National Women’s Day is a South African public holiday celebrated annually on the 9th of August. The day celebrates the 1956 march of approximately 20 000 women to the Union Buildings in Pretoria. This march for me optimises the courage, strength and determination that women possess; it also demonstrates the monumental role that women have played and continue to play in transforming South Africa to what it is today.
Such extraordinary beings need to be celebrated every day of every year and not on one special day and then forgotten.
Whether we like it or not, our parents lived in a patriarchal society that was previously lead to believe that men were more superior to women. However, we are slowly transitioning into a society that believes and treats men and women equally. But should it? In the past, women weren’t afforded a lot of opportunities i.e. education, corporate work, etc. As a matter of fact, an argument can be laid that it is still the case in some countries, including South Africa.
This reminds me of a Sotho friend of mine who asked an interesting question, one that I couldn’t answer with much conviction. He asked if “we” as Xhosa people still practise the custom of “Ukuthwala”. This is when a young girl is taken or abducted by a man and he takes her to his home. He then sends message to the girl’s family that he would like to marry her. This in my opinion is a barbaric act that qualifies as kidnapping and later on statutory rape. As far as I know, this isn’t happening anymore and I thank God for that; this just reminds me of the hardship that women have had and still continue to endure in the hands of men. In all fairness I guess, they too (men) were brought into a society that treats women like objects for men’s entertainment. This does not qualify as an excuse because there will forever be a difference between right and wrong!
The previous and perhaps current mistreatment of women has prompted for emancipation and righting of previous wrongs. This however poses a question, is it possible to fix the ills of the past? If yes, then can this be done without infringing or walking all over the rights of men?
Being a previously disadvantaged race in South Africa, I would like to think I understand emancipation a little bit. I think that perhaps the road to establishing equal playing ground in the research field should start with emancipation, but unlike forcing women to conform to men’s standards, this would create a medium where women can establish themselves in the work/research field. There’s no doubt that this would be deemed unfair to men who will who may feel forced to take the back seat with regards to research funding and capacity development, but in the long run it will be worth it for everyone.
…but before that happens, I believe men need to be aware of their sins and atone. Some of the sexism and gender discrimination that we are fighting against is inherent of societal norms in the name of culture and tradition. Examples of this would be for a man in the African culture being allowed to take more than one wife or in other cultures where women cannot go to school, work or even drive a car. We cannot try to eradicate any form of sexism or discrimination if we don’t first change our traditions and cultures that are inherently sexist and discriminatory in nature.
Trying to treat women like men according to me is still not enough, in fact it changes nothing. It changes nothing because women in this regard are still being forced to conform and leave up to the standards of men, as opposed to them being allowed to form their own identity and coexist with men in society as equals. We can never take away the fact that men and women are different and trying to compare or treat them the same way would be a travesty to feminism or women’s rights.
I hope that one day we can live in a society that embraces women and men as dynamic equals; Instead of advocating for the world to treat women like men. A society that embraces gender differences, as well as the benefits that those differences bring towards research findings and life in general. Being friends with women who passed their MSc degrees with cum laude honours and having an exceptional supervisor who happens to be a woman, has shown me that women can perform and excel in science – the idea that there is a biological reason why women can’t exceed is just a cultural bias.
My conclusion is that men and women are different and they should be treated as such. The mistake would be for one gender to assume dominance over the other. Our differences are what make us humans special, at the end of the day that’s what we are, HUMANS!