Empowering women is not a battle against men. It is a collective effort which is meant to create women as inclusive members of society.
This was the declaration made by Dr Nolitha Vukuza, Senior Executive Director: University Relations, Student Affairs, UJ Sport, at the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) Community Engagement (UJCE) annual Empowerment Programme event held on Monday, 28 August 2023.
“It is also about recognising that there is no society that is complete without the active participation of women,” she added.
The programme is hosted to honour and celebrate women as the month draws to a close.
Titled: 67 years of Women’s Struggle: The quest for gender equity and an inclusive South African society, the various speakers reflected on their own roles in becoming better women for themselves and society.
Dr Vukuza emphasised the importance of self-awareness, self-knowledge, self-acceptance and self-love.
“What do you have to do as a woman in order for you to realise yourself? Self-mastery. This is an important and very long road to get to master who you are. The first service is to us as women -being self-aware of who you are, your identity, what you want to be known as and how you present yourself. Wake up woman and distil yourself in that respect that you want.”
She advised women to fill their own tanks before going out into the world.
“I am inviting women to self and saying this appointment with self is the appointment of all appointments.”
Dr Corné Davis, UJ Associate Professor, Department of Strategic Communication, gave those in attendance an overview of the Gender-Based Violence (GBV) statistics.
“In South Africa, our intimate partner violence rate is six times higher than the global average. We really have a need to talk about these things and see how we as women can support each other.”
The latest crime statistics show that more than 890 women and almost 300 children have been murdered between April and June this year. Dr Davis reminded the attendees that even though the statistics tend to show a decrease, that was only because victims tend to report the crimes less over time.
“Between April and June, 855 women were murdered, compared to 895 in the same period last year. What is our action? We are looking at real statistics and factors that affect women. One out of three in this room, at least, have experienced GBV, that includes me.”
Dr Davis spoke about the stigma around GBV that results in victims and perpetrators feeling afraid to talk.
“GBV is any kind of emotional, verbal, psychological, economic physical or sexual abuse perpetrated against another person because of their gender. In South Africa we are still living with the ideology of patriarchy. GBV is not a black problem, it’s an all-race problem. It’s not a low socio-economic class problem, it’s an all-socio-economic class problem.”
Dr Davis said the biggest challenge faced, besides GBV, is gender inequality, which is the key driver for GBV.
“We have a damaged society, unfortunately. These are not going to change if we don’t all play a role to change it. If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.”
Founding member of the Social Work Action Network, Dr Jasmin Turton reiterated Dr Davis’ words, focusing on the effects of poverty on gender inequality.
“The discrepancy between the poor and the rich is growing. A lot of this affects women, the reality is that poverty has a woman’s face, it affects women more than anybody else. If women don’t have access, what we will have is the continued feminisation of poverty.”
Dr Turton highlighted the importance for women to have access to economic resources because if not, they will continue to be victims of issues like GBV.
She added that while government mechanisms were in place, it was necessary to address the systemic issues of poverty, inequality, patriarchy and of township.
“Culture has devastating consequences on women. We cannot be free until all women are free.”
She urged attendees to look within themselves to become gender activists because the personal is political. She encouraged people to become the voice of the voiceless.
She said this could be done through changing attitudes, empowerment programmes, awareness raising campaigns, gender equality and human rights education, and mobilising communities.
“We all need to shout out on any gender inequality we see.”
The final speaker for the day was Ms Barbara Hill, founder at Time for Change Community Development, who shared her story of resilience that resulted in her becoming the change she wanted to see in others. “Hardships often prepare an ordinary person to do extraordinary things.”
The event was MC’d by Ms Boipuso Mashigo, a Lecturer at the Department of Social Work.