The month of August is Women’s Month, and 9 August was declared Women’s Day by the democratically elected government of South Africa and is a public holiday. Women’s Day has its roots in the political activism by women during the struggle for liberation against colonization and apartheid which culminated in the Women’s march on 9 August 1956. About 20 000 women marched to the Union Buildings on this day to protest against the inclusion of women in the pass laws that served to control the movements of Blacks. Photo: African News Agecny (ANA) Pool
The month of August is Women’s Month, and 9 August was declared Women’s Day by the democratically elected government of South Africa and is a public holiday. Women’s Day has its roots in the political activism by women during the struggle for liberation against colonization and apartheid which culminated in the Women’s march on 9 August 1956. About 20 000 women marched to the Union Buildings on this day to protest against the inclusion of women in the pass laws that served to control the movements of Blacks. Photo: African News Agecny (ANA) Pool

Women leadership is required more than ever to grow SA economy

Time of article published Aug 14, 2020

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By Bheki Mfeka

JOHANNESBURG – Samthing Soweto’s 2019 hit song omama bomthandazo (women/mothers of prayer) captures succinctly the role of women in leading African generations out of poverty and difficulties. The first stanza is translated as: “Mom, she woke and prepared for us to go to school. They say get up and go wash and don't be late. You will find your food on the table … I didn’t know that one day I will grow up too and be this tall and be beautiful and be like others … Mothers make a plan … Brothers I am talking about a star, a starring. I am talking about iMbokodo (the rock).”

It is not enough to celebrate women’s month when men have brought the country’s economy to a grinding halt, and have inflicted so much pain on women. We need to call on and support women to take on their rightful place in our society. Women leadership is required more than ever, not as a token to tick the compliance box, but their natural gift of caring, nurture and inclusive type of leadership men naturally don’t have. The women’s ability to multi-task and prepared to die for their families is well known.

According to StatsSA as of 2018, 41.6 percent of households in South Africa were female-headed, which amounted to an estimated 6.1 million. Even in families where men are present, they are not usually effective in managing households, many of them still stuck in medieval roles for men. This is more exposed when men happen to be unemployed or without income.

With Covid-19 devastation, women are at the forefront in the battlefield for survival, while ordinary men usually choose a flight path hibernation. There are reported high levels of parental stress during this lockdown, men traditionally would seek to indulge in substances and spending time-out with friends to kill time. One would be keen to get the research on the behaviour of men during the period of lockdown, something that is unprecedented since early 20th century. One thing for sure, women are at the receiving end of the pressure for survival, and have no other options but to naturally lead as they bear the travail scars.

Women’s traits and abilities are in demand in the economy, at workplaces or businesses and government, beyond the household as an economic unit. It is men knowing very well their weaknesses in household leadership, has inappropriately emboldened his ego to appropriate the workplace, businesses and government as their sole domain. Men’s leadership style is egoist characterised by greed and selfishness, has resulted to loss of many lives for over centuries. Men are not known to have strong and important human capital harnessing attribute emanating from natural affinity to ‘affection’ and ‘nurture’, which women have in abundance.

Men are behind past three centuries’ notions of ‘isms’ (such as capitalism, communism, and colonialism), which has led to unprecedented levels of systematic corruption, crime, inequality, unemployment, and poverty. Figures of male population in prisons do not lie; of the 154 437 prison population, about 90 percent are male. Men leadership has been devastating and detrimental to the environment and fellow human beings.

Men must embrace women in the mainstream economy, and be agents of such inclusion across the spectrum in our societies.

Increasingly research is indicating that as more women ascend to leadership positions, the better are the outcomes and contribution to economic growth. Besides the appropriate call for justice and gender equality, the critical hallmark of the call for women representation in key leadership positions and employment is their impact to economic growth.

in 2014, the G20 leaders committed to reducing the gender gap in participation by 25 percent by 2025, which would bring more than 100 million women into the labour force. While the World Bank Group’s Gender Strategy 2016-2023 and Education Strategy 2020 indicated that countries who expand opportunities for women and girls in education and work have in recent decades achieved greater prosperity and social development.

Given the potential contribution of women in the mainstream economy, being demographically in the majority spells an advantage for South African economy. Out of 1 000 people representing the country’s population of 59.3 million would consist of 511 women and 489 men.

Unfortunately, women empowerment targets and implementation has been uneven in South Africa. Mostly it has been, like black economic empowerment and other transformation imperatives, has been perceived as a compliance burden by conservative men rather than an opportunity for both justice and influencing impact for economic growth. There has been no singular unified cause across the political and socio-economic spectrum to commit to have women as major players in the mainstream economy.

This lack of urgency has been despite overwhelming successes women have displayed in leadership in African economies. Many women are trailblazers in our societies, in business, government, and civil societies, and many more must be promoted to inspire other women to follow their footsteps. We can mention a few such as Dr Mamphele Ramphele, Dr Anna Mokgokong, Ms Wendy Lucas-Bull, and many others who are emerging in ranks.

There are also many other trail blazing women leaders in the mainstream sectors of society in Africa who have demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt phenomenal capabilities. Former President of Liberia, internationally known as “Africa’s Iron Lady,” Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is touted as a leading promoter of freedom, peace, justice, women’s empowerment and democratic rule. As Africa’s first democratically-elected female head of state, she led Liberia through reconciliation and recovery following the nation’s decade-long civil war, as well as the Ebola Crisis, winning international acclaim for achieving economic, social, and political change. Recognised as a global leader for women’s empowerment, President Sirleaf was awarded the prestigious Nobel Prize for Peace in 2011.

Another woman is Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. She was also the first female scholar from East and Central Africa to take a doctorate (in biology), and the first female professor ever in her home country of Kenya. Maathai played an active part in the struggle for democracy in Kenya.

In 1977 she started a grass-roots movement aimed at countering the deforestation that was threatening the means of subsistence of the agricultural population. The campaign encouraged women to plant trees in their local environments and to think ecologically. The so-called Green Belt Movement spread to other African countries, and contributed to the planting of over thirty million trees. Maathai's mobilisation of African women was not limited in its vision to work for sustainable development; she saw tree-planting in a broader perspective which included democracy, women's rights, and international solidarity. In the words of the Nobel Committee: "She thinks globally and acts locally."

Men must embrace women in the mainstream economy, and be agents of such inclusion across the spectrum in our societies.

Dr Bheki Mfeka, is the Economic Advisor and Strategist at SE Advisory; and former Economic Advisor to the Presidency. Twitter: @bhekimfeka | Website: www.seadvisory.co.za | Email: [email protected]

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