August is women’s month in South Africa, a great time to reflect on the state of women in our country. A time to conduct a thorough review of the gains made and the remaining challenges. And indeed a lot has been achieved and the women’s lot has been changed since1994, at least on paper.
However, I also find August to be a disturbing month. Disturbing in a sense that it is the only time that we see leaders crawling out of their caves (because it is still a male dominated world) hailing the name of women in vain: Malibongwe! It is disturbing because it is a month full of talk-shops, trites and hollow promises. A month wherein I have resolved to boycott some of the organized events where the programs are so predictable and twenty-one years ago:
The script usually goes like this:
A themed event at a conference center, fancy outfits and decadent food, little gift parcels with hand lotions, coffee mugs or massage hampers. There will be reciting of grand statements and a handsomely paid celebrity guest will come out and entertain or give a Goggled motivational talk. Then there will be some singing and dancing. We then end the day happy for the day-off and the fancy gift bag and goodies. Someone’s conscience is soothed because we did something for the women in August. Sigh!
So what’s wrong with this “fun and beautiful” picture you ask? Well, nothing and everything. It is wrong when it is used as a means to an end. As an easy way out of what it really takes to ensure women’s emancipation and empowerment. And the truth is, some single celebratory event is not going to cut it. The work of transformation and empowerment is long and requires constant investment of head and heart the whole year. That is worth more than any gift hamper.
So for me, if leaders have been mute and invisible throughout the year, they should not undermine the intelligence of women and suddenly come out on women’s day. If women have been abused and discriminated against with impunity, then our leaders should desist from empty promises written on their women’s day statements.
Women’s month should go beyond the rhetoric and fanfare and seek to engage in serious thought-leadership sessions and programs of action with tangible goals and changes for women of all classes and color spectrum. This can only be achieved by actively engaging with women, seeking their voices, planning together with them, changing policies and practices, leading by example and investing in their development and well-being.
This is the gift hamper we need. The kind that builds an enduring legacy.
May women’s month be a time of pioneering and transformative actions, in the footsteps of the women of 1956.