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What can we do to change the gender equation?

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On 6 March, to mark International Women’s Day, Graça Machel and Desmond Tutu hosted a Twitter Q&A on gender inequality and women’s rights. You can see the twitter conversation at #askElders. Here is the full transcript of the event.

Steven Botkin: What are the essential ingredients for true partnership between women and men?

Graça Machel: Respect, love, understanding and acceptance of our diversity.

Desmond Tutu: It is to recognise that men can’t do it alone even if they tried till they were blue in their faces. That when we denigrate women, society suffers. That is why so frequently in wars, rape is used as a weapon to degrade first the women, but most importantly, the men related to the women. We are not going to make it until women have their rightful place.

Bert Evers: How can we convince African governments to spend money and time on skills and development programmes also for young women?

GM: By persuading them to regard and value every citizen, both men and women, as equal players in building thriving societies. Women make up half of Africa’s population. There will be no progress without tapping into the potential of young women and enabling all girls to access quality education and skills. We need to engage youth on a vision for the next 15 to 30 years that will open doors for young women and men to access education/skills and enable them to reach their full potential.

DT: Almost always when women are given the opportunity – when a girl child is given the opportunity, young women are given the opportunity – they outperform their male counterparts. And so what we need is to get governments to see that we are committing a kind of national suicide, really, when we hold back women. They have such a crucial role to play in the development of children in holding together the family, that not to invest in them is self-destructive.

Saikou Camara: How can one help women in one’s own community to fight for their rights?

DT: It is important to treat women always with respect and courtesy, wherever. And so, within one’s own community, to be ready to acknowledge their giftedness, their ability, and to listen to them. To listen to what they want and to be their allies. Help to provide them with the wherewithal to achieve their goals.

Petrider Paul: What can the community do to end gender-based violence by 2030, specifically in Africa?

GM: We need to do a lot of work on awareness for parents and community leaders on how this causes girls themselves to develop a sense of valuing every challenge

DT: I hope that each child would be made to feel valued and therefore grow up in a community which values each person in their own right and that girl children would not be discriminated against, but be regarded as very important members of the community

Lee Webster: What is the role of women's rights movements and organisations in the struggle for gender equality and women's rights?

GM: If we want to see progress in Africa and globally, millions of women have to become leaders of change. Women must be part of decision-making platforms in all spheres, i.e. political, economic, and social development. Voices of women’s rights movements can be more effective if they develop a common agenda, strategise jointly on how to remove structural obstacles.

DT: The role of women’s rights movements is crucial to remind women that they belong to a powerful group, even when they are being denigrated. And they are able to do things that an individual would not perhaps be able to do. They can make those who have power sit up and take notice. Certainly here in South Africa, the role of women in the struggle for freedom was absolutely crucial, and they have a saying: “You touch a woman, you touch a rock.”

David Tucker: Is there any kind of oversight that could be put in place to ensure that as more women are empowered in the political spectrum, we won’t find these women succumbing to the same corruption that is seen in the current power structures?

DT: Any kind of oversight should be an oversight that applies equally to males. In our own case, there are Organs of the Constitution such as the Public Protector, a fantastic woman in South Africa who would help in this regard. But of course one hopes that every person would be a person of integrity and would act with that integrity when they get into positions of power.

C&GenderVanguard: What do you have as a common plan to reduce the number of uneducated girls in Africa?

GM: Governments have to increase budgets for education. Communities, parents and other civil society organisations have to mobilise the communities to make sure that every single girl is enrolled first. Second, kept in school until they complete at least primary school, and to increase also the transition of girls between the primary and the secondary schools. Those who are in secondary school should be supported to remain until they complete secondary school level

DT: Yes, I mean the one thing that I know is that almost always girls tend to be a great deal smarter than boys. They outperform boys generally from elementary school right through to university. I know it for myself because in our Kings College class in London the only person who got a first class degree was a woman, haha!

CHANGE: How can we support leaders like First Ladies working to advance maternal health and rights to achieve gender equality post 2015?

DT: I hope very much that we would ensure that First Ladies working to advance maternal health – or any other of the objectives – would be to provide them with a wherewithal to succeed, almost always the requirement of adequate funding, because nothing succeeds like success.

York Zucchi: How do they decide when to voice their concerns and when to keep quiet?

DT: I think that it’s such an epidemic, that the more prominent people that speak out the better. It is a way to be able to change the moral climate if significant figures indicate that they want to support equal opportunities for women and girls, and so it is never inappropriate to speak out against injustice.

