The International Women’s Day originates from the women’s rights movement and has since become a global call to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. This is in recognition that there is more work to be done on advancing women’s rights to achieve substantive equality and a reminder that women are the focal point of change. It is for these reasons that the Ismail Mahomed Centre for Human and Peoples Rights (IMCHPR) of the Faculty of Management, Commerce and Law, University of Venda organised a symposium to mark the 2023 International Women’s Day under the theme ‘innovation and technology for gender equality’. The event took place at the University’s Research Conference Centre and was attended by staff, students, and stakeholders outside the University.
Prof Tharien van der Walt, the Interim Deputy Dean: Teaching and Learning welcomed attendees on behalf of the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Management, Commerce and Law, Prof Barwa Kanyane. In her view, the issues that women and girls suffer in relation to digital technology are part of the broader problems that women suffer in today’s world. Other issues which require urgent global attention include poverty, hunger, inequality, crime, climate change, sustainable development, clean water, and sanitation as well as energy crises. She called upon the participants to commit to and serve the international woman’s day slogan #EmbraceEquity.
In his remarks, the Interim Director: Ismail Mahomed Centre for Human and Peoples Rights, Prof Ademola Oluborode Jegede provided vital statistics to show that women and girls continue to experience deficit of access and rights in the digital technology and communication sectors. Hence, the theme DigitALL: Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality for this year International Women’s Day event could not have come at a better time. In his further view, digital technology has a beautiful face as it can open the door of opportunities for women and girls. However, it also has its ugly side as digital platforms can be used to multiply the reach of pornography or child abuse, as some may call it, objectify women and girls, provoke gender-based violence, disseminate hate speech and threats against women and girls. While affirming that the Ismail Mahomed Centre for Human and Peoples Rights stands with women and girls everywhere in South Africa and indeed Africa on their fundamental human rights to digital technology, Prof Jegede advised that appropriate law and measures should be put in place so that digital platforms can drive gender equality and propel women and the girl’s child rights.
Dr Allison Anthony
When delivering her keynote speech via Microsoft Teams, Dr Allison Anthony noted that the International Women’s Day is not about putting men against women. It is not about comparing two genders but about equality and equity. People need to be treated equally irrespective of their gender. Amongst other things, Dr Anthony discussed matters relating to poverty, unemployment, and economic empowerment, safety and wellbeing including political empowerment. She highlighted that women, particularly rural women, suffer digital deficit and experience other challenges such as access to water and energy for cooking. They lack access to safe energy for cooking and mostly utilise wood which exposes them to health risks. Discrimination also exists in the workplace where in some instances there is unequal pay/salaries between men and women. Therefore, institutions must seriously consider the bridging of gender gap by instituting gender equality committees. incorporate gender principles into courses, mentor female students and young staff members, increase percentage of female employees, and address pay discrepancy where such exists.
Dr Anthony further suggested that there should be anonymous and trustworthy online complaint procedure where violence and harassment in the workplace could be reported. Social media can be used to educate staff and students on how to close the gender gap. Gender sensitivity and inclusivity training can be conducted to allow staff and students to recognise and address prejudices and stereotypes. In her view, “women need to speak to their partners at home about roles in the households. Before we look outside, we need to look inside our homes. We need to take responsibility and speak to our partners to address these household challenges.” Dr Anthony concluded her
keynote by highlighting that women need to support each other. They should not wait for men to bring the required change but should work with men to achieve equality.
Dr Allison Anthony is a Senior Lecturer in Public Procurement Law at the University of South Africa and a Deputy Director of the African Procurement Law Unit at the Stellenbosch University. She is also an admitted attorney of the High Court of South Africa. She specialises in construction procurement law, general public procurement law and administrative law. She published the first book on Construction Procurement Law in 2021 as well as numerous journal articles and book chapters on these topics. She has trained public officials in South Africa on public procurement matters and teaches the infrastructure procurement law course in the LLM and Postgraduate Diploma in Public Procurement Regulation and Policy based at Stellenbosch University. She has recently been Y2 rated by the NRF and is currently pursuing an LLM in Government Procurement Law at the George Washington University.
Panel response: (from left, Ms Livhuwani Nethengwe (Legal Practitioner), Ms Sharon Sikhwai (Minister of Gender- UNIVEN), and Dr Thizwilondi Mudau, ( HOD Department for Youth in Development University of Venda) The members of the panel responded to the discussion lead by Dr Anthony and addressed several relevant comments and cultural questions raised by participants regarding digital technology, gender equality and transformation within the local context They advised students to stand together and say no to all forms of abuse.
Staff members and students were also given an opportunity to comment and to ask questions