Jameson Hall recently provided the setting for a frank discussion on gender issues that included a contribution by President Michelle Bachelet of Chile, who was among the speakers hosted by UCT Chancellor Mrs GraÃ§a Machel.
UCT Chancellor Mrs GraÃ§a Machel believes there is not enough outrage concerning violence against women.
"It strikes me that our society is not outraged about this violence. We know it exists and is a problem, but we don't see the same kind of outrage that says, 'This cannot continue'," Machel stated as she opened the discussion, in which Chilean President Michelle Bachelet participated, and which formed part of the 12th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture series.
Machel welcomed Bachelet in very warm terms, calling her by her first name not out of disrespect for her office, but because she always thinks of her as "a good sister and friend". Bachelet is the first female president of Chile. Her speaking engagement at UCT was preceded by the 2014 Nelson Mandela Lecture, which she delivered on Women's Day.
Machel hosted the event, titled 'Gender in Dialogue', which saw prominent proponents of gender equity such as feminist writer Nombonisa Gasa, Sonke Gender Justice activist Mbuyiselo Botha and UCT's Dr Zethu Matebeni address a packed Jameson Hall on 10 August.
The event was organised in partnership with UCT's African Gender Institute (AGI), and interaction with the audience as well as between the speakers was facilitated by AGI director Associate Professor Jane Bennett and her colleague, Yaliwe Clark.
Machel went on to describe violence against women as a global phenomenon in which women "are being killed at the hands of those (men) who claim to love them, should protect them, and should be proud of their success". She observed that the empowerment of women socially and economically has led to men feeling increasingly powerless, which in turn has resulted in an increase in the abuse of women on the home front.
Bachelet agreed with this assessment, adding that "equal, inclusive and harmonic development is not possible in the world if we don't put gender equality at the top of the list of challenges that we states, NGOs and universities of the world must address".
Like Machel, she recognises that the legal framework set up to address gender parity is not adequate. "Sometimes the law addresses the issue in a partial instead of a comprehensive way. Those in power understand that they need to do more for women; but what would happen is that you'd have a good law, but there would be no budget for its implementation. Or you have a law and the budget, but there is no political will to implement it.
"We need to have a comprehensive approach. We need to deal with many difficult and different things," Bachelet explained.
She called for the development of "a culture of respect between people – men and women, girls and boys – a respect for diversity in our societies. We're not dealing well with diversity – whether ethnic, sexual, or any other kind".
Bachelet argued that a change in culture would generate the right conditions, in which women could make decisions that would affect every aspect of their lives. "We also need powerful women in leading positions, to serve as role models to other women."
Machel, in turn, believes the solution lies in the creation of a social movement of outrage, "so that those who target women should feel absolutely isolated. They should be ashamed of leaving the house. It's up to women to engage in such a movement, one that says, 'Enough is enough. We will no longer accept this'."
'We are angry'
In her response to the dialogue between Machel and Bachelet, UCT activist and host of the Queer in Africa events Matebeni expressed her and others' outrage at the violence exercised on women's bodies, psyches and spaces.
"We are angered that Nontsikelelo Tyatyeka's murderer continued to roam the streets, greeting Nontsikelelo's mother and bragging to friends about how he killed the 21-year-old woman. After she refused to sleep with him, he murdered her and wrapped her body in a blanket. A year later, only, her body was found dumped and decomposed in a rubbish bin, in a neighbour's yard in Nyanga," Matebeni said, adding, "How can we not be outraged when men think they can take our bodies without our consent? When they believe that a woman's sexuality is only the preserve of men?"
Her contribution to the discussion ended with this: "History has shown us that freedom comes with taking risks. Like many who have risked their lives, their children and their families for this nation and the liberation of her people, we continue this work, this work of liberation – until we all are free!"
Matebeni received a standing ovation for her passionate speech, after which her fellow speaker, Nombonisa Gasa, struggled to contain her tears.
Fathers are important
Feminist Gasa found the problems surrounding gender issues to be in their conceptualisation. She referred to a structural inequality that can only be countered if feminists remain curious: "We have to describe the problems anew. The situation calls for us to be very curious, and to have a daring imagination," she concluded.
The only man on the panel, Mbuyiselo Botha of Sonke Gender Justice, held the opinion that "the elephant in the room is the role of men. It is important to centralise and to situate the important role we play as fathers, in a country that has normalised violence and poverty".
Story by Abigail Calata. Photo by Je'nine May.
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