Can South Africa be free if women are not free?

South Africa will not be a free country until the women who live in it are free, delegates at a Nelson Mandela Foundation dialogue heard on 10 October 2017. (Image: Foter)

South Africa will not be a free country until the women who live in it are free, delegates at a Nelson Mandela Foundation dialogue heard on 10 October 2017.

The event explored the theme “Revisiting the promise of a new South Africa – can South Africa be free if women are not free?” It was co-hosted by the non-profit Hanns Seidel Foundation as part of a series of lectures in the run-up to the 2017 Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture, on 25 November 2017 in Cape Town.

The 2017 Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture will be delivered by United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Amina J Mohammed. The Annual Lecture is one of the Foundation’s flagship programmes to honour its founder, Nelson Mandela.

For 14 years, global leaders have used the lecture to raise topical issues affecting South Africa, Africa and the rest of the world. Mohammed will address the topic “Centering gender: reducing inequality through inclusion”.

In South Africa, patriarchy, poverty and heteronormativity (a world view that promotes heterosexuality as the normal or preferred sexual orientation) all intersect to form a culture that works against women, one of the speakers said.

The dialogue operated under the Chatham House Rule, meaning that information disclosed during the meeting can be reported by those present, but the source of that information may not be explicitly or implicitly identified.

“Peace in patriarchy is war against women,” said another speaker, who also argued that patriarchy damaged men. “It takes men away from their heart spaces, blocking them from [expressing their feelings].”

A third speaker set out how South Africa’s townships were built initially as “male-only” places intended to locate black labour on the outskirts of urban areas, where they could provide cheap labour. While townships had over time become places where families lived, they were still subject to a predominantly male ethos.

Perhaps, one of the speakers mused, South Africa and the world had reached a time where social institutions, most of them founded in a patriarchal world, were reaching their sell-by date. “They are not hitting the mark of what’s needed [in the modern world].”

The question then explored was what had to change, and how.