Challenging gender perceptions

Every time Woman’s Day rolls around, I’m filled with hope and admiration for what women have achieved for their emancipation, how women are driving changes in their personal spaces and within communities, how they are making inroads into the powerful positions in government and business.

I become so hopeful that attitudes towards women have changed and that we are finally moving towards a truly egalitarian society where everyone is appreciated and valued for the unique skills they have to offer. I feel proud to be a woman and proud that I am raising a young woman in a world such as this.

But then I read the news and it’s like a ton of bricks have come crashing down on my spirit. The stories are almost too horrifying to list, rape, abuse of women and children, molestation, HIV – the cycle of violence and abuse seems never ending.

And then you get someone like Manglin Pillay, CEO of the South African Institute of Civil Engineers, whose comments in the media recently have left me dumbfounded at the mysogyny that continues to plague our society.

Here is an individual who is in one of the top senior business positions in the country, who has influence over how his profession is perceived and will grow in the future, and yet, he feels free to make gross generalisations about women and what women want, as well as make dangerous assumptions about what roles women should play in business and society.

Pillay and the men like him who have a mysogynistic, patriarchal mindset, really don’t see the problem with relegating women to nurturing, child-bearing, housekeeping and other more subservient roles because those attitudes towards women are accepted and perpetrated within our society daily.

One only has to turn on the news for examples of what I am talking about. According to Crime Statistics South Africa, 49445 rapes were reported to the police in 2017. Those are just the reported cases. No one reports the unsolicited cat calls and groping, the name calling and belittling attitudes.
No one goes to the police to report a family member forcing them to do the cooking and wash dishes because they are a female, and no one goes to the police because their boss told them to make the coffee or take meeting minutes because they are a woman.

The call for parity is not just for attitudes towards women to change, but also for equal work opportunities and equal pay. The Global Gender Gap report of 2015 stated that it will take another 118 years for women to earn the same as men. Women make up half the world’s population and yet they are still not included in businesses future plans.

And therein lies the problem. It is because we force people into roles that they do not necessarily identify with that we have issues of conflict and discrimination. Who is to say that a man would not prefer staying at home and looking after the children? Why is it an automatic assumption that all women want to have children? What does being a woman or being pregnant have to do with the ability to do a job?

These are the types of questions we should be asking instead of turning back towards the dark ages and trying to disenfranchise women by basing decisions on whether the individual has a uterus or not.

It all boils down to cultivating an attitude of mutual respect. Men really need to ask themselves that if the roles were reversed and women treated men the way men treated women, would they tolerate it?

All it takes is a little bit of mindfulness about people’s roles. Imagine if we perceived peoples roles as collaborative instead of subservient, regardless of the responsibility – that’s the stuff of revolutions.

Women’s Day should be an opportunity for all of us to challenge our perceptions about gender discrimination and make a conscientious effort to improve gender awareness in our personal, professional and business life.

By Keshina Thaver