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Absence of women in BRICS is too glaring


OPINION: This past week, the 15th annual BRICS Summit held at the Sandton Convention Centre left me wondering about the role of women in high places, writes Tswelopele Makoe.

By Tswelopele Makoe

THIS past week, the 15th annual BRICS Summit held at the Sandton Convention Centre left me wondering about the role of women in high places.

Of course, it remains commendable that the chair of BRICS, President Cyril Ramaphosa, together with the heads of state of the member nations – Brazil, Russia, India, and China – came together to discuss important transformation challenges of our times.

However, the absence of women at the high table left me wondering if their absence was due to meritocracy or sheer endurance of patriarchy.

Among the top priorities was notably the expansion of the BRICS bloc, and if so, the extent of that expansion. It resulted with the heads of state of the five BRICS members resolving to extend invitations to six countries, which will effectively become full members from January 2024.

It is clear that the transformation agenda has been flourishing in light of the BRICS collaboration. The yearning and determination with which dozens of nations have lined up to join this union is a clear marker of their continual success.

The nations that will be joining the BRICS collective are: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Ethiopia, Egypt, Argentina, and the United Arab Emirates. Furthermore, the BRICS group have left an open invitation to the dozens of other countries that wish to join the bloc.

As a collective, the group is certainly clambering towards global influence in world relations, covering over 40% of the global population, and 32.5% of the global GDP (based on purchasing power).

The majority of the member nations are already solidified emerging global superpowers and have been key in highlighting investment opportunities across the member nations. As a collective, BRICS is a notable rival to the G7 bloc for leading global economies.

The BRICS Summit this week was a wonderful event for South Africa to host. There were over 50 heads of state in attendance, all of which were male.

This highlighted a concerning peculiarity in the BRICS collective. Although women are in the majority of the global population, they are noticeably absent from the leadership of this transformative collective.

The incumbent member nations of BRICS are all male-led countries. The six newly elected member states are all male-led nations.

The concern here is that the voice of women in the BRICS collective is currently muted, and the role of women in these societies is being dangerously overlooked. What is further troubling is the stark absence of female-led nations in the current global architecture.

Women-led nations have been proven to uphold a transformational agenda in all of their dealings. Female leaders are commonly wise and bold decision-makers, who are effective in their cultivation of meaningful global relations.

In addition to this, female leaders are adept problem-solvers, detail orientated, flexible and creative in the roles that they occupy.

More importantly, women uphold the mandate of social responsibility in their society, and as such, undertake the upliftment of the citizens with distinct seriousness.

How then can we expect the various challenges of our societies, particularly those that pertain to women and children, to be meaningfully addressed, if women are not in the spaces where meaningful transformation is undertaken?

Although we exist in a modern, globalised world order that is often riddled with sentiments of patriarchy it is extremely pertinent that we value the role of women, and we utilise their wisdom to our advantage.

Women are commonly compassionate, empathetic, and resilient members of society. It is their tactful inclination to enhancing collaboration, increasing productivity, and promoting equity and fairness that makes them ideal in positions of leadership.

It is of the utmost importance that those who lead our society value the constituents of the society and promote the unique needs of those who occupy the societies that they lead.

In the modern South African context, we are riddled with inequality, poverty, crippling power outages, widespread unemployment, and a dwindling economy, resulting in exorbitant price hikes.

The capacity of women in leadership is untenable. Often times, the absence of women in leadership results in the dismissal of women’s challenges.

It is the capabilities that women embody that make them particularly pertinent in this time of our advancing transformational agenda within BRICS.

My hope is that the lack of women in BRICS does not impede the potential that it has to exact meaningful change in the international world order.

The right leadership collective will ensure that this is not the case. Furthermore, the role of women must be centred in the transformation of our global society.

Although it is deeply concerning that absolutely no female leaders will be present at the 2024 annual BRICS summit in Russia, it is pertinent that the needs, concerns and demands of women in our collective societies are at the forefront of their agenda.

Without women, transformation will always be incomplete. This, however, is a quintessential opportunity for the BRICS member states to enact collaborative and transformative projects.

It is vital that each of these nations use this collaboration to advance the needs of their societies. Africa is a hub of natural resources. China and Russia have advanced technological tools and expertise.

India is acclaimed for their production of wheat, milk, cotton, fruits, and vegetables, whilst Brazil is a distinct exporter of sugar, corn, coffee, and meat, amongst others.

The newly elected member states will further this collaboration through the provision of their own resources, which will ultimately strengthen the position and effectiveness of BRICS in the global sphere.

We need to ensure that collaboration and co-ordinated efforts are put forward in order to benefit, strengthen and develop the members of BRICS.

This is the opportunity of these nations to not only strengthen their societies, to develop their people and enact a common ideology.

The true aim should be to formulate meaningful and effective collaborative networks that mutually benefit the member states, whilst developing the society and the people who belong to the collective.

The technological, political, economic, and cultural growth of the BRICS nations should proliferate through this union. The BRICS nations, at the forefront of their agenda, need to value their differences, and use them to their advantage.

This is a pristine opportunity for these nations to enact what is seemingly impossible and empower the historically subjugated global south. We need to view the Euro-West and global north as examples of the potential of proper collaborative efforts.

The agenda set forth by BRICS should not merely pay lip service to its constituents, but intentionally bring forth transformative steps in its societies.

As the global south transforms, I strongly believe that women should be occupying their rightful places at the prominent levels of leadership.

Women should not be seen as mere ramifications of society, but as the discerning drivers of society that they are. Female leadership is inherently transformative and futuristic in their outlook of society.

It is the character and capabilities of women that makes them such a special species. Women in leadership have the potential to achieve the impossible, to arm their society with the tools of advancement, expansion, and proliferated improvement.

Shirley Chisholm once candidly maintained that “tremendous amounts of talent are being lost to our society just because that talent wears a skirt.”

* Tswelopele Makoe is a Gender Activist and an MA Ethics student at UWC, affiliated with the Desmond Tutu Centre for Religion & Social Justice. All views expressed are her own.

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