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3 Intentions to Drive Gender Equality: Lessons from the 2024 GEWAL Summit



3 min


Gender Equality

Research consistently demonstrates the positive correlation between diversity in leadership and organisational success, which includes resilience during economic disruptions and bottom-line growth. 


While women today enjoy greater access to education, healthcare, and economic opportunities than ever before, disparities persist. Echoing the sentiments of Sophie Williams-De Bruyn, a leader of the 1956 Women’s March to the Union Buildings, she said “We’ve come a long way; we’ve got the vote and a lot of things, but we are not satisfied because we don’t see the changes in our situation as women.”


These words encapsulate a prevailing truth: progress alone is not enough. True gender equality demands intentional and concerted efforts. As we navigate this complex landscape, we identify 3 strategic intentions from the 2024 Gender Equality, Wellness and Leadership (GEWAL) Summit that can bring us closer to the realization of a more equitable world for all.


1. Strive for Significance, Not Success

The annual GEWAL Summit aims to make visible women role models by giving them a public platform to share their inspiring stories of success. Dr Kefiloe Masiteng, Head of Resident Coordinator’s Office at United Nations South Africa, challenged this perception and instead encouraged women to take their success further and transition from success towards significance. This shift, according to Dr Masiteng, entails leveraging one’s influence, as small as it may seem, to uplift others.


Jackie May, the founder and editor of Twyg, is a businessowner who has achieved her success with the help of others. She said: “I’ve got a business coach and a mentor and without that person, I think I would’ve given up”. This sentiment highlights the crucial role mentors play in providing guidance and support, especially in fields where female representation remains scarce.


Itumeleng Monale, the COO at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, highlighted the importance of striving for significance among organisations. To stay significant organisations must internally champion inclusion, social responsibility, and good governance. A good place to start is with transparency in governance: “Those who disclose are more likely to get better investment, they are more likely to be visible to capital and as a result it behoves them to act deliberately to meet specific targets,” Monale said.


Research consistently demonstrates the positive correlation between diversity in leadership and organisational success, which includes resilience during economic disruptions and bottom-line growth. However, the most crucial aspect of striving to be significant lies in the ability to inspire others towards a shared cause. Busisiwe Mavuso, the CEO of Business Leadership South Africa, outlined the qualities of a good leader as someone who embraces diverse perspectives, even when they challenge the status quo. True leaders, as Mavuso suggests, are unafraid to confront uncomfortable truths, recognising the profound impact such actions can yield in the long run.


2. Invest in Future Demand

Despite significant financial allocations towards enterprise development, there remains a lack of tangible impact on the ground. Namhla Mniki-Mangaliso, Co-Chair of the Women’s Economic Assembly, highlighted that correcting systemic imbalances requires a concerted national effort to bolster manufacturing capacity, promote women’s ownership of productive assets, and improve their participation along the supply chain. A notable example of such efforts emerged during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, when the Motsepe Foundation spearheaded a gender-balanced procurement process for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). This initiative not only prioritized gender equity in procurement but also provided coaching and mentorship to women-owned businesses to ensure their compliance.


The Women’s Economic Assembly aims to expand this approach, scaling support to reach a broader spectrum of women-owned enterprises. Mniki-Mangaliso advocated for offtake agreements – a future-looking contractual agreement – as a mechanism to empower women-owned Small, Medium, and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs) and facilitate their gradual entry within supply chains.


Encouraging women into business in the first place requires interventions at formative youth stages. Deney Van Rooyen, an engineer who discovered her passion through play as a child, explained: “Critical for women is exposure to a variety of different things that can pique our interest”. Van Rooyen emphasised the need to identify, nurture and follow one’s passions throughout life, endorsing the sentiment that enjoyment and fulfilment are paramount in career pursuits.


For some women, discovering their passion may not be a linear trajectory, particularly as new industries emerge and as industries shift into the future with the Fourth industrial Revolution. Industries such as agriculture and renewable energy were proposed by speakers as promising growth areas for women’s participation. Women’s involvement in these infant industries creates opportunity to cultivate them into robust new economies where economic inclusion and gender equality are foundational principles. Dr. Kefiloe Masiteng emphasised the inclusive nature of renewable energy saying, “It’s new to all of us, [even to] men. All of us can go in there and make a difference for the rest of the country”.


3. Build Solidarity
Without social media, women in apartheid South Africa built strong regional and national networks, across class and racial lines, to enable the influential social movement of 1956. Speaking on the zeitgeist of the time, Sophie Williams-De Bruyn said, “Women had to bear the brunt of so many laws… Our men had already taken the pass without much trouble”. At 18-years-old, Williams-De Bruyn was the youngest leader of the 1956 march. Now, at 86-years-old, she advises that women be kinder and more compassionate to one another to build the kind of solidarity that she and Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph and Albertina Sisulu achieved – bringing together 20,000 women from across the country.


The solidarity of the 1950s was fostered from a collective dream and obligation to build a better South Africa. Her advice to women who wish to emulate this solidarity is to lean into collective aspirations, rather than their personal and individual motivations. She said: “Stand on your principles… Don’t give in because you want certain things. Go without it.”


At the Motsepe Foundation, we believe that this social and solidarity economy is fundamental to the building of new and inclusive economies. This sentiment was reiterated by Teresa Clarke, an investment banker and internet entrepreneur, who explained that opportunities can be created through impact. Clarke guided that in emerging economies there is no shortage of problems that need inventive solutions. She says, “If you as an entrepreneur focus on filling some of the [governmental] gaps, those become hugely scalable and sustainable businesses that can have impact.”