Is a woman’s place is still in the kitchen?

Women in South Africa would be better off performing their traditional roles – in the kitchen and having babies. Or would they?

Even within the confines of the home they are still confronted by their most dangerous enemy: men.

A rape occurs every 26 seconds in South Africa. Reports of abused women and girls (sometimes victims of their husbands, fathers and teachers) are commonplace. Men dominate the fabric of society, while women are treated like second-class citizens. I am of the view that females in our country are given a raw deal in society, whether they’re in the government, the corporate sector or the civil service.

Men lead the way in the corridors of power, in boardrooms, in villages and towns. Women dominate the teaching

profession, yet males predominate at the leadership level.

In fact, the senior leadership of the three major teachers’ bodies – the South African Democratic Teachers Union, National Association of Professional Teachers of South Africa and Suid-Afrikaanse Onderwysersunie – are dominated by males. Why?

South Africa is a patriarchal society, with meaningless laws that give everyone equal rights regardless of colour or gender. These laws don’t translate into reality for the millions of ordinary women in our nation.

Female representation is strong – around 34% – in Parliament but is this sufficient? Why don’t women have more clout, considering that the rock on which a nation is built is its mothers and daughters?

The silence from the male-dominated Parliament on issues that adversely affect women is a sad indictment of our leaders. Rapes and sexual assaults have become meaningless statistics, callously bandied about in Parliament by our leaders, who try to gain political capital out of our women’s misery.

Women in rural South Africa struggle to make a living and to keep a roof over their family’s heads. One hears depressing accounts of grandmothers’ pensions being used to sustain families in rural areas. What hope is there for women like this?

Throw into the equation the fact that millions can’t read or write. Immobilised by illiteracy, women aren’t going to escape the poverty trap they’re stuck in without real intervention.

August 9 is National Women’s Day, a public holiday, which celebrates the role of women in the struggle for a democratic South Africa. On this day, politicians will no doubt pontificate on the role of women in our country, retail stores will advertise special offers to lure shoppers, dads will water the garden, and we will all enjoy a holiday without a thought about what it’s really all about.

Instead of ploughing money into countless advertising campaigns and sales gimmicks to highlight the day, perhaps the money could be better used on campaigns to make the streets safer for women. The police’s presence should be stronger, more visible and more woman-friendly. Practical ways to make our country a better and safer place for women are urgently required.

At a recent women’s workshop in Gauteng, South Africa’s first lady, Zanele Mbeki, made a very pertinent point when she commented on a portrait of three women carrying loads on their heads that was used as a logo for the workshop. “Why not move away from this picture and move forward and instead show women leading the way with technology, for example in the field of computers?” she asked.

If we are to remove the stereotype that a woman’s place is only in the kitchen, then it’s the duty of men to show a greater willingness to participate in household chores and the raising of children. After all, isn’t this what creating a well-balanced family is all about?

Balanced families make for a well-functioning community, and successful communities surely lead to a better country. But if society doesn’t acknowledge women as equal partners, other than on National Women’s Day, then females in South Africa should not bother getting out of the kitchen.

Have your say on the subject: [email protected]

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

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