Women in navy discuss transformation and empowerment

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For the first time in 83 years, women in the South African Navy are gathered to discuss issues of empowerment and transformation in the force and society in general.

A three-day women's conference is being held in Milnerton under the theme: "Celebrating the spirit of womanhood within you".

The chief of the South African Navy, Vice Admiral Johannes Mudimu, said women had great potential and "should not be locked in offices".

One of his responsibilities, he said was to create an environment that allowed women to be active participants in decision-making.

"I mustn't introduce within the organisation measures and discriminatory and exclusionary clauses that are aimed at preventing or delaying women to advance," Vice Admiral Mudimu said.

A focus group is to be set up with Vice Admiral Mudimu and four women to debate the role of women in the navy, identify potential and look at ways to advance them.

"I will refuse the creation of artificial boundaries that seek to delay participation of women in all mustering, be it in support of combat environment," he said.

Reflecting on the navy's past, he said that ten years ago it would have been "impossible for women to command ships and submarines, as policies prevented this".

"Today we have here, in our midst, a number of aspirant commanding officers, who will in the course of this year, be appointed to command our navy ships," he said.

The first female admiral, Rear Admiral Khanyisile Litchfield-Tshabalala, who is leading the conference, acknowledged that women in the organisation were faced with challenges.

These include balancing their multiple roles as "employees, mothers and citizens".

Although there are opportunities for women to advance, especially in combat and technical areas of the navy, referred to as "the sharp end of the navy", challenges arose when they want to start families.

"Maybe it is high time that we look at starting baby centres and creches right there where the women are. Why don't we have a baby centre or a creche at the dockyard?" she asked.

Rear Admiral Litchfield-Tshabalala joined the Navy in 1997. She served in the liberation armed force, umKhonto weSizwe, for ten years.

The conference, she said, would look at "where we are now, where do we want to be and what are the gaps".

Partnerships should be strengthened with the spouses of navy women to "get them to understand" the important roles played by their wives in the organisation.

Delegates will also discuss issues such as femininity, health, leadership, networking and unity.

By Karen Pretorius - BuaNews

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