Old Mutual Women’s Day event – 14 August 2013

Long, long ago – in the years before even I was born – men’s physical strength gave them what marketer’s today might term “a competitive edge”. I would imagine that physical strength was an important consideration when hunting mammoths, for example – or hurling rocks.

Later, when human beings developed the weapons to do each other serious harm in large numbers, it was mostly the men who “excelled” in war, who led the slave trade, who robbed, raped and pillaged, and ruled the world.

Times have changed, but many of us men have not. And in some respects, nor has our world changed much, either.

Greed, materialism, consumptiveness and power-lust cause us (usually men) to do awful things to one another (men, women and children) and the earth we share.  We are poised at the edge of the abyss, and it is men who have driven us here mostly.

We gave up hunting mammoths some time ago. We have given up on trench warfare and bayonet charges, and most other forms of hand-to-hand combat. Surely the technological age has rendered physical strength obsolete – except perhaps on the rugby field?

Yet men continue to occupy most positions of leadership, from industry to commerce, to the church, to government. Why?

This is not a question of supremacy or superiority, but one of necessity for our collective survival. Brute force is not going to resolve anything. There is a need for a new type of courageous and compassionate leadership. Ubuntu-based leadership; leadership that recognises our inter-dependence and our complementarity.

Sadly, these are qualities that are only very seldom found in men. Happily, they are found in abundance in women.

There is a need to fundamentally turn around our thinking about gender equality – it begins in our homes, with our families, at work and at school, and in our communities. We need to develop our societies in a way that care for others is regarded as a necessity, and not necessarily a charitable gesture or part of a company’s must-have corporate social investment portfolio. As they say, “Make every day a Mandela Day!”

We must ask: How is it that a society such as ours, with such a proud record of overcoming racial discrimination, can be so tolerant of gender discrimination and the brutalisation of women by men?

Yes, we have one of the world’s most progressive Constitutions on matters of equality and the recognition of our mutual rights. Yes, we are a society in transition, still deeply disturbed by the wounds of our past. And we are battling to narrow the wealth gap, resulting in many of our people continuing to live in conditions that place them at risk.

But, NO, these excuses are not acceptable. NO, we should not allow ourselves to become blasé about the rape of our women and children, as if this inhuman behaviour were somehow “normal”. NO, we should not expect men to fix the problem alone.

As we speak, men are leading military offensives in so-called “trouble spots” across the world. Men from the north are leading multinational companies prospecting for mineral and energy resources in the south. Men control most of the world’s governments and resources and religions.

Women, the glue holding families and communities together, suffer most as a result of men’s endeavours.

As citizens of Cape Town, politically-speaking, we have women at the helm of our city and our province, and our parliament has among the world’s highest representation of women. When it comes to business, we have had BEE and now BBBEE, policies that have actively encouraged the participation of women in our economy. We have had woman at the helm of our universities, and among the top ranks of our professionals.

But this is clearly not good enough. We need a new revolution, beginning in our homes, that recognises women as the heartbeat and spine of our human family. We need to agitate for women to hold positions of leadership in our organisations, in our schools, in our businesses and our places of worship. And we need to develop the strength to speak out against prejudice and discrimination wherever we find it, to speak out against sexism and gender intolerance – to speak out for compassion and love.

Many years ago, in the Garden of Eden, God recognised a vital truth: God looked at Adam and pronounced that the garden was not for man, alone. Man could not survive, alone. Women were and are indispensible for our very existence.

Let us acknowledge and honour women every day.

God bless you.