Leaders speak on marginalised women in the workplace, schools

10 August 2021 - 08:37 By alex patrick
Cosatu president Zingiswa Losi said despite women being in leadership positions, they continue to be underrepresented in the workplace. File photo.
Cosatu president Zingiswa Losi said despite women being in leadership positions, they continue to be underrepresented in the workplace. File photo.
Image: Photo by Gallo Images / Foto24 / Lerato Maduna

The first woman president of Cosatu, Zingiswa Losi, said despite women being in leadership positions, they continue to be underrepresented in the workplace. 

Losi spoke at the national Women's Day celebrations held virtually by the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) on Monday afternoon.

The theme for this Women's Day was The Year of Charlotte Maxeke: Realising Women’s Rights for an Equal Future.  

The celebration marks the day in 1956 when about 20,000 women marched to the Union Buildings to protest against the carrying of pass books.

At that time women from all backgrounds stood shoulder to shoulder against the most oppressive discrimination, but faced with an equally oppressive system of patriarchy and inequality today, women seem to have forgotten their power, she said. 

“Since 1994 SA has achieved significant progress in the [emancipation of women]," Losi said.

“Women [in government] have held traditional portfolios but [now they also hold] those usually reserved for men, positions like those in defence and intelligence, but this is not enough. Women should not hold [off on taking positions] for the sake of men. Many of our deployees fail women, and women should not allow male deployees [to take over their positions] because of fear.

“An overwhelming majority of our ward councillors are men.”

She said equal participation in decision-making was one of the ways to liberate women.

Losi praised Cosatu for electing a woman president and deputy head in 2018 and she acknowledged that women represented half of the cabinet. 

“But this has not cascaded down — this is wrong — we must invest in educating and training women as shop stewards and we should not shout 'malibongwe' [thank you] and then move on. Let us lead by example and I ask that all our campaigns drive the liberation of women.”

She said women also needed to know their rights in the workplace so they don't “throw away hard-won victories, hoping the employer will do our work for [them]". 

Cosatu needed to draft a plan to overhaul skills development to empower women, she said, “otherwise millions of women will lose their jobs as a result of the fourth industrial revolution”.

SA Communist Party central committee member and Limpopo education MEC Polly Boshielo also delivered a message of support from the tripartite alliance.

Boshielo, who also commemorated the centenary of the SACP, said the emancipation of women was long overdue.

“The struggle from patriarchal oppression is far from over and we commit to build on the shoulders of the communist women gone before us to ensure women are not pigeonholed into roles created for them.

“When political heads are women, we need to start pointing at ourselves and ask how many women are we able to empower.”

“If we want to buy masks we budget millions for it — why can't women co-ops do masks? Why must we do with tenders ... Are we as women not supposed to organise ourselves [into creating those roles for ourselves]?

“Leaders [must] bring change to the sector. Sometimes we fight alone — women insulting the very same women we are supposed to protect. How are we as women pulling ourselves down?”

She agreed with Losi on the strides made by Sadtu to promote women in the education sector and concurred that women are still underrepresented in the top echelons of education.

She said in the nine provinces there were only three women education ministers, with most heads of departments being men.

Sadtu vice-president Faseega Solomon said 72% of the teachers employed by the department of basic education were women and only 37% of the school principals were women. 

“This suggests a glass ceiling ... We need to ensure we look at challenges which find that women can't break through those ceilings. We have enabling legislation [to make sure there is equality in the workplace] and there is no shortage of women.

“That ceiling includes those patriarchal, gender and paternal ideologies and the generalising tendencies. Leaders must ensure they use their positions to dismantle these barriers as they have a critical role to play in debunking long-held stereotypes about women leaders.

“We need to challenge the enforcement policies — we know we are not meeting our targets in terms of the employment equity acts.”

She said education was a powerful tool in advancing equality and empowerment but the first hurdle was access — getting girls to school. 

Gender roles had to be discouraged in schools and Solomon said there were four areas where Sadtu needed to intervene. She listed these as:

How to promote equality through curriculum — There's a need to review textbooks and identify bias stereotypes and if the curriculum promotes negative language. 

Ensure the promotion of equality through pedagogy and the teacher role — The role teachers play in their attitudes towards women is critical. “We need to interrogate our own gender stereotypes and ensure education programmes include subjects to create gender-positive pedagogy.”

Ensure the union includes gender equality issues in training programmes — Sadtu has the Curtis Nkondo Prof Development Institute, for the training of educators.

Policies to protect women in workplaces — There have been advances with the constitution and other legislature which protects women, “but we must further address issues in actively promoting gender equality”.