Gender equality not finding its way past the front door

Date: January 1, 1970
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While men are increasingly changing their language and public posture on gender equality, to what extent is this being internalised? Put differently, does the 50/50 campaign end at work or is it finding its way past the front door and into the home?

Focus groups held as part of research conducted in Namibia, Lesotho, South Africa and Mauritius for At the coalface: Gender and Local Government in Southern Africa, showed that changes to women’s representation in the public sphere, are not always translated to the personal.
Published by Gender Links, a Southern African non-governmental organisation specialising in gender, governance and the media, the research study recommends that all countries and councils in the region begin to look at how local government can become a motor for achieving gender equality where it matters most: on the ground.
While much discussion in the focus groups centred on how women are balancing their home and public lives, this discussion barely featured in relation to men. Many men openly said that they believed gender equality only related to the workplace – not to the home. 
“This is a democratic country, but in my house I rule,” said a man in the Windhoek focus group. “Its my law and I am happy to call myself an autocrat. Democracy is outside; inside these walls its autocracy.”
“We can have 50/50 in politics, but never in the home,” another man in the group said. ”I must make the decisions. If she makes a decision, I must approve it. She must live according to my law. In this house I make the laws.”  The man added that “in certain circumstances” there is “justification for a man beating his wife.”
As a male participant in the City of Johannesburg focus group added: “I think 50/50 relates only in the work place and not at home. At home I don’t think it should apply because as a man I am the president of the family, and my wife is the deputy president. You can only take over as my wife in my absence. However when it comes to the workplace, it is a totally different story all together. Everyone in the workplace is equal, no one should benefit more than another.”   
A ward committee member in Mbombela in Mpumalanga, South Africa said, “Biblically the man is the head of the family, which is something that still exists and should not be done away with. However, that applies to the home and not at work, because everyone is equal at work. Therefore we must strike a balance of these two domains and whilst doing so also respect women.” 
Councillor Richard Vusi Lukhele from Umjindi in the Mpumalanga province of South Africa believes that there are two kinds of male councillors: “There are men who in their homes are used to women playing the submissive and sometimes complacent roles. These men have a difficulty in accepting women as their peers and as their superiors, in committee’s for example.
He added, “On the other hand you have got your men who live with women whom they view as key partners in decision-making at home. These men in my experience have not had a problem with accepting the concept of women empowerment and participation in the workplace.”
On the other hand, there are men like Hemraz Jankee who shows what it means to live your politics. Former Mayor of Vacoas/Phoenix in Mauritius, Jankee was brought up in an orthodox Hindu family where girls did not have the same facilities and outlets as boys. Yet he is now at ease doing everything in the house including looking after his son. “When my wife comes back home tired I am the one who takes over all household chores and I do it with pleasure.”
He believes that male councillors must know how to communicate with women, how to get them interested in politics and how to help them with problems they are facing. “We want to work in partnership with women. This is the only way to achieve inclusive democracy. And who knows may be we will find our future councillors among these women.” 
For many men, encounters with women are what changes hearts and minds. Speaking at the civil society focus group in Galeshewe, Kimberley, Nkosinathi Nowenkuku told participants how he had been brought up to believe that the man is the head of the household but how the women he encountered in prison helped him change his life.
When he was young, Nowenkuku got involved with the wrong crowd and became a gangster.  He committed robberies and rapes and finally ended up in prison. On arriving at the prison, the one thing that surprised him the most was that many of the prison wardens were women and “even the head of the prison was a woman”.
He recalls how the prison head called him into her office and spoke to him. “She told me that I should stop being a gangster because I had potential and I could change his life if he wanted to.” The prison head assisted him and paid for him to study theology through correspondence. 
When he moved to Malmesbury Prison in Cape Town he found other women prison wardens there who encouraged prisoners to study further so that would find jobs once they were released.  He says that spending most of his time with women who encouraged him had a remarkable effect on him.
They said, “If you believe in yourself and you have self confidence you will succeed in life.” He took their advice and has succeeded in changing his life. He is now an activist who works with men and boys to stop violence against women.
There is a need to recognise and promote gender equality in both the public and private spheres if we are to see real changes on the ground. When the political becomes personal and vice versa the rigid lines between the two begin to blur and the things that matter in ones personal life also become the stuff of good politics. 
Colleen Lowe Morna is executive director and Susan Tolmay the gender and governance manager at Gender Links. This article is an excerpt from ‘At the coalface: Gender and local government in Southern Africa,” as part of a special series for the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.

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