South Africa’s gender equity laws are among the best in the world, but there needs to be stronger implementation, says Judge Navi Pillay.
The former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was speaking at a Women’s Month event at the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (Accord) Mt Edgecombe offices on Wednesday.
With Ela Gandhi, Pillay – at the event which was themed “Journeys Told and Untold” – shared her personal journey as an activist for women’s and political empowerment.
Having worked her way through the ranks from being a lawyer to judge, to leading international organisations, Pillay said she did not consider men the enemy.
If a gender balance was to be achieved, men would need to be included.
“We can’t antagonise the very audience we want to bring to the cause.”
She said throughout her career she had experienced women as victims, but now more women were being recognised and working in decision-making positions.
Gandhi recalled her first “consciousness” of a woman’s power when she first heard anti-apartheid stalwart, Fatima Meer, speak at a rally at Curries Fountain in the 1950s.
“Her speech had such an impact on me, it moved me.”
Gandhi said she and her fellow students at the then University of Natal started having political discussions.
“We conscientised ourselves and, because of that, we decided to boycott the segregated graduation at the university.
“We carried on registering our dissatisfaction against the apartheid system, women were not afraid to face the police and their guns, they would not be intimidated, “ said Gandhi.
She said the need to “protect” women was often used to hinder their growth.
“The notion that women cannot cope with what comes with leadership needs to stop. It’s either someone can do it or they can’t, it has nothing to do with whether they are a man or a woman,” she said.
Pillay agreed saying capability and qualification were often used as an excuse to not appoint women in high-level positions.
She agreed with Gandhi who said knowledge was power, but said: “I believe in quotas to start off with to uplift the disadvantaged.”
Pillay said it was about time that the gender representation in decision-making positions reflected society, where women made up 51% of the population.