Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula was on the podium for two women’s conferences this week as Women’s Month draws to a close.
Her first stop was ABF Zwartkop where she delivered the keynote address to the SA National Defence Force’s transformation and gender conference. Two days later the Minster again had the honour of delivering a keynote address, this time to a consultative workshop on women’s economic empowerment, aimed particularly at female military veterans, in Ekurhuleni.
At Zwartkop Mapisa-Nqakula said more women should be encouraged to join the defence force in spite of a perception that many women did not want to be uniform because of a lack of communication about all the tasks and work done by the SANDF.
She said protection of South Africa’s sovereignty was no longer a men only preserve adding “the general consensus is that‚ to achieve long-term peace and stability both women and men need to be involved in the peace processes‚ peace negotiations and in the reconciliation processes”.
According to SAnews the Minister told the conference, an annual event on the Department of Defence calendar, her department had a gender strategy based on social justice, human dignity, advancing human rights and fighting inequality in place.
Another impediment to women signing up for the SANDF was gender discrimination, an issue which remains a major problem in several social and economic settings, including at the workplace.
“The relative comprehensive legislation on non-discrimination means in many cases the problem is ineffective implementation and enforcement of such policies and legislation hence we need to walk the talk and not only recruit but empower and promote more women in the force.”
Although South Africa’s force has the largest contingency of women in its deployments when compared to other counterparts on the continent the pace of gender empowerment remained slow.
“To date, gender integration has not yet reached the required levels we had anticipated, particularly in the higher echelons of leadership in the SANDF,” the Minister said.
South Africa’s efforts to attract more women in the force have been acknowledged by the UN Department of Peacekeeping Office. It noted that more women are now actively involved in the provision of peace and security.
The Minister said since 1994 the total number of women in the force has increased from 16,251 to 22,687.
In terms of senior management breakdown, there are five major generals and 35 are at the rank of brigadier and admiral (junior grade).
“There is a need to focus on increasing women at decision-making level through mentoring, coaching and leadership training.”
The Minister was of the view that the approval of the Defence Review by the National Assembly gave the SANDF a great opportunity to realise the goal of gender mainstreaming.
The Defence Review 2014 asserts the SANDF will be an equitable, broadly representative and gender aligned national asset.