OPINION | A woman's world is a possibility

18 September 2020 - 14:30 By Charlotte De La Harpe
The author says 26 years after democracy, more women still need to break through the glass ceiling in SA.
The author says 26 years after democracy, more women still need to break through the glass ceiling in SA.
Image: 123RF/DMITRIY SHIRONOSOV

It is day 175 of the lockdown.

During the past five months I have been reflecting on life, what have I achieved thus far and what I am grateful for. I tend to be a bit sentimental, but with Covid-19 this has increased tenfold as I find myself replaying meaningful moments in my life.

I fondly remember a trip to Columbia with a group of friends in December last year, where we travelled by car exploring cities. I fell in love with the people, the culture, the beauty, the mountains and, most of all, the coffee. We stopped in Medellin for a few days and imagined that the most exciting things we would experience were the haunts of the late drug lord Pablo Escobar.

Instead, we came across a quaint cafe called Crepes & Waffles on our first day. We popped in for lunch and found the menu had amazing local dishes we had to try. We engaged the waitress, using a mixture of English and broken Spanish, and discovered their lovely story.

The cafe is female-owned and employs only women who are divorced, widowed, single mothers or the survivors of abuse. Their reasons are simple: they want to empower women to take back their power and recognise  they can stand on their own.

I find it inspiring that 96% of the 3,800 people employed by the chain across Columbia and the rest of Latin America are women.

If more people took up the baton to be part of effecting meaningful change, they would contribute to uplifting and empowering women to stand on their own against the horror of gender-based violence (GBV).

We recently celebrated Women’s Month. I believe we should honour and respect women every day of the year, not just for one month and during the 16 days of activism against the abuse of women and children.

In August many companies highlighted their success stories of uplifting women. They told us how far they had come in increasing female staff numbers within their companies, but  the statistics show we are not doing enough and still have a long battle ahead.

One positive story that stood out for me was that of Mobicel, a local cellphone provider. They opened the first ever women-only phone assembly plant in Johannesburg.

Reading about this, I was vividly taken back to the little cafe in Medellin. Is it wishful thinking on my part to want more companies to be like Mobicel and Crepes & Waffles? As parents raising young women and men, we have to do more and not expect the government to solely be responsible for eradicating GBV. We need to make our voices heard.

If we look at our 26 years of democracy, a disparity still exists in which women are seen as inferior in the employment stakes, and we should all be asking why this is? Why do we earn less but often do more? Why are our struggles disrespected?

Equal pay for equal work is a myth. According to the International Labour Organisation's wage report for 2018/19, women are paid 28% less than men globally. Alarmingly, SA was found to have the world’s highest wage inequality.

As if this is not enough to deal with, there is still a huge disparity in the number of women employed in senior jobs, and you wonder why we can’t break through the glass ceiling.

As a society we still have far to go. Legislation needs to change to be beneficial to women.

Women are the foundation of our households and the glue that keeps families together. We can’t condone being oppressed in our homes and the workplace. We need to take a stand and continue the fight of our older sisters who marched to the Union Buildings on August 9 1956 to protest against oppressive laws.

Yes, we may be better off today, but we still have a long road ahead to be equal.

We can make this work if we stand united as a society to fight inequality, GBV and the oppression of women.

De La Harpe is a Johannesburg-based public relations and communications consultant and events manager with two decades of experience covering the public and private sector.

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