GM: Being a leader means you have to be infused with responsibility for driving society on what is right to do and how to do it. So there would never be a case where leaders – either political or business, civil society or academic areas – shouldn’t speak out in favour of equality, particularly to reverse injustices being created on girls and women. So always and always they must speak out because society looks up to them for guidance and direction of where we want to be.

Zamalek Gizeriah Amlak: Why does the system degrade the ability of a woman? Why should the Creator be depicted as a misogynist in all religions? We are suffering because society has side-lined our mothers, sisters, aunts, granny, wives, etc...

DT: From the year dot, men had to be aggressive and be out there, protective of women and children; and forgot that we were made for complementarity – that there are things that men would not be able to do. And women are as crucial as men in a healthy society, helping us to be more caring, more compassionate and more gentle – attributes that make us human and humane. The system almost always degrades women., perhaps, really, out of a sense of inadequacy on the part of men. To hide their inadequacy they become aggressive, like bullies who know an emptiness inside.

Afri-Dev.Info: How do we end men's negative socialisation of girls?

DT: I think that we have to acknowledge the fact that many men do not acknowledge the negative socialisation of girls. Of all God’s creatures, men are the most insecure and they tend therefore to want to keep women and girls in their place. I hope so very much that we do everything we can because it is absolutely true that the hand that rocks the cradle moves the world.

GM: I believe we have not been doing enough at a family and community level to change the way we socialise girls and boys. But focusing on boys particularly, we inculcate in them the sense of manhood and superiority against girls and women in general. It is upon all of us – mainly at the family level, mainly at the community level, and even in our religious communities and schools – To begin to have deliberate programmes that change the way we socialise children and focusing on that sense of security that Arch is talking about. So that a boy will be secure of himself and accept and respect a girl as equal without feeling that he is being diminished in his place as a man. It has to be a deliberate programme. I don’t think it can happen on its own.

Gretchen Landou: How can western women unite to help lead this cause?

DT: Western women should not assume that they would be leaders. They too, should as it were, live out what they propagate, because it is all women who are denigrated. But we should not assume that the western women will be the automatic leader of a movement since they too are required to be acknowledged as equals to their male counterparts.

Naadiya Moosajee: How do we change narratives on gender and empower our boys to be better gender activists?

GM: By nurturing girls and boys within the families, schools, churches to respect one another as equals. There are a few male-driven gender movements in Africa, e.g. Brothers for Life, who are showing that responsible men respect themselves and women.

DT: When those who are role models behave towards women as towards equals, then the scenario changes, and the narrative changes. Nelson Mandela was quite passionate about this, being insistent on appointing women to important posts. Our first Speaker was a woman of our first democratic parliament, and many of the first democratic cabinet were women – and not just in soft portfolios… Foreign Minister, –things of that sort – that would then encourage boys to be part of the movement to acknowledge the role of women as equals.

Jamillah Mwanjisi: How are we empowering younger women and transferring knowledge?

GM: We talked of education as well. I think only education is not sufficient if girls are not engaged with programmes which allow them to be mentored. It is important to connect many kinds of what we call girls clubs and centres of excellence in which they can be mentored, so that the knowledge that they know can be transferred, and is practical to the specific solutions of problems they are concerned with. So connecting, education, development of skills, mentoring. It also builds self confidence. Some of the information women need is to have references which help develop their sense of worth and confidence, and to stand with their own feet in a world that has become more and more competitive and not to be frightened and not to be fearful. To be confident; it’s their right, and they have the ability to succeed.

DT: I would add that it is so important that we ensure that girl-children remain in school as long as is possible. It’s been shown statistically that the longer a young woman stays in school, the better it is going to be, not for just herself, but for the community. This is more an argument against child marriage but it applies also to keep young women at school for as long as possible because it is going to be beneficial to the community. They are the people who, after all, have to nurture the next generation. And if they’re educated, the health of their children is generally going to be better because they have the knowledge and the skills. We should do everything we can to ensure they have the tools that will enable them – even in rural areas – to access knowledge to be able to know what is happening to their contemporaries in the urban areas. In our part of the world (South Africa), many girls and women are still in the rural areas, often inaccessible. But now, when we take advantage of all the technological tools that are available and show that we do everything we can, the community will benefit many times over.

Georgina Y Caswell: ‏How can we encourage our religious leaders to talk more about sex, condoms and contraception?

DT: I might not be entirely representative. I, myself, would do everything I could from the position of leadership to say it is absolutely crucial with the known scourge of HIV – and we know the scourge of teenage pregnancies. It is absolutely almost a matter of life and death when you think of what happens with things like HIV and sexually transmitted diseases. First of all, I think it’s important that we respect women and girl-children. And religious leaders have a great opportunity to make sure that their community begins to be more open – and it is happening. It may not be happening dramatically quickly enough but it is happening with people being aware of the vast problems we face – these transmittable diseases.

