A decade into the 21st century and humanity is confronted by many unsolved problems of staggering complexity: global warming, the HIV/Aids pandemic, water shortages, extreme poverty and many others. As we grapple with these, the 2015 deadline for reaching the millennium development goals draws ever closer. Can we reach inside ourselves and discover shared values that will allow us to find sustainable solutions in the four short years that remain?
One of the development goals is to promote gender equality and empower women, a goal that speaks to the creation of gender-equitable societies. In this regard, the outlook is bleak. It is not for nothing that gender equality is referred to as the 21st century’s unfinished agenda. More worrying, the problem goes much deeper than equal opportunities. Yes, it’s true that women are subjected to less favourable employment conditions and remuneration. Yes, it’s true that women are still socialised towards non-technical careers, and that the allocation of education and training resources often favours boys and men.
Although such discrimination is of great concern, it almost pales into insignificance when one considers the horrific abuse women and girls across the globe have to suffer for no other reason than that they were born female.
Women and girls across the globe have to suffer horrific abuse for no other reason than that they were born female
Women are sold into prostitution and slavery. They are forced into underage marriage. Women endure genital mutilation. And yet the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
Many women experience childbirth not as a very special moment, but as something to be feared because of a lack of proper care. It is estimated that half a million women and girls die each year as a result of pregnancy or childbirth. For many women home is not a place of safety but of oppression and danger. Domestic violence is a killer, so much so that studies have found it kills more women than diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis.
When one considers these gross abuses, Hilary Clinton’s remark, “for many women, it is an act of courage to get through the day”, takes on a new, ominous significance.
There is neither a simple explanation nor a solution, not when one considers the elaborate maze of culture and ideology. What is clear is that we must not remain silent or stand idly by. The women of South Africa have a proud history of speaking up, of resisting the wrongs of this world and enforcing change. Is our Constitution not acknowledged as among the most progressive in the world? Do we not share in the pride of this accomplishment?
It is not only the big, bold gestures that change the world. Change happens
because of many small acts. It is the hourly, daily, weekly awareness of the injustices around us and the willingness to act, and not just think about acting, that shift perceptions and behaviour.
In every arena of human endeavour there is a woman with the ability and influence to shape new ways of thinking and doing, be it in information and communication technology, education or mining. Such women have the power to demonstrate that limiting women’s options is a missed opportunity.
Above all, we have to use the characte-ristics that make us women to open a door on to a more enlightened consciousness, one that will allow humanity to invent a future that promotes the wellbeing of women.
— Nombulelo “Pinky” Moholi