The objectification of women continues to define and blight the human social landscape. As an interested male observer, I have been both appalled and embarrassed by the general treatment of Julia Eileen Gillard, the Australian Prime Minister until her recent ouster by Kevin Rudd. Be it the opposition menu, the infamous ‘Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail’, or the radio interview, the deposed Australian PM has borne the brunt of the most appalling male attitudes towards women in power yet her experiences are just but a tip of the iceberg.
Gender inequality remains perhaps the worst moral challenge of our time. As part of that world where access to socioeconomic resources is still largely predicated on one’s gender, Mthwakazi must take steps to ensure gender equality becomes the basis of human development.
The current Mthwakazi nationalist political narrative overstates the utility of ethnic appropriateness while underestimating the damaging effect of pre-existing internal social inequalities. Nationalists must adopt a progressive and expansive approach as opposed to the current defensive measures that emphasise the victim status. None of the political parties specifically address the issue of gender equality when evidence points at gender inequality as directly responsible for poverty among women and girls in our society.
Of people categorised as living in extreme poverty around the world, women and girls account for about 70 percent, a status that increases their vulnerability. Traditional property rights restrict women’s access to land, among other resources and this increases their risk of poverty. We have a perverse case in which at least 70 percent of Mthwakazi’s rural population is dependent on farming and females account for the majority of the workforce on family owned agricultural holdings yet they experience limited rights to property and access to resources.
Food insecurity presents major challenges for developing countries and gender inequalities have a negative impact on agricultural productivity. The Food and agriculture Organization (FAO) (2011) argues that on average women account for 43 percent of agricultural labour in developing countries and estimates that an increase of between 20 – 30 percent in farm yields could be realised were men and women to have equal access to productive resources.
Quite clearly, empowering women is an essential tool for both development and poverty reduction in the world. Gender equality must therefore be seen not as a concept but a human right matter. Mthwakazi nationalists need to close the gender-gap starting with exercising gender sensitivity within their institutions; women must not only be visible but they should be heard within these organisations.
Leadership structures of nationalist movements indicate major gender disparities in positions of political influence. Even more worrying is the observation that the few women who hold positions of power hardly weld the corresponding executive power that their titles suggest they hold. It is perhaps unsurprising that the current political narrative overstates the utility of force while giving lesser attention to its collateral damage.
Women and girls suffer the most hardship during and after humanitarian emergencies, including armed conflict, as such women representation and real involvement in the nationalist agenda is non negotiable.
I do acknowledge that one organisation has made efforts to recognise the importance of women’s contribution to the nationalist agenda by establishing a women’s wing. I however have reservations over the structure within which the women’s wing operates. The party has a main wing, a youth wing and the women’s wing; it would appear the women’s wing works on the margins of a male dominated main wing of the organisation.
By implication the women’s wing is a mere subsidiary of the main wing and probably only as important as the youth wing in the decision-making process. Without executive powers, the women’s wing is an extension of male control of women as opposed to their empowerment. Gender equality would be measured by the genuine influence of women in the nationalist movement.
Gender inequality is a human right violation; Mthwakazi nationalists’ only viable choice is to address the current disparities in accessing socioeconomic resources between men and women both in the wider society and within the nationalist movement. Cosmetic measures such as women’s wings which appear to be an extension of male control of women as opposed to their empowerment are simply unacceptable if Mthwakazi is to develop and reduce poverty.