Women and people with disabilities gaining

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Dear Editor,

As a woman with a physical disability, I think the question should be: "Are women and people with disabilities benefitting from transformation?" And of course the answer is:"Yes, to some extent." But not nearly enough to make a real difference. In all policy documents it clearly states that ALL three groups, black people, women and people with disabilities, have been unfairly and systematically discriminated against pre-1994. So any attempt at a one-sided approach to transformation, where a few Black men benefit, is window-dressing performed by people who want to give the impression that they are committed to transformation.

This also sometimes seem to me to be a manipulative "Divide and Rule" tactic aimed at creating conflict amongst PDI groups and proving(like others to some extent were able to do in the US) that Employment Equity and other initiatives such as BEE, is bound to fail. Unfortunately too many of us who fall in the PDI category, fall for that tactic. And we either start attacking our partners in the PDI category for getting the benefits of AA and BEE or we refuse to accept the PDI label, because we want to get recognition on merit and not receive benefits through "preferential treatment".

We forget that many of those who are economically powerful, were the beneficiaries of an unfair form of Affirmative Action that created systematic barriers to others getting benefits. And that we are trying to CORRECT an unfair situation through corrective actions such as Affirmative Action, BEE and affirmative procurement.The law clearly states that only competent EE and AA candidates should be appointed.

So what is the solution? I believe that one solution is that we, of the PDI label, should start with ourselves. After 10 years of empowering rights provided by some of the most progressive pieces of legislation in the world, we often still act as if we are victims, powerless, not believing in our own abilities and wanting others to rescue us. Let us revive the slogan:"An injury to one is an injury to all" and take each others hands and make a new slogan"Empowerment of one, should lead to empowerment of all".

Let us start exploring the possibilities in our wonderful country and celebrate each one that creates abundance for him or herself and others. Let us women stop thinking that we have to be everything to everybody. We cannot be full-time mothers, workers, community champions etc. at the same time.

We need to take the hands of our brothers, husbands, male colleagues, partners, male friends and encourage them to heal the wound in their soul that makes them believe that to be a man, is to be above a woman. Above in the sense of head of the household who does not need to partake in household chores or active childraising, above in the sense of earning more money than women, above in the sense of being the boss or the leader.

We should also start thinking about how we use our economic resources. India has a bank for women, with a very low interest rate. Women constitute more than 50% of the population. Why do we not start pooling our money and establish our own type of bank. A bank for women by women with our own targets for empowerment.

And our government also has a role to play. Yes, many of the enabling systems are in place. But what is being done to undo the emotional, mental, psychological and spiritual damage done by an ideologogy of superiority that said that being white, male and ablebodied amongst other in-group labels,is better, more valuable, more acceptable?

"The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed."

-- Steven Biko

At the conference against Racism, Xenophobia and other forms of discrimination, much was said about a 10 year programme with funding to undo the damage, to free our minds from a warped sense of identity where my ability to value myself is based on my ability to prove that I am better than another human being. Where is the funding for these type of programmes which could help realize the goal of nation-building as well as an African Renaissance?

The United States and Europe is picking the bitter fruit of not embarking on a structured process of understanding how past ideologies shaped and is still affecting the way we as humans relate to one another. We hear of acts of racism, sexism, xenophobia and new mutated forms of discrimination increasingly happening all over the world.

Many of our fellow global villagers say that they hope we in South Africa can avoid making similar mistakes and find ways to solve problems they do not have answers to. I believe this can happen, if each one of us start taking responsibility for our own process of transformation, by doing just the little bit that we can do, because as long as there is movement and vision and hope, progress is possible.

Yours sincerely

Jeanne Smuts

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