It is in the interest of the African working class to crush the myth that is continuously perpetuated to bring women down in workplace. Unfortunately this myth is most driven and reinforced by those who profess to be its victims. The myth of women inferiority in the name of African culture, oppression and limiting opportunities for girl-children is actually not African; it is foreign to our culture. Daughters of Africa have presided over all affairs of the state and society throughout history. African women have proven beyond doubt that being female is not disadvantageous in any way and therefore no fake tradition can justify exclusion of our daughters from reaching their full potential.
African societies have long standing cultural practice to orderly give each person, regardless of gender, space to grow and fulfil their destiny. It is in the military, which is normally viewed as a preserve for males in other societies, where African women have proven their worth. The names of brilliant Generals that easily come to mind include Mukabayi ka Jama of KwaZulu, Yaa Shantewa of Ashanti, Candice of Ethiopia, Nzingha of Angola, Nehanda of Zimbabwe, Dahia-al Kahina of Kahina and Hatshepsut of Kemet (Land which Egypt stand on today). Given this historical account, it is clearly not in the culture of African military establishment to exclude its daughters.
The economic and political arena is littered with beautiful competent queens. Women empowerment is fashionable today but yesterday it was a norm in this motherland. Some of the outstanding figures in this area include Modjadji of Bolobedu, Amina of Nigeria, Nefertiti of Kemet, Makeda of Sheba and Nefertari of Kemet to mention a few. There is an endless list of outstanding women community builders of our own life time.
It is a pity that the feminist movement misses the point on the challenges facing African women. The philosophy of male chauvinism as a primary stumbling block to women emancipation is a weak hypothesis for the African social order. Male chauvinism and domestic violence should be aggressively confronted but its absence does not automatically lead to women empowerment.
African society does not perceive women to be inferior. The fundamental problem lies in the opposite expectation of women to lead a superhuman life. Women are expected to excel in workplace leadership without any reduction in their traditional role of being caring mothers, loving wives and household executives. The fulltime responsibility of running a home by woman has not been altered or setoff to balance the workplace dynamics and to that extent women are, in a sense, overburden.
The root cause of stagnation in the development of African working class women lies in the absence of adequate support structures for women. The misalignment of support structures with societal high expectations sits heavily on the shoulders of the African working class women. The class contradictions among women themselves complicate and delay the struggle for the emancipation of women. As mentioned above, the uncaring capitalist system maximises labour extraction from female workers without considerate of traditional family expectations.
Lack of support structures is magnified when female workers attempt to form worker controlled institutions. The system limits access to funding and information. It is the hostile environment that inevitably results in failure. The combination of sexual harassment and unfair workplace practices drains female workers.
The African working class women must not attempt to assimilate to the environment and try to be men, instead of optimising their own strengths in the workplace. It is undeniable fact that women are good planners, organisers and relationship managers. Relationship management, for instance, is a critical skill and therefore should give women advantage in the workplace.
By Sbusiso Xaba