The following article first appeared on ChannelAfrica.com, 8 March 2017
By Ayanda Mkhwanazi
As the world marks International Women’s Day, human rights organisation, Sonke Gender Justice, says South Africa can pride itself in its policy developments that have advanced women throughout the country.
But, the organisation warns that greater steps must be taken to address the challenges that remain. Sonke says it is notable that South Africa has made major advances in the field of education whereas before women were lagging behind their male peers in all levels of education. “At tertiary and schooling level, women were not in front, but now, government has ensured that equal opportunities are afforded to both genders,” says Bafana Khumalo, a representative from the organisation.
“But what happens beyond tertiary level? Because we still see a number of CEOs and chairpersons of boards being men that is appalling”. Sonke is a non-governmental organisation that works across Africa to strengthen government, civil society and citizen capacity to promote gender equality, prevent domestic and sexual violence, and reduce the spread and impact of HIV and AIDS.
Khumalo says however, women have not yet reached their full potential due to the immense challenges such as job parity and economic empowerment. “Men and women working the same job don’t get paid the same for instance. As much as we are moving three steps ahead, we tend to also move backwards,” explains Khumalo.
Khumalo says the high rate of violence against women is another factor to take note of that is pulling the country backwards. He says gender violence is an issue that needs to be urgently addressed. “Lesbians in South Africa are raped and killed simply because of their sexual orientation. That will automatically hamper the development of women. We cannot claim to have moved forward if our communities are still exposed to such violence”.
Khumalo adds that South Africa is not the only country that finds itself struggling to ensure that women’s rights are preserved and upheld. In the African region, he says forced practices can hinder women from reaching their potential due to ill health.
According to Khumalo, not all is doom and gloom on the continent. He mentions Rwanda as a shining example, even beating South Africa, when it comes to gender representation. He adds: “In Rwanda, which is a much smaller country than ours women are in the forefront in terms of leadership. This is because their government is committed to this agenda, we can do more in South Africa”.
International Women’s Day is a day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.