— by Zanele from South Africa
The higher I climbed the public service leadership ladder, the more I experienced the gruesome realization that I was close to achieving my professional development objectives, yet too far from accomplishing my career goals. The barriers that hinder success for a young black woman are far from over. In South Africa, if you’re a young, black, educated, urban, middle-class woman, you are considered as part of the so called “privileged” generation. Little know that the journey to such a false truth as “black privilege” is a wounding bitter thorn to a delayed success. Such ideologies are often used to reinforce the barriers to opportunities for people of color, which remain high and for women of color, even higher.
I would attend various international, regional and national meetings of all kinds; conferences, seminars or symposiums, and I would be the youngest female professional in the whole lot, the only female at most. The majority, the most represented gender, would be men. Always. Men who would approach me seeking answers dubbed by their curiosity to understand how I got to be in “their space”. In most cases, I felt forced to explain myself countlessly, having to mention my qualifications, experience and the journey that led me to be in the same “space” as my male counter parts… However, one day, I decided to stop. I decided to stop explaining myself. This enabled me to understand the underlying socially institutionalized concept of gender inequality.
Today, majority of companies in various sectors and corporate industries are largely dominated by men. This has been due to many centuries of imposed patriarchy, ingrained in the social, economic and political systems which define how our societies currently inefficiently operate, lacking acknowledgement of the various effects of gender inequality. Essentially in all societies and sectors, Men earn more than women, patriarchy has resulted in staggering power imbalances amongst men and women and this has resulted in evident income and power disparities.
When men hold positions of leadership, they hold decision–making power. As leaders, they are the ones with the authority to determine the limitations to socioeconomic, cultural and political liberation of women and girls. Therefore, to achieve gender equality, women have to strive towards confronting patriarchy in all its forms, throughout all levels of society. Men too have to reach the realization that women are key contributors to economic development, social cohesion and cultural transformation.
Women and men have to work collectively to call for gender equality measures to be reflected in policies and systems, both on a national & global level. Both genders have to partner in solidarity as feminists, to diminish gender biases but most importantly to confront and to dissolve patriarchy, patrilocality*, and patrilineality**. Through this, young people, irrespective of gender, race, social class, education, or lifestyle will have opportunities to freely make meaningful contributions to uplifting communities and making the world a better place for all, without having to explain about how they get to be where they are at.
As young women in the 21st century, we have a vital role to play in confronting patriarchy by persistently challenging the status quo, being pioneers and whistle blowers, calling for gender equality in all its dimensions. To the girl going to school despite cultural barriers challenging her to do otherwise, to the educated and strongly qualified young woman working hard and striving to build her career in a male dominated environment, to the woman who owns her own tangible and intangible assets whilst being a wife to her husband and a mother to her children – I say, rise. Rise, confront the root causes of gender equality and walk towards building futures for your generation and the next. It begins with us.
*patrilocality is when the residence of a couple (especially of the newly married) is with the husband’s family or tribe
** patrilineality is a system in which one belongs to one’s father’s lineage; it generally involves the inheritance of property, names or titles through the male line as well