University of Pretoria: UP hosts women-focused dialogue in honour of Charlotte Mannya-Maxeke

“Charlotte Maxeke might not have seen the changes in women’s rights that she would have hoped to have seen in her lifetime – it is a battle that is still being fought, but we can say that the landscape today is more nuanced,” said Professor Tawana Kupe, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Pretoria (UP), during a dialogue that was held in honour of Charlotte Mannya-Maxeke.

Titled ‘Knowledge Economy and Generation Equality in Africa’, the event was held at the Future Africa Institute at the University of Pretoria in partnership with representatives from government and the Charlotte Mannya-Maxeke Institute.

“We start our journey to launch the Women’s Economic Advancement Research Hub for Africa, named after Madame Maxeke, who was the first African woman in South Africa to obtain a university degree, a Bachelor of Science,” Prof Kupe added. “She used her knowledge to mobilise women to fight for democracy and the rights of women, and was involved in broad societal development programmes. The challenges we face may look different in certain aspects today, but they certainly require the same resilience and intellectual contribution to resolve. We are pleased that there is thinking to develop the initiative into a fully-fledged research centre.”

The event saw more than 13 women dignitaries share their thoughts on the empowerment of women and what needs to be done to continue the legacy of Charlotte Mannya-Maxeke.

“This dialogue provides us with an opportunity to pay tribute to the generations of women whose struggles laid the foundation for the progress made in empowering women and achieving gender equality to date,” said Advocate Mikateko Joyce Maluleke, Director-General of the Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disability. “The very same challenges and issues that confronted the generation of Charlotte Mannya-Maxeke are still relevant today, as seen through the demand raised by the Generation Equality campaign. This is a call for all of us to come up with drastic actions that will accelerate the implementation of gender equality.”

Minister of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said that while progress has been made in terms of the ongoing challenges and systemic issues facing women today, there is much work to be done. According to the 2021 World Economic Forum report, it will take about 135 years to reach gender equality, she pointed out. “Furthermore, according to the McKinsey report, it will take Africa 140 years to achieve full parity if we do not take drastic action now. Closing the gender gap is urgent globally, and particularly in Africa,” Minister Nkoana-Mashabane said.

“The adoption of the Beijing Declaration for action some 26 years ago was ground-breaking for women empowerment and equality,” she added. “As we move forward, the concept of generation equality provides a unique opportunity for the acceleration of the implementation of the Beijing platform of action. Accordingly, generation equality is a challenge to all of us to come up with concrete action for the realisation of gender equality before 2030.”

“We mark Women’s Month this year in the midst of a pandemic,” said Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, outgoing Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women. “Women were mostly affected by the pandemic as they lost jobs. They are in the majority of those without digital literacy, and they need to be supported so that they are employable in the future. Also, most girls in African countries were married off and did not return to school due to the pandemic. We have a responsibility to find them and help them, as Mannya-Maxeke would have done. Those are some of the challenges faced by women and girls. What we need for the future of South Africa is a country that ensures equality between women and men.”

Echoing these sentiments was Prof Margaret Chitiga-Mabugu, Dean of UP’s Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, who said that her faculty has been involved in trying to understand why women are left behind; why they are poorer than men; and why women are predominantly employed in services sectors. “We also see that women are in the low echelons of employment; they tend to be the least skilled individuals. We also have researchers looking at women leadership, and trying to understand and grow this – women leadership is critical in reducing the gender gap. During this pandemic, it has become clear that women suffered more than men. Data has shown that home responsibilities prevented many girls from going to school. This needs serious intervention.”

Most women in Africa still work in agriculture yet do not own the land, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, pointed out. She added that at workplaces, it must be made illegal to pay women less and that their working conditions must be made better.

“We must go beyond political equality and look at how we can achieve inclusive growth as well as shared prosperity,” Dr Gwen Ramokgopa, Advisor in the Presidency, said. “It is the systemic and structural exclusion that is a problem. As we recover from COVID-19, we should use this opportunity to restructure our economies; working as a collective is important and leaders need to account.”