A long march to equality

Forty-five years after thousands marched in protest against pass laws, women are still second class citizens, write Julia Grey and Edwin Naidu

South African women are still fighting to be accepted as equals and given the same opportunities as males in the workplace, including in the teaching profession.

Discrimination continues to undermine the status of women, despite legislation and policy documents aimed at promoting gender equity. “Ingrained attitudes” towards women was indentified in a recent employment equity plan by the Gauteng Department of Education as a key reason why many were overlooked as managers at secondary school level.

William Tshabalala from the Gender Equity Directorate in the national Department of Education (DoE) said that women have long been disadvantaged by the social system.

This, in many cases, has had a negative impact on the self-confidence of women. “Many have taken the status quo as being the way life is, and have internalised oppression,” said Tshabalala.

Raising awareness around gender equity and making it “mainstream to education” is a key thrust of the Gender Equity Directorate. A module produced by the directorate entitled “Managing sexual harassment and gender-based violence” has been tested in three provinces. Ultimately, it is meant as a handbook for teachers and learners on issues such as sexual harrassment, homophobia, and HIV/Aids.

Each province also has a “gender focal person” tasked with integrating gender issues into all areas of education. Donor funds to the tune of R98 000 for each province over the last three years have helped give some muscle to this initiative.

Tshabalala is upbeat about the impact of these efforts, but a glance at some statistics on the continued abuse of women speaks volumes about how much still has to change.

A rape occurs every 26 seconds. According to a Unisa study in 1999, the most dangerous place in the country for a woman or a child is the home, with 65% of rapes occurring in homes.

A report by Statistics South Africa last year estimates that 13% of all reported rapes involve principals or teachers. In another study by Nicro, it was estimated that in Gauteng a woman dies every six days as a result of domestic violence.

Beyond these shocking statistics are the everyday norms, which see girl children constantly disadvantaged in the classroom. It is widely recognised that girls are more likely to drop out of school early – often because they are expected to take on family responsibilities – and struggle to succeed in key subjects such as maths and science.

But some comfort can be taken from the fact that in terms of policy, women’s rights and the need to empower them is taken very seriously. And it’s not all just on paper:a gender summit is taking place this month, and Parliament is to focus on aspects such as gender-sensitive budgets and the effectiveness of legislation on domestic violence.

– The Teacher/M&Media, Johannesburg, August 2001.

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Edwin Naidu
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