The threats to our natural environment, along with the uncertainty it brings, most significantly affects South Africa’s women. In a spirited and inspiring online Women’s Month event (held earlier this month), Earthlife Africa Johannesburg – along with partners Gender CC Southern Africa-Women for Climate Justice, Greenpeace Africa and the Africa Coal Network – joined women from around the country to discuss some of the key issues highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“This pandemic has increased women’s vulnerability (through job losses, food insecurity, and more), and has exposed us to even greater risk of gender-based violence (GBV) in and outside the home. And still there are many other issues women have to deal with. Right now, since we are so focused on surviving this pandemic, women are less able to focus on environmental issues, which ultimately affects us. It is important that we highlight all the struggles of women every day and consider all the ways to overcome them, if we hope to see an improvement in the current situation,” says Earthlife Africa’s Nomalizo Xhoma (pictured, below).
Xhoma says, “And, while South Africa’s women, many of whom are already at a disadvantage, are struggling to survive this pandemic, we still have to deal with the ongoing loadshedding and the added risks to our personal safety. We also have to fight the government for our right to affordable electricity and ensure that these come from clean and safe sources. And we also need to do our bit to protect our environment, on which many of our livelihoods depend. However, this becomes harder to do, when we have so many other obstacles to overcome. Through our event, Earthlife hopes to support our women leaders on the ground, as they deal with everything.”
“The struggle of women is literally everywhere. In the home. At work. On the street. Everywhere. That is why we have to be united in our fight for equity. There are all sorts of things that women have to be concerned about, but these are not considered in the current system. We must take action to change the system. And we will have to reinvent the wheel, because the wheel has not been working for women. We have to confront the system and push the boundaries,” adds Makoma Lekalakala, Earthlife’s Director.
“We can still isolate to stay safe during this pandemic, but – as we have witnessed in areas hit by natural disasters such as when Cyclone Idai and Kenneth hit the south-eastern parts of the African continent – we do not have the luxury of isolation from climate change. This also needs all of us to act, because women will once again be the ones to suffer the consequences the most,” adds Lekalakala.
Dorah Marema from GenderCC SA based in Johannesburg says, “With women making up the majority, it is interesting that our issues are not in the forefront. The problem lies with how we are socialised. This continues to place women and girls as second-class citizens. We urgently need to find ways to break this notion. Furthermore, women also have to deal with cultural barriers like being expected to be submissive to their male counterparts. This even affect those in leadership.”
“In order to move women’s issues to the front of the national agenda, women need to stand in solidarity with each other. This will be the best way to amplify our voices. We must find ways to build our confidence, so that we do not apologise for our convictions and stand our ground on the issues we are fighting for. Women’s issues will only be taken seriously once we stand together and keep showing up in all the spaces to raise our voices. Once we recognise the common threads of our individual fights, we will be better able to affect change. But, this won’t happen overnight. It will take time. We just have to keep at it,” adds Marema.
Ndivile Mokoena, also from GenderCC SA says, “As women, we need to address the “pull-her-down syndrome.” We should rather consider extending a hand to a sister behind you and pull her forward. Take the time mentor and guide – where you can – sharing your own knowledge and experience. Let us break down the barriers and move forward together. We need to pay attention about what we teach our children at the elementary stages about how females are seen and represented in our society. We are the ones that need to put in the work, but we need to walk this journey together.”
Bukelwa Nzimande from Greenpeace Africa says “We are indeed our grandmothers’ wildest dreams because we have been able to achieve what they could only dream of. But, we still have a lot of work to do. The system of patriarchy, which has forced women to conform must be dismantled, because we can no longer conform to a system that does not work or serve us. It has been designed to perpetuate the inequalities we continue to experience in our society.”