South Africa’s approach to its gender issues needs a radical shake-up. Here’s one idea: put a man at the helm of the Department of Women in the Presidency. The move could send some imperative messages about gender roles and the need for men to take responsibility for many of the issues currently making life hard for South African women.
The idea that a man should be Minister of Women sounds counterintuitive. Men are already over-represented in leadership roles; why give them one more? Specifically, why give a man a job which has the name “women” right there in the title? Aren’t feminists always complaining about men trying to speak on behalf of women?
These points are valid, and in normal contexts require serious consideration. But this is not a normal context. We live in a country where the war on women’s bodies shows no signs of ceasing. New ways of thinking about how to raise the status of women in our society are urgently needed, and this is one: give a man that job.
There is a deeply rooted perception that the issues affecting women are the business of women and the problem of women to solve. We see this in the fact that rape protests are overwhelmingly staged and attended by women; that NGOs dealing with women’s issues are predominantly staffed by women, and that most researchers and commentators raising women’s issues are women.
This is despite the fact that most of the barriers to women’s daily safety and advancement are not created by women. It’s so simple that it sounds stupid, but it’s true. Women almost never rape women, for instance, so why – and how – should they be made responsible for solving the problem of rape?
Putting a man at the helm of the Department of Women would send an important message: fixing the mess that is gender relations in South Africa requires men, more than women, to step up.
Here’s an example. Last weekend, the story broke about Minister Jeff Radebe’s sexting history with a junior staffer. In…