender issues and women empowerment is in relation to her work at the foundation which is currently running a program called ALWAYS KEEPING GIRLS AT SCHOOL which provides sanitary towels in schools where the girls cannot afford to buy them. What is different about this program is that it does not only give out the sanitary towels but provides education on hygiene and includes a peer program which goes into detail about the female biology. Nombuso and her team also facilitate a program in schools around the country which deals with social issues in their different forms.
According to Nombuso, the celebration of women should happen all the time but this specific month is important because we get to evaluate women based situations in detail. She believes that although society is slowly transforming when it comes to gender equality it is moving towards the correct direction.
As we began dissecting this topic she acquiesced that society is realising that women have the same abilities as men and that even though total equality may just be an objective we wish to attain, the world is moving towards realizing the significance of the existence of women in society. She argued that
“Society is realising that it is normal for women to become Engineers, to be masters of Science and Mathematics and that it’s not only for men… it is not okay for women to be submissive; it is not okay for a woman to leave school because of marriage or because of having children. The days of thinking that all a woman is good for is barring children are over. The global village is moving forward in breaking this kind of thought and South Africa is undergoing a process where we need to move”
she pointed out that there is no quick fix remedy to integrating women into previously patriarchal institutions or women empowerment, however there are steps been taken to make sure that women empowerment programs are intensified with programs such as the gender policy that’s currently in parliament and the National Development Plan: Version 2030.” Perhaps we did not understand that women empowerment should start with girls because it is these girls who turn into functioning women in society.”
I asked Nombuso why she is optimistic about any form of women empowerment in the country when we currently have women in leadership, particularly the minister of Women and Children in the Presidency and the African National Congress Women’s league’s President who seems to always push a very “patriarchal” women based agenda. She encouraged me to also look at other women who have been doing great work in the country which is what should really matter because those are the people who are forceful behind a women agenda. Nombuso maintained that “it is not about titles… women need to believe that you do not have to be in a position of power to have impact. It is okay to be madam speaker and make the most important decisions… just last week a female made one of the most historical decisions ever in this country.” Women such as adv Thuli Madonsela have indeed also made the greatest contributions in the country. “Women are also powerful when they work together. It was ordinary women who marched to Pretoria and made history in the country and it was women who marched to vessels.” History has proven to us that women are not useless.
It is argued in the framework on transformation that the imperative processes which will enable the country to sustain a vivacious national gender program that advances the country towards gender equality are contained in the National Machinery Adapted from South Africa’s Beijing +5 Report. The structures of the National Machinery include: “Office on the Status of Women (OSW), Gender Focal Points (GFPs), Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) and various organs of civil society.” The functions of these structured are detailed in the framework.