Mzansi sisters must reach out

The call for women's empowerment in Africa still has to be answered, says Graça Machel.

The call for women's empowerment in Africa still has to be answered, says Graça Machel.

The international advocate for women's rights was speaking at the Investec Conference for Young Women in Finance in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

"Aside from South Africa where there is a BEE strategy, there are very few women on the continent of Africa who are involved in the formal economy."

She said while women had made advancements in politics in Africa, this was not so in business. In many parts of Africa there are no women in mining and none managing large budgets. She urged delegates to make an important contribution not only to South Africa, but to Africa too.

Women's empowerment is not about gender alone, but also about "breaking down the walls of inequality and discrimination".

"This is an issue of social justice," she said.

Machel said South Africa is one of the most unequal societies in the world, having extremes of wealth and poverty.

"But this is not the situation in South Africa alone. We are of a generation in which there has been huge developments of wealth . humankind has never had so much wealth before . but that wealth is in the hands of a few nations."

Machel said women in business faced a challenge in South Africa - but even so, they should also look at the world as a challenge, given that inequality is spread throughout the globe.

"The question is: how do we develop our potential to the full, but at the same time reduce drastic inequalities around us?" Machel asked.

She reminded delegates that finance is an area that is still dominated by men, both inside and outside South Africa.

"So you must see your presence here today as an indication of exciting times in the country," Machel said.

Political will in South Africa ensured that women were not left out of the economy and the government has put in place legislation to protect the rights of women, she said.

"It is important that women are active in our economy to change the ethics of business and to reflect fairness," Machel said.

Women should assert themselves in order to break stereotypes, she said.

Although women in South Africa were now well respected in business, "socially they're not taken as equals. Nothing can justify you being treated as an inferior," Machel said.

She had the following advice for young delegates: "Surround yourself with a network of people - but they must be people who challenge you to improve, people who won't let you stay in your comfort zone."

One of the indications of inequality for women in South Africa was the impact of HIV-Aids, Machel said.

Between the age group of 15 and 24 years, 76percent of those infected are female.

"This is a challenge for you to protect yourselves . take your life in your hands and you'll keep yourself HIV-negative."

She said delegates had to bring about social changes on behalf of others.

"Young women in rural areas, don't have the knowledge that you have, so I appeal to you to bring about social change," Machel said. - Sapa