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Men just have to get their act together

- Wits University

So said Vice-Chancellor Professor Adam Habib, a champion of HeForShe in conversation with fellow champion, Mr Sim Tshabalala, Chief Executive of Standard Bank.

Hlonipha Mokoena, Associate Professor in the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WISER) facilitated a discussion hosted by Wits Business School on Thursday, 26 September as part of the HeForShe global solidarity movement for gender equality.

HeForShe is a United Nations initiative to advance gender parity. Habib and Tshabalala are amongst the 30 (10 men per sector) selected as champions from academia, corporate, and heads of state.

Numbers and human rights

In his opening statement, Habib referred to the United Nations human rights agenda, which underpins #HeForShe. Gender parity must happen at two levels, he said: at the level of creating an enabling environment and equal pay, as per South Africa’s Constitutional commitment, and at a systemic level. But current systemic dynamics do not allow women to come to the fore to participate fully in public and private life.

Tshabalala pointed out that 63% of Standard Bank employees are women. However, he conceded that women comprise just 32% of the executive level. This was “not really acceptable as parity is the objective” with the bank aiming for 40% of women at executive level by 2021.

A father of two daughters, Tshabalala has a personal interest in being a HeForShe champion. He has personally experienced systemic violence, he said. An attorney who studied human rights, he is motivated to contribute to improving the human condition, and to dignity.

“For me to sleep at night, I must align my values, and #HeForShe does that,” he said. It is important for African males to act in ways consistent with the Constitution. Tshabalala’s role as champion of #HeForShe enables Standard Bank to contribute towards a hospitable environment for women.

Women's month

Habib said female students at Wits comprise 56% of the student body, and added that female students generally perform better than their male counterparts do. The staff complement at Wits is 51% female but executive and academic professoriate comprise just 28%. “We have a very significant way to go,” he said. Initiatives are underway at Wits to advance women, including dedicated programmes to appoint female professors and working towards creating an enabling environment on campus where women can thrive.

A propensity towards GBH at universities

Habib cited the “propensity at universities for gender based harm [GBH]” as a challenge. He recalled his initial appointment as Vice-Chancellor in 2013, when his first week entailed confronting enduring and unresolved complaints about sexual harassment by Wits lecturers. Habib cited this experience – and having to grapple with the issue, as it related to some research peers who were implicated – as part of his personal motivation for becoming a champion of #HeForShe.

“We’ve only touched the surface of an ongoing agenda,” he said and referred to a “crisis of masculinity” and the need to intervene at a deep, structural level. “The big question is: how do we get to that?”

Habib called for a conversation about what the real issues and that this is a process – South Africa is better in 2019 than it was in 2010, and much improved since democratisation in 1994, he pointed out. The question of race also needs to be addressed – “Class, racial dynamics; we need to discuss these issues in terms of gender.”

Reflecting society and legitimate masculinity

Tshabalala said that as much as banks reflect society, financial institutions need to “play in [their] lane” and should not get involved in politics. Banks have a responsibility to make the workplace a safe haven for women and contribute to the discourse on social challenges.

Structural dynamics must be dealt with first, according to Habib, and there must be consequences to rape, murder, and violence. He pointed to economic (dis)empowerment as a contributor to toxic masculinity and “losing your sense of what it means to be a man.”

“Men just have to get their act together!” said Habib, and called for “acceptable and legitimate masculinity”. Security, policing and policy measures [just] buy time to make a more stable and inclusive environment for acceptable forms of society. “It's everyone's responsibility,” he said.

About HeForShe and the Champions Initiative

  • Created by UN Women, the United Nations entity for gender equality and the empowerment of women, the HeForShe solidarity movement for gender equality provides a systematic approach and targeted platform on which men and boys can engage and become change agents towards the achievement of gender equality.
  • The HeForShe Champions initiative – combining IMPACT 10x10x10 and the Thematic Champions – is a unique effort across government, business and academia to demonstrate that progress towards gender equality is possible on an accelerated timeline.
  • Through inspirational and uplifting real-life stories, the IMPACT Report released on 24 September by the HeForShe Champions demonstrates how individuals and communities all over the world are advancing gender equality

Key IMPACT Report Highlights

  • Gender Parity Data: Despite a 202 year wait for the economic gender gap to close, across the HeForShe Champions a steady increase in the representation of women at senior leadership is emerging with Turkey’s Koç Holding moving from 7% women on the board in 2014 to 28% in 2018, and Unilever’s non-executive board moving from 36% women in 2014 to 45% in 2018.
  • Creating equality in society: Our societies remain marked by critical gender issues and latest figures estimate that 35% of women experience some form of violence in their lifetime – an unchanged statistic. From Ghana though, we hear a story from the Ministry of Gender that is eliminating harmful norms around pregnant women in the community of Mafi Dove and from Romania, we hear the story of a male call center operator at the frontlines of domestic abuse reporting, and how he is doing his part to end violence against women.
  • Creating equality in the workplace: HeForShe male allies are evolving their own leadership styles to become more inclusive. We hear how a male COO at Accor is challenging traditional stereotypes to empower women into leadership roles in Asia and how a male Senior Vice President at Electronic Arts joined forces with a female employee resource group to create more inclusive games
  • Creating equality at home: Family-friendly policies matter because they support children to get a better start in life. In the IMPACT Report, we hear from a male General Manager at Danone and why it was important for him to be at the heart of leading Danone’s 18-week gender-neutral paid parental leave policy. We also hear from a young father in South Africa, a customer of Vodacom’s – a subsidiary of Vodafone – and how he benefitted from their Mum and Baby service during his partner’s pregnancy.
  • Creating equality with the next generation: Today, more than 262 million children and youth are out of school. HeForShe Champions though, are advocating for girls’ education and engaging men and boys on the need for gender equality. Hear from students at Stony Brook University on how an innovative STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] programme is changing their views of this field. Hear from student leaders from the World Organization about how the Scout Movement is spreading the gender equality message to all 50 million Scouts.