By Devan Moonsamy CEO of The ICHAF Training Institute
When virtue is lost, one must learn the rules of kindness
When kindness is lost, the rules of justice
When justice is lost, the rules of conduct
And when the rules of conduct are not followed,
People are seized by the arm, and it is forced upon them
~ Lao Tzu
Freedom of speech is not what many people think it is. People believe freedom of speech is a license to say anything. This is not true. All our human rights are tempered with responsibilities. No freedom is absolute.
People seem confused about this issue. Freedom of speech was initially a concern because of political reasons. Freedom of association likewise initially was about politics, as well as religious faith. If we think any government, once in power, won’t want to curb our freedoms to protect its interests, we are being naïve. And these are key reasons for these freedoms.
Freedom of speech, and the other freedoms we enjoy, are not there to allow discrimination. The word freedom seems to make people think ‘It’s a free country’ is an excuse to abuse others and infringe upon their rights and dignity.
We have the responsibility to educate ourselves and others about what freedom is for and the logical limitations thereto. People don’t know these things, even people who are well educated otherwise.
And so it seems not that shocking that Mangin Pillay of the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (Saice) said that women basically aren’t suitable for the STEM field because they don’t have men’s work ethic, among other reasons.
Pillay is likely to be Saice’s ex-CEO as a result of what he said in the Journal of the South African Institution of Civil Engineering. It’s a bit difficult to retract this article. It’s not a blog that can be deleted. How this article slipped through into the publication is highly questionable. How could the editors and other staff involved allow this?
Of course, Pillay, as the CEO of Saice, had too much power. There was no one checking on him. People assume CEOs and other c-suite executives are beyond this nonsense. It is yet another disappointing display of how serious the problem of discrimination against women is, and how hard it must be for women to advance in STEM fields when gatekeepers like Pillay are blocking them because of their gender.
The journal can’t afford such bad publicity. Saice can’t afford this. The STEM field can’t afford this disgrace. Why? Because women are more than half of us. They are a vital part of our society. In an endless number of ways, they are needed. Not just in the home, but in every field and domain in existence.
People may say that women do not belong in certain positions, such as leaders in some religions. Nevertheless, their influence must be felt on some level. Otherwise, their needs will be ignored.
Certain roles are prescribed to women. Take for example the education needs of children. People assume that who better to speak for the children and protect their interests than their mothers? However, women and men are needed in the field of child education, but women are considered better suited to careers in child education, and there are, for example, very, very few male pre-school teachers. I have certainly not heard of any.
Is it any wonder then that schooling methods are largely girl-child friendly, and have been shown to disadvantage boys? Boys’ education needs must be met through teaching methods.
People will readily agree with this and say yes, let’s get more men involved in child education so that boys aren’t sidelined. But they readily dismiss the need to bring more women into male-dominated fields, thinking it’s not important.
It is easy to focus on the problem, and people are rightly upset about what Pillay said. But I think we should step back a little and try to address this with a sense of duty, as opposed to a sense of ‘righteousness’.
This article is written from a sense of duty to inform people about what freedom of speech is and what it is not. It is the duty of those of us who are informed to try to reason with others and encourage more reasonable, accurate viewpoints.
As shown in the quote at the beginning of this article, a quote from a highly-respected philosopher from ancient China, if people refuse the principles of virtue, kindness, justice, and even the rules of conduct, it will finally be forced upon them. I think that this is true.
Pillay is having the rules of conduct forced upon him because he forsook the other criteria for the humane treatment of his fellow creatures. His ideas are rejected, and he is being punished through the media. People across South Africa, and some people worldwide even, point to him as the problem, not as a solution to the needs, realities and composition of society.
We have to try to act with a cool head in as far as is humanly possible in such cases. We have a right to be fed up, all of us, women and men, about these insults. Nevertheless, the focus should be on educating others about the principles of virtue, kindness and justice, and about what freedom of speech is and is not.
There must be a clear distinction between freedom of speech and discrimination. Otherwise one will have to learn it the hard way. It is hoped that Pillay has learnt this lesson and will sincerely reconsider his words.
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