Citizen Today: women in leadership

Working for women in South Africa and beyond

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The cause of women empowerment has made much progress in Africa over recent decades, say South African Minister of Home Affairs, Naledi Pandor and Dr. Mamphela Ramphele, former Managing Director of The World Bank. But there is more to be done before women can feel truly equal partners.

There are a number of sectors in which we seem to be making excellent progress, such as the access of women to university education, says Pandor. But the movement has not been shaped by a change in attitude — it is primarily shaped by the constitution and the new laws enacted post-democracy.

Men are still getting some of the better jobs. Pandor cites many reasons for this:

  • Work continues to be structured for and around men.
  • Having a family has a huge impact on careers.
  • Many researchers have found that women tend to be less self-confident and allow male colleagues to volunteer for promotion and better assignments.

Countries have found that laws do make a difference. However, Pandor feels quotas may diminish the status of particular groups in society. She prefers targets because they mean that if you’re not appropriately qualified, then you won’t be appointed.

What does this mean for those who are working in the private and the public sectors? If you’re not seen as affirming that women exist in society, then it may be difficult to do business in Africa. Global companies seeking to grow their business in Africa need to be aware and responsive to the changing context on the continent.

“We also have to pay attention to the issues of training for leadership to management,” adds Pandor.

“Not only do women make up more than half the workforce of the world, but I believe, and evidence proves, that they are also better than men at earning a university education. Let’s make this qualified majority work for women and work for our world,” she concludes.

A revolution on the radar

Dr. Ramphele, a lifelong anti-apartheid activist who is now focusing on the formation of her new political party, explains why a revolution is needed to genuinely address the gender divide.

The South African government and constitution have tackled the issue of equality head on, but things aren’t improving everywhere.

“For example, how do we explain the fact that gender-based violence in our society has never been higher?” asks Ramphele. She believes this is partly down to gender stereotypes  — itself a global phenomenon.

“We have to accept that in any change situation, those who stand to benefit from change have to be prepared to do their hardest work,” she continues. “Women have to be the ones driving the strategy and the execution of the change process.” Solidarity among women is also vital, she says.

“Part of the problem is that we lack a compelling business reason for a greater number of women leaders. In Scandinavian countries, for instance, the environment of equality has helped lead to better health outcomes, better economies and better life expectancies.”

“We also have to confront the resurgence of traditionalism around the world, which is used to justify brutality and the pervasiveness of gender-based violence,” adds Ramphele.

So what is that agenda for change? “The number one part of the revolution is that we need to talk about the outrages that are happening in our families, in our communities, in our places of worship, in our workplaces and in the public space.”