COVID-19 has shone a brighter spotlight on the realities that women are faced with on a daily basis.
A major one for some, according to Ncumisa Mtshali, Head of Human Resources at Bryte Insurance, being gender-based violence, which seemingly increased since the lockdown. Secondly, the majority of females in South Africa work in mainly informal economic sectors that were not recognised as essential services and hence closed for a long time which left a lot of women destitute.
“When one applies a gender lens, however, we discover how disproportionately weighted this pandemic is on women and girls in light of various external factors such as legal, social and economic barriers. Do you, for example, blame the pandemic for societal norms which were accepted and injected into previous generations? The harsh reality is that women have been fighting this ‘pandemic’ since the 1800’s. We need a vaccine for the mind to break down mental models and set a new precedence for the future generation,” said Alicia Narainsamy, Underwriting Head of Digital Distribution at SHA Risk Specialists.
The hats women wear
“As home schooling became a reality for several months (in some instances, still continuing), many women had to play the role of teacher, adding to the many hats they continue to wear,” said Mtshali.
“The reality is that men and women experience things differently; in addition to work, often times, women have more to juggle in terms of their family and household responsibilities, which can be rather challenging. Looking at the pandemic from a work perspective, women make up a large percentage of the workforce in industries such as catering and tourism. With these industries being heavily impacted by the pandemic, many lost their jobs - especially those on the lower income scale,” added Yulandi van Dyk, Chief Financial Officer at Bryte Insurance.
The 21st century
“The rise in domestic violence incidents, heightened by the pandemic, proves that many women in our country are in a vulnerable position. While it is critical for everyone to have an equal voice, COVID-19 has further emphasised the need to amplify women’s voices and accelerate the prioritisation of gender equality. As women, we have a lot to offer. We think differently and can provide complementary or contrasting perspectives. It is important, both in the workplace as well as in our personal lives, to have a balanced view on things and that can be achieved when we afford equal room for men and women to contribute to the conversations,” continued van Dyk.
“If you exclude women, and their views, you lose out on their contribution to key conversations. The value of women across business, government and society continues to be evident. It is extremely encouraging to see more women occupy positions of power, in meaningful ways, and adding the value that they do,” added Mtshali.
“The fact that we still need to validate why half of the human population’s voices need to be heard is concerning in itself. The voices of women, who in most societies play the largest role in raising future generations, should be normalised in all aspect of society. Ensuring women are optimally represented and their views considered and incorporated into decisions is critical. A key driver in successfully achieving this is for men to be allies in this movement. This will facilitate the creation of a society that is built and functions to service all its members equally,” said Jaqueline Sibenge, Chief Risk Officer Sub-Saharan Africa, AIG.
“There is so much more value in my voice than raising it to ask, “what’s for dinner”? The problem with the workforce today is that when a young woman enters, it takes her almost a decade to find her leadership voice, because from the onset, it is often supressed by stereotypical demographic views that others impede onto her despite her qualifications. Therefore, the question is not can women’s voices be heard, but rather it’s a matter of do we have the right podium to speak,” emphasised Narainsamy.
Our power as women
“Our female predecessors have fought their way through history so that we can thrive in this moment we now find ourselves in. We are on the praecipes of true change, a seismic shift away from defining us by our gender and more towards our skills and competencies. This defining moment is attributed to years of defiling the inequalities borne to women out of poorly developed and insecure world views. The baton is now in our hands to ensure that we cultivate a new era on powerful leaders,” added Narainsamy.
Ncumisa said, “I think we need to understand and appreciate the rights we have as South African women and ensure that we are all utilising our platforms to add value in every way we can, but also to create more opportunities for our sisters, daughters, mothers and female colleagues, among others. Women must continue to take up their rightful place at the boardroom table, in society and within their families, without any hesitation. We must all be proud of and recognise that the contribution we make is immensely important but also unique.”
“Depending on how you look at it, one could argue that we constantly find ourselves at defining points. We can always bring about big changes by being ourselves and don’t necessarily have to wait for any event or moment to do so. We need to continue to step up in the best way we can – and where hurdles exist, support each other in bringing these down so there’s more room for us in positions of greater influence. We must all be proud of the immense value and talents we bring - in any setting. We should not feel the need to conform to patriarchal systems; we must unapologetically embrace our femininity, respect and value our contribution, and recognise our power as women,” said van Dyk.
“What is important is that the change we see is underpinned by the right intentions. All too often the momentum of change is lost after the initial hype and people and society revert to the previous status quos. We need sustainable, scalable change in gender dynamics,” added Sibenge.
Inspiration this Women’s Day
“Feminism is not a movement or a rite of passage it’s a mindset shift which puts women in their rightful place- which is everywhere,” concluded Narainsamy.
“One of my favourite quotes about women is: ‘A strong woman is one who feels deeply and loves fiercely. Her tears flow as abundantly as her laughter. A strong woman is both soft and powerful, she is both practical and spiritual. A strong woman loves, forgives, walks away, let’s go, tries again and perseveres, no matter what life throws at her.’ Women of the 21st century have a responsibility to be an example to each other. We must inspire other women to be the best versions of themselves. We must continue to stand together and uplift one another. That is one of the most important things we can do as a collective,” concluded van Dyk.
“For me, it’s about being okay with who you are and the path that you have chosen. We all have different aspirations as women and we are allowed to be multi-faceted beings, rather than trying to fit into a single box. I think we also need to lift others as we rise. Opening up the doors for those who come after us is very important, as we could be paving the way for someone to make a profound impact on the world. We need to be bold enough to grab opportunities. We must also have confidence in our own abilities and what we can achieve,” Mtshali concluded.
“To be a woman in the 21st century means to have the freedom to choose what to do in all facets of life. This means to be able to choose to have a career, any career, or to choose to be a homemaker, or both. It also includes the freedom of choice in regard to one’s own body. What is important is that no one’s right to choose is restricted by societal expectations and pressures, or by limitations in opportunities. To all women, I say to bring more of who they intrinsically are to every space they find themselves in. To not fit into boxes, but to define ‘boxes’ that are limitless and that accommodate the multifaceted nature of humanity,” concluded Sibange.
Underwriting Head of Digital Distribution
SHA Risk Specialists
Chief Risk Officer
Sub-Saharan Africa, AIG
Head of Human Resources
Yulandi van Dyk
Chief Financial Officer