UP EXPERT OPINION: International Women’s Day - We can learn from Naledi Pandor and other women of integrity

Posted on March 12, 2024

The theme of International Women’s Day this year is Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress. But terms such as “invest” and “progress” are loaded and typically carry connotations of material growth.

In his book, The Natural Superiority of Women, Ashley Montagu writes that many of the problems we face in our world today are because of the emphasis we place on aggressiveness and competition and our failure to promote loving kindness and cooperation. Montagu suggests that emotional expressiveness and social perceptiveness are more important than aggressiveness and mechanical skill.

It is here that we see women of integrity making a difference and driving society to a better alternative with an emphasis on peace, justice and empathy, not war and not genocide. HRH Reema bint Bandar Al Saud, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, said, “One of the values I find lacking in the modern world, in my limited experience as an older person, is empathy, and we have to embrace it. We have to insist upon it.”

This embracing necessitates heightened awareness, acknowledging that women and young people often bear the brunt of the harshest consequences of wars and conflicts. Conflicts, more often than not, stem from egoistical drives for self-enrichment, a sense of superiority, power, greed, and domination. These negative attributes tarnish the beauty of our humanity, turning us into shadows of our true essence and portraying us as depraved individuals consumed by destructive tendencies.

Belgium’s deputy minister Petra de Sutter, Spain’s former minister of social rights, Ione Bellara,  Jill Stein, presidential candidate and head of the Green Party in the US, Clare Daly, member of the European parliament, and Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, chairperson of Qatar Foundation, Education Above All, are but a handful of women of conscience championing against these destructive tendencies.

Increasingly, a promising trend unfolds where the youth and women emerge as champions for values that uplift, dignify and promote the well-being of all individuals. And in a powerful pursuit of positive peace, a resonant voice emerges from the youth, proving that they are the vanguards set to transform the world. Youth climate activist Greta Thunberg, alongside numerous climate advocates, has marched in solidarity with Palestine, chanting, “no climate justice on occupied land”. It is the youth who own the future and it is theirs for safekeeping. Young people have been mobilising on campuses demanding that their institutions divest from companies that are linked to the apartheid state of Israel.

Investing in women is thus tantamount to investing in the youth. Accelerating progress should be about progressing to a common humanity and not a world where white lives have always been more sacred than black lives.

In a video address to the Munich Literature Festival, human rights activist Arundhati Roy condemned the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the siege of Gaza, and the German government’s crackdown on pro-Palestinian advocacy saying, “If we say nothing about Israel’s brazen slaughter of Palestinians, even as it is live-streamed into the most private recesses of our personal lives, we are complicit in it. Something in our moral selves will be altered forever.”

I think we have passed that point already. How will we navigate our paths back to our humanness?

As we witness the events in Gaza, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a stark reality of theft and savagery prevails. The so-called progress, marked by the extraction of resources through exploitative means leading to the impoverishment of host nations, is questioned. Arundhati Roy’s “The most heinous crimes, the most horrible declarations calling for genocide and ethnic cleansing are greeted with applause and political reward. While wealth is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, throwing crumbs to the poor manages to garner support to the very powers that are further impoverishing them” underscores the deeply flawed concept of progress.

In this moment of chaos, South Africa’s minister of international relations and cooperation, Naledi Pandor, emerges as a symbol of integrity, representing the ongoing struggles faced by black and Muslim women. By denouncing “patronising and bullying” from states, global powers, supremacist cultures, individuals, or groups, Pandor sheds light on the dehumanisation and oppression experienced by women and nations. In South Africa, she stands as a heroic figure, embodying courage, respectability and strength.

Women worldwide are shedding their fears, standing resolute for justice and righteousness. They embody a tangible and sincere humanity that resonates across age, race, religion, transcending borders and identities. At pro-Palestinian protests, placards proclaim, “Don’t stand up for Gaza because you are Palestinian or Arab, Muslim or Christian. Stand up for Gaza because genocide is universally abhorrent. And the moral imperative to condemn inhumanity supersedes identity.”

Celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, Susan Sarandon and Mia Khalifa have criticised Israel’s attacks on the Palestinians. Khalifa was fired by RedLight Holland chief executive Todd Shapiro for her pro-Palestinan stance to which she responded, “I’d say supporting Palestine has lost me business opportunities, but I’m more angry at myself for not checking whether or not I was entering into business with Zionists. My bad.”

In South Africa, a united front of young women spanning racial, religious and ethnic backgrounds is actively building solidarity with Palestine. Advocating for a #CeasefireNow and an end to occupation, genocide, and settler violence, the African Artists Against Apartheid (@African_AAA) comprises more than 400 individuals. Their X homepage boldly declares, “We stand with oppressed people all over the world. Our demands are not complicated: stop the genocide and end Israeli apartheid.”

Award-winning South African photojournalist Gulshan Khan emphasises the importance of mutual understanding, stating, “I believe it is so important for us to learn about each other … how can we have empathy if we don’t know each other, you know?”

Reflecting historical resistance to oppression, occupation, slavery, and colonialism through art and music, the @African_AAA  shares this ethos, urging artists globally to join the fight against Israeli oppression by leveraging their creative tools. Their message resonates: “We call on artists in Africa and the world to join us in fighting Israeli oppression by doing what we do best: raising our voices, our brushes, our pens, our bodies, our cameras, our hearts, our minds, and our communities to call for freedom for Palestine. #AAAA #FreePalestine.”

In seeking a sense of community, humanity and justice, these values reflect our investment in mankind. Renowned figures, including influencers, academics and authors such as Judith Butler and Naomi Klein, alongside youth activists, unite in unequivocal opposition to the indefensible acts of killing children, bombing hospitals and schools, attacking aid and health workers, and destroying civilian infrastructure.

Klein has been advocating for confronting violent ideologies with a unifying humanism that transcends ethnic and religious divisions, emphasising fierce opposition to identity-based hatred, including antisemitism. She calls for an international left anchored in an ethic that prioritises those values “that side with the child over the gun every single time, no matter whose gun and no matter whose child”.

It is after all about maintaining unwavering moral consistency without succumbing to the fallacy of moral equivalency between occupier and occupied. In Klein’s words, it’s about embodying “love”. What the world needs is more love, more kindness and no war. Happy International Women’s Day.


Dr Quraysha Ismail Sooliman is a National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences postdoc research fellow in the department of political sciences at the University of Pretoria

This article appeared in the Mail & Guardian on 8 March 2024

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the University of Pretoria.

- Author Dr Quraysha Ismail Sooliman

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