Taking a seat among equals?

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IOL  st cabinet leader GCIS New national executive members were sworn in on Monday. The writer says representation in the cabinet is a start, but it doesnt necessarily translate into fidelity to the practice of equality. Picture: GCIS

Unfortunately women’s representation in the government is little indicator of a fair deal publicly or privately, writes Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya.

Pretoria - The Cabinet has been sworn in. Just under half of all ministers and half of the deputy ministers are women. Based on how the number of woman premiers was supposedly proof of how the ANC and South Africa thinks of women, all must now be well in the gender-justice stakes.

But is it really?

I think the gender-justice discourse is done a disservice by focusing only on who is appointed to which positions instead of on how women are treated in everyday situations, particularly in areas of power and influence.

It matters that women are appointed to strategic positions because part of correcting historical wrongs is to acknowledge that women were institutionally discriminated against and had their glass ceiling lower than those of their male counterparts.

That said, there are millions of women who simply will not be in line for big jobs but who also need to feel they and their daughters will be respected and their dignity defended.

To this end, what does it say about those concerned about the number of female premiers when they saw nothing wrong with how young women are routinely objectified as they were during elections?

Someone in the ANC, especially the Women’s League, ought to have made something of the pictures that flooded social media of young women dressed in hot pants to show flesh and to titillate while campaigning for the ANC.

Needless to say, women are free to dress as they like. I will be happy to withdraw this line of thinking if it turns out these young women acted consciously – some women have been socialised to believe their role in life is to impact on a man’s heart rate.

In the event that they were simply acting as per the expectation of their patriarchal society, we must ask why it was that only young, skinny women were paraded in the luxury branded cars campaigning for the ANC.

Where were their male equivalents? Surely the ANC, with a demonstrated support of over 10 million people, has more than a few well-built young men who could be paraded as eye candy?

Supposing these women had chosen to do this of their own volition – they honestly believed they were serving their movement in the best way they knew how – why did the feminists and others interested in the rights and dignity of women within the ANC and the Women’s League not warn the young women that they were letting the fight for women’s emancipation and respect down?

Would these women and other ANC leaders have been proud if their own daughters had made the kind of contribution the young women at the ANC rally in Tembisa had made?

The ANC and particularly the women’s movement within the party must work harder to answer the question asked by The Times columnist S’thembiso Msomi: “How can younger woman members rely on the ANC Women’s League to champion their cause against senior and powerful comrades who treat female delegates as ‘conference packages’ – there only to satisfy their sexual needs?”

Since we are into symbols, another sign that our gender consciousness might not be where it needs to be took place in the very place where those elected to represent the constitutional ethos upon the new South Africa is founded on – Parliament.

The New Age newspaper published a picture of all parliamentarians and interestingly two women, one of whom appears to be newly appointed Minister of Small Business Development Lindiwe Zulu, sat on the ground just in front of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Naledi Pandor, the minister of Science and Technology.

Again it could be argued that the two women were happy to sit on the floor while everyone else was seated on chairs.

That, however, is not the point. Just like the number of premiers, cabinet and deputy ministers matter as a symbol of our collective commitment to gender justice, it must matter too that women elected to represent the best face and voice of South Africa chose what they chose.

If nothing else, it must at least make someone pause and ask why there were no male parliamentarians who chose the floor as a seating option.

If we appreciate that freedom is indivisible, we must be bothered when there is any sector of our society where some are not free to be what they can be or are treated by others as mere playthings for their lust.

It is understandable that generations of disempowerment could have made women believe they deserve the crumbs off patriarchy’s table, but a national liberation movement must lead all to full freedom in every sphere of life.

As expressed by the women in Parliament and in the cabinet, the ANC cannot be faulted for lacking the will to empower women. But it is what they do for the girls and women without a name and no hope for a title that will underscore their commitment to substantial gender justice.

* Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya is an executive editor at the Pretoria News

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