South Africa – August is the month dedicated to women in South Africa. Women’s Month is celebrated and used to bring forward the problems women face every day. However, it is now 2022 and many believe Women’s Month should not exist because these problems should be eradicated by now.
It is fair to say women suffer from many problems in the workplace and outside of it. Oftentimes, businesswomen aren’t respected because their male colleagues believe they don’t belong in a certain environment. Dr Quraysha Sooliman, Project Manager at Centre for Mediation in Africa at University of Pretoria, explained why celebrating Women’s Month is not progressive but shows our lack of humanity.
“It certainly shows that we are in a very problematic frame. I think we are hypocritical. Our inner eye has been inverted. We think we are great, we are progressive, we are making progress, we are making strides. In actual fact we’re not. The reality about women and a women’s space should be the norm. Women should be recognised, should be respected and at this stage, in this century, at this time it shouldn’t be that we still need to say Women’s Day.”
The way women are treated in the business field
No matter how successful a woman is in business or how long she has been operating in the field, there is always a chance she won’t get the respect she deserves. Poppy Kabini, Owner at Khethu Home and Decor, explained how hard it is to be in the furniture manufacturing industry. As it is a male dominated industry, she constantly has to prove her worth and faces different stereotypes every day.
“Being in the industry that I’m in, I’d have a male assistant come in to assist me and they always doubt my capabilities. I find that really disturbing because if they can do it, I can also do it … I learnt from my late grandfather and my uncles, and it is something I’ve been pursuing ever since. For me, when a man looks at me and thinks I cannot do what they can do, it feels like I have to prove myself twice as hard. Yes, I can also do what you can do. I feel like women have to work twice as hard to prove themselves.”
One of the other challenges women face in industry is that strong networks are already established. It becomes very hard to break into those networks especially as a woman, said Shereen Hunter, CEO Hunter Group.
“I think it is a huge adjustment. Women often times find themselves as the only women at the table when you are invited to it. Maybe there are just two people in a room of thirty others. That is a huge adjustment for a woman. I also think it can be difficult for men as well to get used to a different way [of doing things]. Men can be quite frank sometimes and very to the point. I think sometimes when women are in the room, they find themselves having to reframe their words or put things across in a certain way.”
The bullying women face because of their success
Women have to work double hard to make their presence known and get the recognition they deserve. Even though they do this, when they achieve something great, they still are met with criticism and harsh words. Hunter has experienced this first hand.
“I recently got a contract in business. There were obviously people who congratulated me. There was a man who said she must have got the job because of who she knows. They went so far as to comment on a social media page that was industry specific. I just thought to myself ‘here we go again’ … Men can be real bullies in that space and if they don’t needle you personally then they go to the next level and start broadcasting nasty comments.”
Hunter is not new to these things so she is able to brush them off although she shouldn’t have. The comments she has had over the past two years are all focused on her appearances, her marital status and more. Some women can’t brush these comments off. It is why there are many brilliant women who have either quit or never ventured forth in the business world, said Hunter.
Why can’t the rest of the year be like August
A week before August you will already see campaigns and adds targeting women and being in support of them. For the month of August, you will constantly be fed news stories about women in every single way. Why can’t the rest of the year be like that, questioned Kabini. People and media companies are only interested in women during this month, and they are forgotten about after.
“When it is the month of August, I don’t even have to approach media companies to say this is who I am. They come to me. After that we have to struggle. With all this pre-programming, we need to lose this narrative to say that women are the weaker beings.”
The result of not having a role model
It is no secret that South African women suffer at the hands of men. Gender Based Violence acts are at an all-time high. South Africa is often called ‘the rape capital of the world’ because of it its endless and ever-increasing rates of sexual violence. Sooliman points to the lack of a male role model in a boy’s life that could be one of the causes of this.
“A colleague of mine said it occurred to me that in South Africa, the majority of men do not have a good role model. In most of their homes, in which children have been raised, you find that the man has been taken out of that setting … Children have been raised for generation upon generation in African countries without any good role models. As a result, they are emasculated. Secondly, they suffer with mental deficit in terms of emotional representation and in terms of appreciating how it is that a male parent works with his child or his woman or contributes in building a cohesive society.”
As a result, we have all these issues that affect a person’s mental health and GBV is such an issue in South Africa, said Sooliman. This will continue so long as a child doesn’t have a male role model.
The same attention that is given to women during August needs to be continuous throughout the year. Boys need to be taught right from wrong and be given the right upbringing. There needs to be constant education given to men to ensure things are changed. The day Women’s Month is no longer needed is the day women can celebrate being equal and living free.