Sophie Williams-De Bruyn: It is as if my life’s work came to nothing
Opinion / 9 August 2019, 07:42am / Sophie Williams-De Bruyn
During the past five years, I have always been encouraged by many concerned friends and family to “take it slow”, to “do less”, and those who were less diplomatic told me bluntly to retire.
But I was fresh out of high school when I became involved in the mobilisation for the Women’s March in August 1956, and I have dedicated my youth and entire adult life to the struggle for freedom both at home and in exile.
When my family returned 29 years ago, there were so many things to do in establishing and building the ANC, politically and administratively.
Then, after the elections in April 1994, new challenges and opportunities awaited and I was assigned new responsibilities. In 1999, I was appointed as a legislator.
After my 80th birthday, I thought I would slow down, but during the past years I have become more and more concerned about the plight of women as they continue to bear the disproportionate burden of triple challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment and gender-based violence.
A recent report by the auditing firm, PwC, that looked into practices and remuneration trends of executive directors, found that only 3.3% of all chief executives of JSE-listed companies are women, and that only 12.8% of chief financial officers are women.
Can this still be the case 25 years into democracy?
More worryingly, the same report also found that the pay disparities between men and women chief executives are also a problem, and that in some instances women chief executives are earning 25% less than their male counterparts.
We slipped up.
These shocking realities should be a major concern to all who care deeply for this country and who wish to see it prosper.
Personally, it is as if my life’s work came to nothing, and makes me doubt whether I’ve done enough for the plight of women, or if I worked hard enough to ensure that women’s unquestionable contribution to society is recognised.
We should obviously do more. We should, as a matter of course, form alliances and speak out against these injustices and always seek different ways to advance women.
The government has a role to play and as the ANC does internally, its government should also ensure that the 50-50 rule not only applies to political positions, but should also be seen in senior positions in the government.
How can it still be that, in this day and age, a government department has a male director-general and four of his five deputy directors-general are men?
How can it be that, in this day and age, you walk into a boardroom dominated by men?
We have prayed and hoped for 25 years that things would change. They did not.
It is time the government looked at what is within its means to protect and advance the position of women across sectors and to defend their place therein.
If we do not make drastic changes immediately, we will fail generations to come and all our work will have been in vain.
When Lilian Ngoyi, Rahima Moosa, Helen Joseph and I lead the 20 000-strong women march to the Union Buildings in 1956, it was not only against the pass laws that would have been extended to women, but also to register our might as women.
It was to say to the government of the day that women were standing up and their power should be recognised.
And as much as the “baton” has been handed over to our present generation, and even in my advanced age, I am more than willing, if necessary, to help mobilise women again to rise up against those who need to take note of the power of women as a force.
I owe it to the 20 000 women who placed their trust in us when they got on to buses early that morning to join us from distant and remote areas in our country. Their faith has always carried us through and remains the greatest source of inspiration to me.
While the challenges are obviously different, we need to do the most drastic things in 2019 for women’s empowerment so that, as we now look back on the march 63 years later, we will 63 years from now also talk about a new wave that swept the country and that altered the course of history and turned it in favour of women.
I remain dedicated and committed to the struggle for women and their rights.
And because I see it as my continued contribution, I cannot sit back. This battle demands the participation not only of women but of all South Africans because if women win, society wins; when women prosper, all prosper.
As Madiba said, “Though we have climbed a great hill, we dare not linger because there are many more hills to climb.” Let’s not hold back.
* Williams-De Bruyn is the patron of the Sophie and Henry de Bruyn Foundation. The anti-apartheid activist is the last living leader of the 1956 Women’s March.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.