By: Tiekie Barnard
Founder & CEO of the Shared Value Africa Initiative and initiator of the #ITSNOTOK movement
March is International Women’s Month (IWM), and one often wonders what real significance, if any, this commemoration brings to the daily lives of women on the African continent. The Africa Union supports IWM and joins the international community in celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, while also reviewing past progress of women’s development, and looking ahead at future opportunities, especially in the African continent.
Every year, International Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8th – an occasion recognised as an opportunity for people to come together and organise themselves for social transformation, anchored on values and principles that ensure enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all. This day, therefore, accords nations the opportunity to marshal efforts to strengthen women’s rights and their participation in social, economic, and political development.
However, on the African continent, what is the true status of transformation, diversity and inclusion – particularly the inclusion of women in the workplace, providing equal opportunity and equal pay for all?
Academic and economic findings have repeatedly provided evidence that we can improve Africa’s economic growth – if we include more women, especially in decision making positions and if we implement gender equality at scale. Closing the gender gap in the workforce could add a staggering $28 trillion to the global GDP. Why then (a question to our leaders) is progress so slow?
We hear all the time how our cultural values are used as an excuse for avoiding gender equality and how we personally hold on to our biases, how our mothers continue to teach us their biases, how the workplace define certain biases, how society conditions and teach us our biases as per our community beliefs, the examples of our own personal biases are endless.
We judge people by the colour of their skin, the way they speak, the way they look and dress, how old they are, where they live, what car they drive, what their sexual orientation is, where they went to school, the list of our biases carries on an on. We build biases on assumptions that are not based on any kind of fact.
Societies and cultures are not static but are continually evolving. Change is shaped by many factors. Cultural change occurs as communities and households respond to social and economic shifts. Changes to technology, social institutions, population, and the environment, alone or in some combination, generate change.
Change also results from deliberate efforts to influence values through changes in the law or government policy, often due to pressure from civil society. There are many examples of efforts to influence attitudes about race relations, the rights of workers and the use of the environment, to name three areas in which cultural values shape behavior.Efforts to reshape values about women and gender relations have focused on concerns such as the number of girls sent to school, women’s access to paid work and equally paid work, and societies attitudes to domestic violence.
New cultural definitions are formed through a process in which some segments of society promote change through advocacy and example, while others are slow to transform and some even resist it.
Business can no longer sit on the sidelines and watch the talk on gender equality and take no action on internal policy changes and change in strategy. Our CEOs need to consciously include gender equality on the agenda in the boardroom. It is the only way we can secure a prosperous future for Africa and the time is now for implementation.
The #ITSNOTOK movement was created by the Shared Value Africa Initiative in 2020 to support the fight for gender equality and the fight to eradicate gender-based violence on the African continent – including supporting the marginalised LGBTQIA+ community to create understanding and empathy. The Shared Value Business Management concept disciplines and principals motivate for diversity and inclusion to build economic growth.
Through our work, the SVAI endeavors to work with strategic partners to create a society that is not only more compassionate, empathetic, and equitable, but also one in which all have better economic well-being , quality of life and real hope for a prosperous future for all.