GM: I’m not very qualified to talk about religious leaders, as Arch is, but I would say it’s time religious leaders accept that sexuality is part of human life, and to demystify the taboos which exist around what is meant to be actually one of the most fulfilling activity of humans, and also for reproduction of the human species. We need to confront it as comfortably as possible, as we talk of other religious issues related to human life – not only because we need to demystify, but to protect people. As you were saying, people, adults – not just the young – youth adolescents and in recent times we realised, children, are engaged earlier in sexual activity. This is the reality of our times and we need to confront this, and religious leaders can’t turn their face away and try to ignore this. I would encourage that like in recent times, the Pope has made bold statements, it would be important that many others follow, so that we accept that sexuality is part of our life.

Dan Baldwin: Which is more important to you, justice or equality? In that, is a 50/50 split in 'the boardroom' better than a fair application system, or is an uneven workforce split with a fair application procedure for all, better?

DT: If you are equal, I mean it’s almost which came first, the egg or the chicken? In a just society, women will be equal in a truly just society. Ultimately what we are looking for is not a 50/50 split; it is that we should have the best people for any particular position. If we have given each one the chance to show their paces, show their abilities. 50/50 splits can only be for interim situations where women have been discriminated against as a goal to attain [equality]. But ultimately we should in fact not be worrying in a just society. In a caring society, it should be that we have the best person for a particular job and if it happens that the best candidates are women, then they will form the majority in that particular organisation, body, corporation. This relates to the whole question of quotas that have raised the ire of those who have been discriminated against.

Peter Gabriel: ‏How pivotal do you believe the mobile phone will be in the empowerment of women?

DT: I will say, obviously, the fact that they can access information and knowledge is a very crucial part of the empowering process, and that they can access funds and get to know more, even in an environment where the efforts are being made to keep them ignorant. I think that it’s crucial to have the capacity to be able to connect with the outside world, particularly for women in inaccessible parts of the world. That is, the so-called third world where most women are in rural areas and there are men often going off into the towns. The women can be left totally bereft. But if they are able to access information on cell phones, it is going to improve their lot; it is going to improve their health when health education is disseminated through cell phones.

GM: Most of ills in health, or even business, for women are hindered precisely because they have little access to information, as quite rightly Arch has said. But also they don’t have the means of communicating back, accessing the places where they can: 1. Stress their aspirations and needs, so that there will be a flow of information which is most targeted to respond to their specific needs at the right time. Mobile phones have not only got that information but they make it quicker to get your voice to matter where you want to communicate. 2. It can be at the national levels, continental levels, the global levels. Women will become part valid in society when they can enter in the era of communication, in which their aspirations and dreams are heard, taken into account, and be a part of the solution of a global family we need to achieve.

Misean Cara: Is women's empowerment a myth when media glorifies violence against women?

GM: The Graça Machel Trust are busy establishing a network of journalists we want to be regularly working with, to contribute, to shape the way media portrays women and women’s issues. To present women as productive thinkers, entrepreneurs, as leaders – and not in as many times being presented only as victims. They are many times victims but women are much more than just victims. and that message doesn’t come across. And when it comes to gender violence, women have also developed many networks on this continent and built strategies on how to respond to gender-based violence. But our media doesn’t focus on that work which is being done. So they increase the perception that women are simply victims. But women are busy – active – to counter gender-based violence, to educate not only women to protect themselves, but also to reduce the way men regard women. I think very soon we will be engaged publicly with this debate.

DT: Just to say, we should form coalitions. We’ve had here groups that have been working on the whole issue of gender violence and they have been working with clergy since the clergy have captive audiences. We need them to tell newspapers that they are committing a kind of suicide, in that they are denigrating those who ought to be their market – the people who should be buying their newspapers and magazines. And they should plead for their own sake ultimately; try to portray a more positive image of women and not sensationalised gender violence. They should be seen to condemn it and not glorifying it in a way that is macho. A community that is treating women as mere objects ends up being a community that will eat itself up.

DSW: How can we make sure that international leaders put girls and girls’ rights at the core of the Post-2015 agenda?  & Laura Hamilton: What makes you feel hopeful right now that gender equality will happen? 

GM: If you look at the progress made since the period of the Millennium Development Goals, certain countries – even in the developing world – made huge progress, almost close to achieving gender equality in primary schools and some close to secondary schools. That shows when there is determination, commitment and political will, it can happen! I think we need to build on those commitments which were shown by certain leaders of the world to encourage many more to take that responsibility. Gender equality was achieved somehow only in education, but it’s far from being achieved in political participation and economical advancement of women, and of course, social norms in terms of gender violence. There is still a huge way to go, but the few examples of successes of gender equality in education are a proof of when there is deliberate effort. When there is commitment, focus and consistency in doing something, it can be done. My hope is that we can amplify those experiences and mobile much more goodwill and responsibility from the leaders of the world. It can be achieved; it can be done.

