While strides have been made to ensure gender equality over the years, work is continuing to accelerate these actions. “In terms of the landscape, I can proudly say that South African women have been as a result of democracy, taking part in decision making processes and structures. We have women ministers; we have women in top management and women who own businesses. I think in 1994, this was not imaginable. The advent of democracy has made it possible for us to thrive,” says Charlotte Lobe.
Convener of the Gertrude Shope Women Mediators Network, Lobe says while progress has been made, “I must hasten to say that a lot still needs to be done.”
She believes that the incidents of civil unrest and looting seen in July in the provinces of Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal revealed that women were disproportionately affected by the violence for the simple reason that it is largely women who are employed in the majority in the industries that were affected by the looting.
The network provided women and children with food and necessities such as sanitary towels among others.
She adds that South Africa faces several multi-faceted challenges - some as a result of socio-economic conditions.
“I think we must be alive to these challenges that made it possible for South Africans to behave in the manner that they behaved in, in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.
“It is easy to use the genuine grievances of our people in order to create what we saw. Our message from the network has always been that in whatever conflict on the continent or any [other place], we must never find women used as cannon fodder. We should never find women being used as pocketknives for people who have different issues in society whether its service delivery issues or political challenges,” she says.
In the wake of the incidents of looting, the network held a virtual South African Women’s Peace Table, which discussed women’s role in driving peacekeeping efforts.
She says struggle stalwart Shope was extremely worried about these incidents. “She pushed us to convene the peace table because she wanted South African women to do something about what was happening.”
The work of the Gertrude Shope Women Mediators Network is a result of the United Nations (UN) Security Council Resolution 1325 adopted in October 2000 which reaffirms the important role played by women in the resolution of conflict, prevention as well as peace-building efforts, among others.
South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) has been training women mediators since 2015, including women from the African continent and around 350 or more women have been trained, including Deputy Minister in the Presidency Pinky Kekana.
“Through the people being trained, a decision was taken in 2018 for us to form a Women Mediators Network. [This so as to] use the skills that women got out of the training to build peace and also their resources. For instance, The Lady of Peace Community Foundation, which is well resourced. The foundation has been using its resources to build peace in communities affected by unrest, particularly service delivery protests. We thought that if we could put those energies under one roof, we could be able to achieve something as a country. It is not only about these recent events, it is about us building a peaceful nation even before we had the unrest,” she says.
Celeste Diale who co-founded the Lady of Peace Community Foundation (LOPECO) with her mother Dieketseng in 2017, said the foundation is founded on connection, empowerment and advocating for the youth.
“As someone who participated in the peace table, we learned to understand where people come from. Young people want to be heard,” she says.
Lobe describes Shope, after whom the network is named, as a peacemaker and peacebuilder.
“When DIRCO took a decision to name its training programme after her, to name its dialogue forums, it was a result of the department acknowledging the role she played as a South African who lived in exile who also came back home. There are many stories about her in exile of how she nurtured youngsters. They were not only taught how to fight, but they were also taught how to make peace,” says Lobe in an interview with SAnews.
Experiences and best practice in peace and security have been shared at the annual Gertrude Shope Dialogue Forums that DIRCO has hosted since 2015 and this led to the formation of the network, which would create a platform for South African and African women mediators to continue to work for peace.
“I am really humbled to know her. She inspires us. Jewels like her are rare. She always acknowledges the tribe of women who are behind her, including young people,” says Lobe.
Shope celebrated her 96th birthday earlier this month.
With the country currently commemorating Women’s Month, Lobe who is also the acting Chief Operations Officer at DIRCO and South Africa's Women, Peace and Security focal person, says women have become impatient at the pace of ensuring gender equality.
While the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which is the international blueprint to achieve gender equality and women empowerment, has made progress, additional efforts are needed.
The Declaration remains an important UN instrument in pursuing the global women’s agenda of a full and equal share in economic, social, cultural and political decision-making. It aims to create an environment where women and men relations are based on a principle of shared power and responsibility, whether in the workplace or in the wider national and international communities.
“A lot has been done but there’s a lot still to be done. [Women] are concerned that since the Fourth World Conference on women, there has not been a platform until we had Generation Equality.”
Held in Beijing, China, the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995 adopted the declaration. The declaration focuses on 12 areas of concern, including women and poverty, women and the economy and the girl-child.
She said South Africa joined Generation Equality, a global campaign to achieve gender equality by 2030.
“Because of the anxieties around lack of implementation of the Beijing platform, they then developed the acceleration plan on generation equality, which focuses on seven thematic areas, including the guarantee economic justice and rights.
“President Cyril Ramaphosa is leading efforts on economic justice and rights on behalf of global leaders. The reason why women decided to have this acceleration plan is that they were concerned that the world needed to think anew of the gender agenda beyond the Beijing Declaration.”
The President formed part of world leaders who came together to launch the Global Acceleration Plan at the Generation Equality Forum held from 30 June to 2 July this year.
”South Africa has made very important commitments in terms of what we are going to do as a nation, in terms of the continent and globally. Part of the things we committed ourselves to do is to have a programme that is pan Africanist in nature but internationalist in form. The reason for this was to acknowledge that we are an African country and we need to contribute in building and reconstructing our continent.
“All of these things attests to what have been the anxieties of women over a period of time, particularly issues of women’s justice and rights,” she says.
Meanwhile the African Union of which South Africa is a member, declared 2020-2030 as the decade of African Women’s Economic and Financial Inclusion.
“By integrating women, we acknowledge that in most countries, even though people might have achieved political and civil rights, economic rights have been relegated to the periphery. The idea of President Ramaphosa heading this important action coalition and decade of women’s economic and financial inclusion means that we are conscious of the things that we need to do to build back better,” she says.
Her message to women this month is for them to support other women.
“I want women to be as Mme Shope advises us; to be a part of a tribe that nurtures and supports other women; a tribe that fights battles for other women. I want women to stand in solidarity with each other. Being a woman is difficult; we cannot be the ones making it more difficult for other women. We must fight issues that continue to oppress women,” she says. –SAnews.gov.za