View on women shows gender equality is still a dream

THERE is a deep gulf between the call for women's equality in South Africa's model Constitution and society's predominantly archaic public attitudes towards women.

THERE is a deep gulf between the call for women's equality in South Africa's model Constitution and society's predominantly archaic public attitudes towards women.

Women are being pulled down by cultural, political, economical and religious prejudices, which undermine their full participation in the life of society, which in turn deprives both the broader democracy and economic development generally.

Continuing patriarchy in society means that women lack equality in sexual relationships, the family, workplace, culture, economy, politics and society.

Male leaders will have to set an example. During the 2004 elections campaign, then president Thabo Mbeki said he would klap his sister if she were to marry an opposition party leader. During President Jacob Zuma's rape trial in 2006 he claimed he could tell by the way a woman sat or the dress she wore that she was "looking for sex" and "culture" compelled him to oblige.

Of course, there is no part of African "culture" allowing this.

How far we still have to travel can readily be seen in public attitudes about rape incidents. Women are still condemned by society, the criminal justice and the political system as responsible for being raped.

African women felt the brunt of colonialism even more than men.

During the anti-apartheid period, African women, mothers and wives were the rock soaking up the individual, community and societal ruptures that the dehumanising assaults on the dignity, identity and self-image of blacks, wrought by colonialism.

Often the powerlessness of black men in the face of the violence of apartheid administrations' often exploded into violence against women in families, homes and communities.

This is why it is so crucial that political leaders set a progressive example of male (white or black) self-identity that aligns itself with the Constitution.

There is a real danger that women will again face the brunt of the devastation of the global financial crisis. Furthermore, amid economic decline, feelings of powerlessness by male individuals, who often can see others more political connected, but not necessarily better qualified, creaming it, while they remain in poverty, are likely to increase. Self-worth is now measured by how much money you have.

But the democratic state has not been caring either. Our political leaders live in a cocoon of taxpayer-funded luxury, while the poor are being told to tighten their belts.

For another, traditional social bonds in black society, such as extended families, are being broken, as families increasingly fracture.

The ANC adopted a ground-breaking resolution at its national conference in Polokwane in December 2007, compelling 50percent representation for women in all ANC structures as well as government, Parliament, and independent democratic institutions.

Yet, as Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma remarked, it was up to the ANC leadership to ensure gender equality was "put into practice". "The ANC cannot run away from that struggle, it cannot preach the Struggle and then not practice what it preaches," she said.

The 50percent principle if transformed into practice may perhaps be the single most effective mechanism to transform not only the ANC from within, to translate gender equality into the everyday life of the organisation, but also of society.

It is a pity that the ANC Women's League is in such a mess. The Gender Equality Commission is also failing its constitutional mandate to monitor whether the policy of gender equality is implemented. To succeed, the commission must take head-on prejudiced political leaders.

lGumede is author of Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC.