Women’s voices must be heard in today’s world of great uncertainty and challenges on many fronts. Women have insights, experience and abilities no modern society can afford to do without.
South Africa can be proud of the space our Constitution and public and private sector practice make available to women. But many challenges remain and, as in many parts of the world, government policies and societal norms play a critical role in how women’s roles are defined.
Perhaps this is because any position with any authority or influence includes huge challenges and responsibilities. And as many of us have discovered in practice, it is not enough to rely on the authority of office. Real leadership requires an excellent knowledge of one’s subject combined with hard work, for which there is no substitute. Only by making the effort can one be sure to add value to discussions, contribute to sound decision-making, influence strategic direction and, in so doing, earn the respect that in authentic leadership is mirrored by the formal authority.
Real leadership requires an excellent knowledge of one’s subject combined with hard work, for which there is no substitute
These rules — it goes without saying — apply irrespective of gender. Yet there is unfortunately still no doubt that women have to work harder and smarter to be able to exercise their influence and authority fully, and have their voices heard. Perhaps key to success is that we should acknowledge the interest others have taken in us, the time spent helping us work through issues, the unwavering personal support of family and friends. Besides one’s own efforts, these contributions have allowed us to have and to realise opportunities. Logically, it is then our responsibility to support others, opening doors for other women, making it easier for more women to be recognised, to have opportunities, and to progress.
Our country needs women who exercise responsibility at all levels of society, the economy and government. Because if women are not playing their full role, we as a society are not getting the full benefit of the wisdom, thinking and skills of more than half of South Africa’s population. Gender equality combines the thinking and experience of both men and women, creating diversity and balance and, ultimately, broadening the perspectives and capacity of our society for the better.
In South Africa, opening doors and ensuring equal opportunities is not just about gender, but also about race and class. Only open doors and equal opportunity for all South Africans will make us a truly free and equal society, able to live up to our Constitution, and to ensure that government at all levels acts in the interests of society and of all of our people.
— Gill Marcus