By Nicole Graham
Women in eThekwini, much like any South African society, get a pretty raw deal. Women, especially young ones, are more likely to be unemployed, earn less and be undermined by colleagues and society than their male counterparts because of their physicality and gender. As a young female councilor, I have had to regularly take on colleagues who though that making comments about my looks, weight and body was acceptable. I don’t mean one or two isolated incidents- I mean weekly occurrences across the spectrum of race and age. Very few political office bearers in eThekwini are young women.
Young women in eThekwini regularly face abuse, violence, rape and murder. I am told that in the past month, three women have been found raped and murdered in Lindelani, north of Durban. They were found dead on fields and in open spaces, one with her bloodied underwear stuffed in her mouth. These brutal and horrifying incidents are sadly not isolated, and there is little media attention or public outrage. The response from government at various levels is generally slow and insufficient. Our cities are still not safe for women.
The eThekwini Municipality’s Parks, Recreation and Culture Unit have formulated a proposal to spend over a million rand of tax payers’ money (R 1 023 278, 05) on a beauty pageant. The proposed pageant, dubbed ‘Miss eThekwini’, is only open to women who wear a size 28- 34. It makes no bones about the fact that the contestants must be ‘physically beautiful’, occasionally referring to ‘smart women’ for good measure. The winner, by virtue of her physique and dazzling smile, will become an ambassador for our city. It is apparently vital to make us seem like a ‘lifestyle destination’. The proposal makes little mention of tourism or tangible benefits to our city, and offers nothing in terms of Durban’s diverse and fascinating cultures.
There is an undeniable link between creating structures that praise physicality above all else and treating women as though their value is derived from their body. It is these exact attitudes that continue to decrease women’s agency. The idea that this pageant would advance women is laughable. Women will be advanced through education, opportunity, safety and equality.
It is unreal that the municipal unit tasked with managing public spaces, in which many attacks on women take place, would decide to use their money on a pageant as opposed to making these places safer. In Umbilo Park alone, which falls in my ward, a number of young women and school girls have been mugged, attacked and raped in the past year. When I ask for increased security, I am told that there is insufficient funding available. There is now a million rand available for a beauty pageant.
Across political divides, eThekwini Municipality should its money to create safe and livable spaces for residents, particularly vulnerable women. Projects that contribute to inequality cannot be allowed. Let us spend that R 1 023 278, 05 on additional security for public spaces in Lindelani, Kwamashu, Phoenix, Glenwood and other parts of the city in which women are routinely attacked. It is time this city treated the safety of women seriously, and rejected the idea of women’s value being represented through their looks.
(This item was referred back to political caucuses for discussion at committee level. The Democratic Alliance will not support this item if/when it is brought back to committee.)