“If you want to lift up humanity, empower women. It is the most comprehensive, pervasive, high-leverage investment you can make in human beings.” – Melinda Gates, in her book, “Moment of Lift”
In the more than sixty years since the Women’s March to the Union Buildings, women have been at the forefront of the struggle for transformation in South Africa.
Many of our grandmothers and mothers have made great sacrifices to achieve democratic freedom and equality, despite being denied the opportunity to achieve their own ambitions.
Many of us are lucky. We have benefited from their continuous struggle and over the decades, women have gained ground in many facets of our society, including greater representation in the workplace. I have been fortunate to have been raised by a strong mother and was encouraged by my family to dream big and to work hard to create opportunities to further myself. In my career, I was fortunate to have found a home in an organisation that fundamentally is premised on gender-neutral, race-neutral output. And this has been invaluable to me - both in my career and personally.
But there is still much of the road to be travelled. Despite all the advancements of the generation before, so many women are still left behind, carrying the burden of social prejudice that limits or destroys the contribution that women can make to this world.
Here at Coronation, we have traditionally celebrated National Women’s Day by coming together (clients, colleagues and hundreds of learners from schools around the country) to share our collective experiences, offer support and collaboration and learn from the inspiring stories delivered by great women in their fields of expertise.
But this year is like no other that I have experienced in my lifetime. The Covid-19 pandemic has altered the way we live and work in ways none of us could have imagined in January. The days seem to blur into one another and now, 5 months into lockdown, there are days when the toll weighs heavier than before. Anxieties, fuelled by concerns for the safety of our loved ones, the prevalent human tragedies and the need to make good decisions in uncertain times, test our resilience and fortitude.
Again, it is women who bear the brunt
It is no secret that when times get tough for humanity, they get tougher for women and, as President Ramaphosa reported in his June National Address this year, the Covid-19 pandemic has been no exception.
For many women at Coronation and readers of this open letter, we have experienced an increase in stress and tension as we strive to ‘work like we have no kids and parent like we have no work’. The stresses of adapting to this new world of home schooling, working from home and the loss of our direct community infrastructure has understandably taken its toll.
Trends globally show that many women have had to cut working hours to cope with the increased family demands, reducing their economic freedoms and financial security and stalling the progress being made on closing the gender pay gap. In addition, many women have acknowledged facing real mental-health and burnout challenges.
At the most heart-rending end of the spectrum has been the victimisation of women by members of their communities and households. It was almost a year ago that our country was deeply traumatised by acts of extreme violence perpetrated against women and children, with the brutal murder of young Uyinene escalating this systemic problem to a national crisis. It was a moment that shook the very foundations of our society and the unified cries of “Enough is Enough” were heard across the country. It felt as though an acute struggle was moving from the periphery of the civil rights movement and settling firmly at its core.
It is particularly disheartening and unacceptable, against this backdrop, that the protective measures of a global lockdown, aimed at containing the spread of Covid-19, has added fuel to this other deadly danger. During these periods of lockdown, there has been a reported increase in gender-based violence in many countries across the globe from the US, the UK, Canada, France, Spain, Australia to mention a few - and here at home in South Africa.
The United Nations has rightly dubbed this as a growing shadow pandemic.
Domestic abuse in South Africa is simply staggering and ranks among the worst in the world. It is something for which every South African citizen, women and men, rich and poor, needs to take responsibility and accountability.
Importantly, the most privileged among us simply cannot distance ourselves from the scourge of gender-based violence. Grassroots organisations and communities have played a critical role in responding to this crisis but need to be supported strongly in their current frontline role, including with funding that remains in the longer-term. Helplines, psychosocial support and online counselling is crucial and needs to be boosted so that as many women and girls as possible can be helped.
In this regard, the private sector has a critical role to play, using our resources and platforms to create awareness and lend support.
A contribution on your behalf
Our Women’s Day events are always a special highlight in our diaries. This year we cannot meet. The shared experiences and collaboration are not replicable in a virtual event.
With this in mind, we at Coronation have put a great deal of thought into additional ways in which we can uplift and support the women of South Africa during this challenging time. Given the staggering levels of domestic abuse that our President highlighted in June, we feel that the best way to deploy our Women’s Day funding is towards a cause that is focused on supporting the many victims of this scourge.
We have therefore donated the money we would normally use on our Women’s Day events to a very worthy organisation – the TEARS Foundation – to assist them in their efforts to help the victims of domestic abuse. With their national reach and influence, we hope that this contribution will help them achieve maximum impact.
The TEARS Foundation was founded in 2012 and is a Registered Non-Profit Organisation that uses innovative technology in the fight against domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse. The members of TEARS put together a unique programme to help victims abuse, providing free national access to crisis intervention, advocacy, counselling and preventative education services.
Mara Glennie, Founder and CEO of TEARS, expressed her appreciation for the much-needed contribution, and, to paint the picture in her words, “especially at this time due to the ever escalating gender-based violence that has been exacerbated by the effects of lockdown and Covid-19. The impact of this donation will save lives and serves as encouragement to our team as we operate in an under resourced and frequently forgotten field. We are extremely grateful for your meaningful donation.”
I am honoured to offer support to this amazing team of people and the crucial, urgent and difficult role they play in helping women to regain their dignity, and to become economically active and empowered. If you would like to know more about this amazing initiative, please visit www.tears.co.za.
A time for renewal … a time for thanks … and a time to stand together in our shared humanity
Covid-19 is already challenging us in ways most of us have never previously experienced, providing emotional and economic shocks that we are struggling to rise above. The escalation in domestic violence emerging as a dark feature of this pandemic is both a mirror and a challenge to our values, our resilience and shared humanity. We must not only survive Covid-19, but emerge renewed, with women as a powerful force at the centre of a more healed society.
On that note, I’d like to honour you and thank you on Women’s Day, not just the women among us, but the men too who recognise the injustice and disparity of gender inequity and actively work to bring about much needed change.
Women's Day offers us a chance to reflect on the progress women have made, and to constantly remind that an empowered world is an enabled world. After the gains in past decades, we cannot be complacent. We owe it to the women who came before us, and to our daughters’ generations and beyond, to push for more progress. The revolution is still mid-play – and you are its most valuable player.
I wish you an empowered Women’s Day.