Monday, September 14, 2009

In pole position

Ever since the first democratic elections in South Africa, principles of empowerment have been enshrined in the constitution which governs the new South Africa.

With Mandela at the presidential helm, images of the rainbow nation blurred at the edges in a neat picture frame of an ideal society where the priority was to re-balance inequities in race, gender, cultural and economic status among the black population of South Africa.
Following 50-plus decades of an apartheid government, trans-formation and empowerment became the buzz words of the day after the elections in 1994.

Women's Day
Women's Day in South Africa commemorates the day in 1956 when women from all races and walks of life marched to the Union Buildings in mass protest against oppressive apartheid laws. It was a historic march that became a turning point in the history of women's role in the struggle for a non-racial and non-sexist South Africa.

This courageous act, fuelled by the injustices of the apartheid government, was a public demonstration of women united in a cause and determined to make their voices heard. Their accomplish-ment continues to ignite the flame for women's empowerment today.

The theme for Women's Month 2009, 'Together Empowering Women for Development and Gender Equality', is a big one to unpack. The newly created Ministry for Women, Children and People with Disabilities signals interesting developments ahead. However, translating empowerment policies into a tangible reality continues to be a challenge.

Activities have been remarkably muted this year. Possibly, reduced budgets from the economic crunch meant the money simply wasn't there for a fanfare! No doubt, the buzz ebbs at a lower frequency. For many, the public holiday was an opportunity for a road trip over the long weekend.

Refreshingly, some (mainly men) told me Women's Day was every day, so what was the fuss about? Even fewer told me about how the day wasn't of any significance to them as women or men who love women and the word empowerment were, let's say, off the radar.

Pole dancing
As one of the more popularly celebrated public holiday months, Women's Month programmes are hosted by government, private-sector institutions and organisations in every sector imaginable. From the more serious, usually government-led activities to a special employee treat at the spa and pole dancing lessons, interpretations of what empowerment means is somewhat elastic.

Now, when pole dancing becomes a measure of empowerment, something is clearly amiss. I'm sure wrapping one's body around a pole in lewd, semi-acrobatic positions could be fun for some and, at best, a good workout, but empowering?

So what of the women who marched back in 1956? In our relatively cushy mod-con, empowered lives, how are we picking up the baton and ensuring that we follow in their footsteps? Sure, empowerment is a matter of interpretation and clearly we have a long road to walk.

No comments: