Women have a right to feel safe and welcome wherever they are
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By Khulekani Ngcobo
A woman’s place is in her home, in the workplace and in the community. On the streets and in public parks. In politics and leadership. In grocery stores, classrooms and on college campuses. A woman’s place is everywhere, and in every space, she has the right to feel safe and welcome.
Yet, gender-based violence are an everyday occurrence for women and girls in every country around the world.
The empowerment of women is about dealing with the legacy of apartheid and the transformation of society, particularly of power relations between women, men, institutions and laws.
Without doubt our society has undergone a sea change since 1994, but it is not enough.
It is not enough for a woman to make a formal wage, only to find that her husband resents her newfound independence and uses violence to express his frustration.
It is not enough for a woman to raise her voice on issues that matter to her in the workplace but to be silenced and marginalised in community decision-making.
It is not enough for a woman to see health and safety promoted in the workplace but fear for her personal safety on her route home.
We must continue to fight the stark gender disparities that are evident across the many areas of national life.
Education remains essential and so is ensuring that girls and women have greater access to basic and higher education. There is also a pressing need to ensure that our economy is inclusive and offers women a chance at success.
While poverty is often seen as a contributing factor, gender-based violence does not simply disappear when an economy grows and women are engaged in the labour force.
Gender-based violence both inside and outside the workplace has significant impacts on women’s ability to achieve their full potential. It adversely affects women’s health, which leads to higher levels of absenteeism from work. It also impedes skills development and professional advancement and limits women’s willingness to voice concerns.
Gender-based violence is multifaceted, and shifts across time, settings, and social levels. Prevention therefore requires multiple, co-ordinated actions tailored to local contexts. These interventions must also involve men, who are critical in tackling underlying drivers of violence, such as deep-rooted social norms and workplace power dynamics, which perpetuate the view that women are second-class citizens.
When women are empowered we see that families thrive, communities are safer, and economies grow. Through the inclusion of more women in the economy we can also stop generational poverty and in the process stimulate economic growth.
Hence, it is imperative that we empower women through safe water availability.
Improvements in rural water supply offer not just practical changes in health, education, well-being, and time-savings for women and girls, but also provide opportunities for women’s engagement and empowerment as users, managers, and change agents in the public and private sector. By adopting the dual objectives of empowerment and water supply, practitioners have an opportunity to challenge gender inequalities and improve the quality of life for women, their families, and their communities.
Khulekani Ngcobo is a senior communicator at the Department of Water and Sanitation.