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Gender equality: progress, leadership, and education as a driver of change

An opinion piece on Women’s Month 2022 from the BPESA Future Skills Platform Team

Are we advancing women’s rights? 

Female empowerment. Gender equality. Female liberation. Women’s Rights. When we engage the controversial topic of feminism in a predominantly patriarchal society, do we understand, appreciate, and value the significance of gender equality in what is referred to as the ‘modern’ world and a ‘modern’ South Africa? From a Gen Z and Y perspective, we’d argue this political and social struggle has been somewhat underappreciated, partially understood and archived as a ‘past-time’. Why? Is South Africa a truly gender equal society? Have we achieved equal female representation across key leadership roles? Have we eradicated gender-based violence? Do we invest in adequately supporting young mothers in the world of work? Do we teach young girls in school that they are just as intelligent and capable as their male counterparts and that they too can become IT professionals, politicians, corporate leaders, and so much more?

These are just some of many questions we should be asking ourselves when we assess the collective progress we’ve made as a society towards gender equality and female empowerment. There is a tremendous social imperative for each and every male and female to take responsibility for our respective roles in the betterment of South Africa and how we strive towards making human rights women’s rights.  

The power of decision making

Women in leadership is a critical enabler of women’s rights. According to Business Women’s Association of South Africa (BWASA) South African Women in Leadership Census 2021, females accounted for only 27.7% of Directorship roles and 29.4% of Executive Management roles. The figures show even less representation across Chief Executive Officer roles and Chairperson roles, totaling 17.3% female representation in top leadership roles across public and private sectors. Women need a seat at the table to influence policy and decision making and co-create a truly inclusive South African economy and society. The challenge is how are we getting women into these seats and importantly, how are we preparing and equipping women to take ownership of senior leadership roles and effectively advocate on behalf of their female peers. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer, offers some thought-provoking perspectives on a woman’s role in striving towards the highest levels of leadership to influence policy and decision making. Sandberg argues that women don’t aspire towards senior roles in the way that men often do and, in a sense, contribute towards the gender inequality issue which remains a global phenomenon.     

Shifting the status quo

Education is one of the most powerful and influential mechanisms for driving social change. Impactful education facilitates access to knowledge, exposure to diverse and opposing opinions, engages critical thinking and promotes creative solutioning. These experiences and nurtured attributes are the key to equipping youth, and particularly women, with the tools to challenge the world as it exists today, have the vision to conceptualise unconventional and novel solutions and approaches, and implement change driven by personal and collective initiative, drive, and ambition. If we want a different society, we need to think and behave differently.

It is the vision of the BPESA Future Skills Platform (FSP) to drive social change and transformation through the empowerment of women by providing access to quality learning opportunities that are designed to support young women in their personal and professional journeys. BPESA FSP can drive gender equality across the economy by pathwaying women into meaningful and more complex roles across industries where much progress still needs to be made to achieve a gender equal economy.

BPESA Future Skills – accelerating the development of the female talent pipeline across the Global Business Services and Digital Sectors.           

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