DT: That was a very comprehensive and splendid statement. But If we hold back women, we hold back our societies. If we allow women to be women, and let them use the gift that God has given to them, our communities will flourish. We’ve already seen the examples in many Western countries but we’ve seen that as well in the developing world. Women who bring feminine attitudes, do wonders for a community. They make communities more caring, more gentle, more compassionate because they are attributes particularly associated with women. Those of us who have associated with women leaders – associated with the Graça Machels of this world – know just how incredible their contribution is and how impoverished our society would be without the contributions of them. And really, it’s biblical. That’s why God said it’s not good for Adam to be alone. Adam on his own is incomplete and he needed Eve to help him become fully human.

Girls Not Brides: What role do you think civil society has to play in addressing challenges faced by women and girls?

GM: The movement Girls Not Brides is a very good example of the role civil society organisations should play. They have been instrumental in the global agenda, the issue of child marriage – of course, with the support of The Elders. It’s the initiative of civil society organisations that The Elders picked up to amplified their work and their examples. So one of the roles of civil society is precisely to identify the issues in society that are not earning much attention of decision-makers – bring them to the top – and mobilising the international and national communities then to address them. Girls Not Brides is an example. The United Nations then had to make a resolution. Governments of the world had committed not only as policy but the resources to address child marriage. Many national governments in countries which are affected now have strategies.

Like these examples, these are the roles of civil society organisations. I can bring another example: when we were at the meeting of implementing the MDGs, it was civil societies that realised child and maternal mortality were not dropping. And it’s not by chance a movement was established so that much later the United Nations Secretary-General went with the initiative of ‘Every Woman Every Child.’ It happened almost at the end of the MDGs, but it was the movement of civil society which which raised the issue, made it vital. Then it took initiative with the UN and government to have plans of EWEC. I could go on and on but this is a part of civil society organisations’ responsibility. The other one, very quickly, to work with communities to change the mindset; to work with communities to explain why certain traditions, social norms, are harmful to individuals, families, communities, nations. All of us are a human family. Civil society organisations have the time, can develop skills and can remain for the time that is necessary, and can work with communities. They are not like governments who have a short-term mandate over 5-10 years. Civil society organisations can work with initiatives for 20-25 years, as much as needed, to contribute to changing the mindset. These are some of the examples of what they could bring.

Georgina Y Caswell: As lifelong activists, have you ever burnt out? How do you keep the fire burning?

DT: I know I depend so very very much on the prayers and love of other people. I happen to be someone who believes fervently in the importance of prayer and meditation and quiet. That without these being part of my discipline, I would have burnt out long ago. But those are supplemented by the knowledge that I am not a one-man band; I am part of a team that is spread all over the world. In our struggle against Apartheid you couldn’t say I did it alone. We all worked cooperatively and we were supported wonderfully by the international community. And I want to give thanks for the fact that has happened. Now we have a global movement that is saying we won’t be free until women are truly free.

GM: When you work with young girls, adolescents and women, and the networks we are engaged with, you find extraordinary examples of courage. We come across outstanding examples of leadership in all the different situations we see. That makes you humble and it reminds you that you simply do not have the right to just sit back, no matter when you encounter some difficulties because there are people out there in much worse situations than ours who are keeping their fires burning. That is inspiration to me actually – that keeps me going. It’s that sense of duty to add a little bit of my energy and a little bit of my inspiration sometimes to that point which I find in hundreds of thousands of people I have been working with. It’s the power of being part of this chain and that chain. I don't have the right to break it, and you have to keep the fire burning.

Richard Branson: What do you think of the idea of quotas to improve gender diversity in boardrooms?

GM: They work, especially when they open doors for qualified women. Enlightened boards and companies are realising there is power in diversity and actively changing practices to promote women leadership at board levels.

DT: I don’t know why, but the idea of quotas almost always seems to raise hackles. When you think of what happens in universities in the United States, and we here in South Africa have experience with regard to the representation of blacks in our national teams; the black player is almost always thought of as being there not because he has the potential and the skills, and he is there because of the quota system. As a short-term strategy, yes, it may be a good thing to consider. But I know that many of our own – using sport again as an example – resent being considered as quota players and not people who can hold their own because they have the potential, and I think that women would tend to feel this way. It would have to be a very short term strategy.

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