30 Years of Freedom - Valuing the role of women in society and the workplace

By: Simangazo Mokale

Women are an integral part of communities and they are the foundation of society, therefore investing in them to accelerate progress is vital.

Just 30 years ago most women in South Africa were denied the right to vote and work. Many of the basic rights that we now take for granted were also denied to the majority of the people of this country. Many of the challenges faced by women prior to our democratic change in 1994, continue to impact women around the world today. Vast numbers of women have no voice or just simply continue to suffer in silence.

Our own journey has taught us that the voices of women are powerful and can never be silenced. As women it remains our responsibility to continue to write new chapters in our history, and to challenge outdated views and to smash glass ceilings. Since 1994, women have assumed leadership roles in all sectors of society, but more work still remains in closing the gender gap and ensuring women take their rightful place in all sectors of society.

The recently concluded annual celebration of International Women’s Day was a reminder of the many milestones women have achieved over the years. It was an affirmation of the power of women of both yesteryear and today.

In the past three decades women have made strides across society, because of the many brave women who came before us and changed the narrative of what a woman’s role should be.

While more women today have access to opportunities across the spectrum, there are still many challenges that continue to hold them back. According to a UN Sustainable Development Goals study, it will take 140 years for women to be represented equally in positions of power and leadership in the workplace.

Even in our country, which has made remarkable strides since 1994 there are still marked imbalances and men continue to dominate the labour market, especially at management levels. Therefore, government continues to work to level the playing field and we have created a number of progressive laws that are dedicated to the development of women in our country. These include laws dedicated to gender equality, which seek to eliminate discrimination in employment, training and recruitment based on gender.  We also have the Employment Equity Act which enjoins employers to work towards more equitable representation based on gender, race and disability.

These instruments have helped to ensure greater gender representation but on their own they are not enough. It is up to all in society to ensure that we create the right conditions for equal participation in the economy.

As we prepare to commemorate 30 Years of Freedom it is incumbent on everyone to do more to ensure women are empowered so we can grow our economy. Let this be the year where we partner together and find ways to harness the potential of women to drive the economy and to ensure more inclusive and sustainable development.

Just as women in the past took the lead in shaping their destiny; we need women today to be at the forefront of reshaping societal norms. By doing so we can begin to give life to the call by UN women to create transformative solutions that enable women to realise their rights, escape the cycle of poverty, and truly thrive.