MEDIA STATEMENT BY THE
INKATHA FREEDOM PARTY
Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Weekly Newsletter to the Nation
My dear friends and fellow South Africans,
Next week, the South African government will host the Fourth World Congress on Rural Women in Durban. The holding of this Conference, which I plan to attend, is timely as we seek, as a country, to give meaningful expression to the rights of women contained in the Constitution. The themes of gender equality, food security, sustainable development and the impact of globalisation and trade are likely to dominate the discussions.
One of the most components of empowering rural women is enabling them to earn a living wage. As Chief Minister of KwaZulu, one of my first acts, once we gained legislative powers in what was regarded as "KwaZulu" territory, was to repeal sections of the Natal Zulu Code. Under these sections, women were regarded as minors who could not own any property. I further equalised the salaries of women and men in the civil service.
Women in townships were also often ejected from houses once their husbands had died. We stopped this in all the townships where we had jurisdiction by amending the Code of Zulu Law. Later, the IFP delegation to the Kempton Park negotiations contained, I think, the largest number of women of all the major political parties. Our commitment to gender equality has never been tokenistic and remains, for the IFP, a priority.
At present, although women constitute 52% of South Africa's adult population they make up only 41% of the working South African population. This is an obvious distortion which must be corrected. This historical anomaly is greatly exacerbated in South Africa by HIV and Aids.
Last year, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and Aids (UNAIDS) released their report which stated that women account for the bulk of the epidemic: 58% of HIV-positive South Africans are women, or 3.1 million out of 5.5 million infected adults aged 15 and over.
The UN report also, pertinent to this newsletter, bolstered proof of the link between HIV/Aids and poverty. In South Africa, women only earn 70 percent of what men earn. This already puts them at a high disadvantage for attaining self-reliance. I therefore hope that next week's Conference will help shape practical solutions on how rural women, in particular, can be empowered and greater progress can be made to achieving gender earning parity. As I have indicated, solutions must be provided within the context of the Aids epidemic which is ravaging our nation. This is no easy task.
For me earning parity should be a given in a non-sexist society like the one we are building.
While the country has made impressive strides in gender transformation in parliament and senior government positions, it appears from recent research that these achievements have not yet been replicated in the corporate arena. The proportion that decreases dramatically as one moves up the corporate pyramid - only 14,7% of all executive managers and 7,1% of all directors on listed JSE companies are women. The picture of gender representation within State Owned Enterprises is a bit brighter than in listed companies. How do we level the playing field and ensure that women are properly represented in the workplace?
I would, at the risk of sounding politically incorrect, caution against "affirming" women into management positions - or for that matter - any other job by the route of gender-based affirmative action. Women should be appointed on merit and ability, not for their gender. The transformation of women's position in the corporate world should start many years earlier through education and equal access to opportunities.
As in almost everything I believe, change starts from the bottom upwards.
In South Africa (which has more than its fair share of chauvinists!), this will require jettisoning gender stereotypes and inculcating a different perspective of the role of women as equals. This starts with the girl-child. Girls must be encouraged to excel in science, mathematics, computer studies, mechanical engineering and other subjects long considered the dominion of boys. It is in the classroom where future destinies take shape. Female participation in these subjects tapers off at the tertiary level; yet, it is these fields that we know are enjoying a prolific boom in the global economy. The workplace today is predominantly based on brains, not brawn.
In arguing against gender affirmative action, it is equally wrong that women, as I mentioned earlier, bear the brunt of care-giving in families affected by HIV and Aids. Men too must share the burden - as equals.
Again, in classrooms, the role of women must be re-conceptualised and repackaged in the curriculum so that boys and girls from an early age perceive each other as equals with the same familial responsibilities.
This is particularly important in the rural areas where gender stereotyping is more pronounced. For women with children (and for single fathers raising children), we must encourage greater flexible working arrangements.
I agree that in a society based on gender-equality that more women should be represented - the majority - in the workforce and, especially, in plum positions in the corporate world. If we give women the right start, the cream, as I have always said, will rise to the top. To do anything less is patronising and mere tokenism.
Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP