Mail & Guardian’s headline for Gerry Elsdon’s suspension reads: ‘The South African Red Cross's governing board has suspended former beauty queen and TV personality Gerry Elsdon with immediate effect’. Elsdon is not simply a pretty face but the chief executive officer of Cinnamon Communication as well as the tuberculosis goodwill Ambassador for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, among other things. However, the Mail & Guardian even though the article is about her suspension, it fails to focus on her achievements and contributions. Why did the author choose to focus on her beauty instead of her reported suspension?- Mashadi Letwaba (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an intern at SANGONeT.
It is alarming that the media continues to enable pre-conceived notions of what the specific roles for men and women should be in society, whereas women have and are just as capable of occupying same positions as men.
Similarly, an Indian advertising agency, JWT, published a Ford Figo advertisement on the Internet with the aim of portraying how spacious the car’s boot is. The agency utilised an image of three women dressed in skimpy clothing gagged and tied up with former Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berluscon, in the driver seat. The advertisement appeared with the caption ‘Leave All Your Worries Behind with the Figo’s X-Large Boot’. This advertisement was viewed as being sexist and offensive by gender activists.
This advertisement undermines the attempts made by India to tackle the recent bursts of violence of women as well as the new country’s law against this form of violence, particularly following an incident in which a student was raped in bus in that country. Not only does the advertisement endorse the rape culture in a way it has portrayed the women, but it also makes women to be identified by their bodies, appearance and how they can be controlled through being tied up, gagged and shoved in a boot.
My view is that discrimination and negative stereotypes against women will never end in South Africa for as long the media continue to be gender blind. Sexist comments may be subliminal - especially when a journalist is gender illiterate – as evident in the Elsdon’s article. As for the Ford advertisement the intention was to portray women in negative way in order to promote a brand.
Gender Links has lashed out at President Jacob Zuma for saying it is not good for women to be single, the Mail&Guardian website reported on Wednesday.
Gender Links CEO, Colleen Lowe Morna, points out that, "It's unfortunate that these comments get made during women's month."
Speaking about his daughter, Duduzile’s marriage on SABC3’s People of the South, Zuma was quoted as saying that:
"I was also happy because I wouldn't want to stay with daughters who are not getting married, because that in itself is a problem in society. I know that people today think being single is nice. It's actually not right. That's a distortion. You've got to have kids. Kids are important to a woman because they actually give an extra training to a woman, to be a mother.”
To read the article titled, “Zuma's view on women criticised,” click here.Source:The Citizen
It is Women's Month in South Africa, that time of the year when we celebrate women and recommit to empowering them as our progressive constitution stipulates. The theme for 2012 is ‘Addressing Unemployment, Poverty and Inequality: Together Contributing Towards the Progressive Future for Women’.
As I sit and reflect on this important month, what South Africans will be doing every day to the end of the month, and what inequality means to me, I pondered about my own daily routine.
One of my favourite moments in the day is when I look at my naked body in my full length mirror after a bath. I am always fascinated by the features of it and marvel at the beauty of creation. My body does not come close to meeting the ‘beauty’ standards set out by today's media, but I always walk away from that mirror smiling.
I also sometimes feel like a glimpse of my ‘twin girlies’ during the day, and on these days I make sure I wear something that will allow me to see them. I love my body for giving me pleasure; it takes me on a high level and I feel I do not want to come back to the real world. I drool over my body, in awe of the power it has. As the character, Juanita Sims, from the movie, ‘For Coloured Girls’ says, "These are my things to uhhh and ahhh about."
Standing in front of that mirror, I am amazed at the ideas and thoughts my body comes up with - ideas most people would find crazy. For so many years, I silenced those ideas and thoughts for fear of being viewed as different. Society taught me as a young girl to be a certain being, to do things a certain way and to love a certain way. If I did otherwise, the same society would inflict penalties because there is no tolerance for women who do not live according to that script.
Growing up I also learned that I do not have control over my body, but the society does. I learned how a female body should look, what it should do, what needs to be covered and who should touch it. Obviously, what I think and feel about my body mattered very little.
Our ongoing battle to have full control over our bodies is illustrated today by the high number of women who are groped in public spaces by men who think it is acceptable to touch a woman because she chose to wear a skirt or shorts.
Dozens of women in miniskirts marched in Johannesburg in February this year to show solidarity with other women who had reported being groped by men in the Noord Street taxi rank. These women called attention to South Africa's Bill of Rights, which guarantees them right to safety and autonomy for everyone. High profile marchers presented a memorandum to the minister of justice.
Some women may feel proud that something was done to bring light to the problem of women harassed by men in public spaces. These women then go home and imagine a better and safer life for women in South Africa.
I do not think that will be possible anytime soon. We need to see the bigger picture. This issue is about more than women wearing short skirts. This harassment at the taxi rank is a public display of the power men feel they have over women; the control they feel they have over our bodies. It is also an indication of what happens in private spaces where women do not have control over their bodies; a reflection of the broader mentality of men who think our bodies should be presented in certain ways.
Men feel they can batter our bodies, determine when to have sex with our bodies, decide on whether we should use contraception, whistle or shout derogatory words at us when we pass, become enraged when other women touch our bodies, and rape or kill our bodies.
This is not acceptable. The miniskirt marchers should have clearly articulated these types of atrocities committed daily on women's bodies in both public and private spaces.
As women, we need to be aware of the power men exert over us. At times, realisation of this power and domination comes only when consciousness-raising work is done. We need to educate each other about the dominant patriarchal power which normalises abnormality, and which continues to subjugate us in sometimes subtle ways.
This Women's Month, we need to be aware that marches and public protests are not the only tools to resolve our problems. We must identify pockets of power and domination in our society and challenge them. Organisations working with women have a bigger role to play. Service providers should raise awareness about this normalisation of domination and oppression and how we have come to accept it as way of life. Such organisations should also suggest alternatives and to make them a reality.
We also need to be creative and strategic in our efforts in challenging patriarchy without compromising ourselves and selling our souls. If we insist on choosing ‘safer’ ways of challenging patriarchy, we will lose our struggle with this very old and entrenched monster. A good starting point for reclaiming control of our bodies is to learn to love ourselves and appreciate our bodies when we look in the mirror.
- Kodwa Tyiso is training and development manager at People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA) in South Africa. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service.
In the not-too-distant past, women were refused the right to education let alone to work. That notion has thankfully changed, and more and more women are steadily empowering themselves and becoming leaders in the corporate world. However, in some societies regardless of the era we live in, there are still debates about what women can and cannot do.
“It’s a man’s job,” or “Let a man do it” is a common phrase. Well, not anymore it isn’t! A 2009 study from the University of Maryland revealed that women are three times more likely to follow in their father’s career footsteps these days than they were a century ago. Women in today’s workforce are strong, confident and work in extreme jobs which make a massive impact on the way women are viewed and accepted.
Founder and manager of VN Industrial Armature Winders, Denise Naidoo, is just such a woman. She is truly ‘a lady in a man’s world’, having successfully co-owned and managed an armature winding company for the past 16 years.
According to Naidoo, the company came about in 1996 when her husband lost his job through retrenchment at an armature winding company. His years of experience counted against him in his search for new employment, as the industry was under pressure and people could not afford to pay him his true worth.
Following some sage advice from her late father, Naidoo and her husband decided to open their own company, and VN Industrial Armature Winders was born.
However, running the company was not easy in the beginning, and the couple needed support from their parents to assist them financially.
Over the years the business grew and started to develop a solid reputation, leading to some key clients including South African Breweries (SAB).
However, despite her success as a manager in an industry that is almost exclusively dominated by men, Naidoo says that being a woman in the winding industry still comes with many challenges because of her gender.
“This industry is highly dominated by men, I deal with them in the workshops and many of them can be judgmental or reluctant to give me a chance because I’m a woman”, she says. “However, once they see that I know what I am talking about and am passionate about the industry, they do usually change their attitude.”
Besides refurbishing and rewinding of rotating machines and transformers, along with selling new machines, electrical components, consumables and other items, the company also has a focus on developing and equipping women with administrative and technical skills specific to the machine industry. “I like to think I have ‘broken the mould’ as far as this industry being a male-only one is concerned, and am keen to give other like-minded women a chance,” explains Naidoo.
The company also strives to develop their local community by training, empowering and employing youth from the area of Pineridge Park - where the company is based.
The company has been acknowledged in the past for its work and has received a number of awards and accolades, including the South African Breweries Certificate of Excellence in 2008 for their dedication to their Prospection Plant.
They are also a participant in the Old Mutual Legends programme, which supports small businesses through mentoring and skills training, as well as running several workshops every year to create a healthy and vibrant small business sector in SA.
“Being part of the Legends programme has helped me focus on certain aspects that are important to the growth of my company”, she explains.
Naidoo is optimistic about the future, and strives for her company to be a leading name in the rotating machine industry. “We work extremely hard to be associated with reliability and quality workmanship. I also think that sometimes, success in business is all about a woman’s touch!” she adds with a smile.
- Abram Molelemane (email@example.com) is Media Intern at Fetola.
- August women’s month has come and gone, yet many thoughts continue to reel through my mind. This is a dedicated time devoted to celebrating women in South Africa and our milestone achievements. As always, the month indeed proved to be the busiest time for me, working within the women rights sector.
This is the month when we get more than 20 media calls per day to comment on women’s rights or rape stories, our opinion on the Sowetan newspaper video story of the police officer and correctional services officer duped ‘sex scandal’ or, whether Julius Malema had finally paid the R50 000 fine he was ordered to pay through the Equality Court judgment. Then there is the endless list of requests for workshops, awareness campaigns, motivational talks, invites to gala dinners and various presentations. It is this women’s gathering here and that commemoration event there, no one wants to be left out. The hype is all over, it is amazing!
You would think we are a nation collectively concerned and much appreciative of the relentless roles women and girls in this county. How delusional! I have been in this sector long enough to begin to wonder if all of us are as genuine and sincere as we want to appear during this time. Could it be that the passion and zeal often paraded during Women’s Month is all but a show to ‘look good’ and appear ‘relevant’ to the times’? I wonder.
I am confused and disappointed about the public discourse and happenings in this special August month for women. Much as I had looked forward to working tirelessly as has always been the norm in my organisation over the previous years, nothing ever prepares me enough for the same disappointment I continually face during this time. Let us start with the media. I strongly believe that the media plays a critical role in shaping and influencing public opinion, a role that cannot be taken lightly, yet the media continues to disappoint us. Consider the ‘Sowetan ‘Sex Scandal’ video story. True to all our amazement, the ‘alleged’ sexual video was recorded in June this year, yet the ‘juicy’ story was only left to hit the headlines right at the beginning of August – Women’s Month.
What a coincidence! Could it be that the ‘scoop’ was conveniently stored away to await the ‘right time’ or was it just pure coincidence? In my opinion, there was nothing newsworthy about that story. Not to mention the glaring stereotypical lack of gender analysis in the story. The hypocrisy of our media!
And then there is the issue of Julius Malema and the R50 000. An Equality Court judgment stemming out of an accusation of hate speech ordered Malema to pay the said amount to a women rights organisation, People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA). A day before the money was to be paid, POWA was bombarded by numerous calls from the media, not so much about the meaning and implications of the court judgment per se, but rather questions ranged from whether Malema had finally paid the money and how we were planning to use the money. As I recall one journalist asking, “Now that you have the money, is women abuse going to stop in South Africa?” Surely there was much more to be learnt from the court judgment as a whole, yet that was probably not ‘newsworthy’ enough to make for a credible story to our media partners, how sad.
Equally puzzling is the reluctance displayed by most corporate organisations to build on, or continue partnerships with women rights organisations beyond Women’s Month. We are only as relevant to them in as far as August month and 16 Days of Activism are concerned. We continue to face a passive response to our requests for much needed funding to continue the work that we do throughout the year - right from trying to request for support to cover costs of a staff member whom they have requested to do a presentation or to make a simple donation to one of our shelters. This always seems like too much to ask.
Moreover, very few of these organisations are ever willing to initiate in-house gender-related programmes that seek to advance women’s rights from within.
One then begins to question the sincerity in all this? Is this all about just attempting to fulfill what seems to be an obligation during Women’s Month? Or do we as women’s rights organisations still have so much work to do in terms of raising awareness on the need for all of us to play our part in the fight towards the true achievement of women’s rights?
I remain with questions: Is the media and corporate sector merely cashing in on the hype of Women’s Month to make huge profits or are they sincerely driven by the desire to transform and change societal perceptions for the better? And then again, are we as civil society organisations taking the responsibility to pro-actively influence what goes on in the media, and what information we share during the presentations we are called on to do? We know they need us, and will call on us during such times, but then how do we ensure that our input and comments influence towards the positive and progressive society that we seek?
I believe only then, can we as a nation come to a point where we truly celebrate Women’s Month for its intended noble purpose. That is to celebrate and honour women, our good deeds, humility, success and the great lives we lead. Perhaps next year’s August month will tell a different story. May I live to see that day.
- Nonhlanhla Sibanda is projects coordinator at People Opposing Women Abuse.
- Picture courtesy of Women’sNet.
- When Dr. Telle Whitney, CEO and President of the Anita Borg Institute, was asked on Fox Business News’ Varney & Company to share why she believes the world needs more women in the field of technology, she said that more women in tech will both create diversity and drive innovation.
Why then, despite the benefits that diversity can bring, do technical fields continue to struggle to recruit and retain women computer scientists and engineers? Why do girls in school and college show less interest than boys in technical subjects? Can we pinpoint this fact to nature or nurture? Research that is being done to explore the reasons why girls and women are less attracted to technical fields than men is resulting in interesting findings about the impact of stereotypes on girls and women’s interest and performance in technical disciplines.
One of the things that recent research has shown is that girls and women’s performance in technical areas is affected simply by knowing about the existence of the stereotype that women aren’t as good as men in technical areas. This is defined as ‘stereotype threat’. In an interview about his research on the comparison of African-American students’ performance on the SAT to white students’, Claude Steele, professor of social psychology at Stanford, explains stereotype threat as “a situation where a negative stereotype about [a] group could apply. As soon as that’s the case, [they] know that [they] could be judged in terms of that stereotype or treated in terms of it or [they] might inadvertently do something that would confirm the stereotype” (Secrets of the SAT, PBS.org).
A common situation of stereotype threat for girls and women is when they are tested on their knowledge of math or science. The Educational Testing Services performed an experiment to see if girls performed better or worse on a math exam if they were asked their gender either before or after the exam. Researchers found that the group of girls who were asked their gender before the exam scored several points lower than the boys, while girls who were asked their gender after the exam scored on par with the boys.
The results of this study suggest that the girls’ acknowledgement of their gender before the exam triggered their fear of confirming the stereotype, hindering them from performing to their highest capability. People tend to steer away from subjects and areas where they lack confidence. A solution to help girls feel confident in math and sciences is to eliminate the threat. Parents and teachers should remind girls that their performance on any exam is not based on their gender or race, but on how well they studied. Understanding that they have control over how much they study and how well they perform will give them more confidence and ultimately make them feel less threatened by the stereotype. With increased confidence in their math and science skills, more girls may be interested and open to careers in computer science and engineering.
Stereotypes about women’s performance in math and science aren’t the only factors dissuading girls and women from pursuing technical careers; clichéd characterisations of computer scientists and engineers can decrease girls and women’s interest in technical careers. In a lecture on ‘Stereotypes of Computer Scientists and Their Consequences for Women’s Participation’, Dr. Sapna Cheryan suggests that stereotypes about computer scientists and engineers can push women away from technical fields. Dr. Cheryan and her colleagues preformed several studies to see how environments influenced women college students’ interest in computer science.
In one study, college students were asked to fill out a questionnaire about their interest in computer science. One group of students filled out the questionnaire in a room that was termed the stereotypical room for someone with an interest or passion for computer science. In this room, there were Star Trek posters, Sci-Fi books, and stacked soda cans, while the non-stereotypical room had nature posters and neutral books. The women who took the questionnaire in the stereotypical room showed less interest in computer science than the women who took it in the non-stereotypical room. In another study, college students were asked to take a tour of two virtual computer science classrooms and then choose which room they would prefer to take the class. Both virtual classrooms were set up identically, while the objects differed. The stereotypical classroom had computer science posters while the non-stereotypical had nature posters. More women preferred to take the computer science class in the non-stereotypical room than the stereotypical.
From these experiments, Dr. Cheryan concluded that women were less likely to show interest in computer science when the environment was associated with the stereotype. She suggests that if stereotypes influence women’s career choice, then the image of technical careers should be ‘broadened’ - meaning that women should not feel obligated to identify with computer science and engineering stereotypes. Neutral environments may keep students and employees from feeling pressured to have certain interests. Companies may attract more women by building a team with diverse interest, eliminating the pressure to fit or meet a stereotype. A diverse group of women and men in computing would be valuable to the technical world.
Stereotype threat and misperceptions of technical careers have hindered women from entering and remaining in computer science and engineering fields. By making an effort to understand why girls and women are not interested in math and sciences and what obstacles they often face and then taking the next step to solving these problems, we will definitely continue to see an increase in the presence of women in computing.
- Chantaell Barker is an intern at Anita Borg Institute. It is republished here with the permission of the author.