Achieving Gender Equality in South Africa is dependent on women's economic empowerment and financial freedom

Achieving Gender Equality in South Africa is dependent on women's economic empowerment and financial freedom

Gender equality is contingent on women's economic development and financial independence. On 8 March, we celebrated International Women's Day, Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress. And progress needs to be accelerated because women's achievements are still celebrated as firsts, instead of the norm.

International Women's Day is a celebration of women's accomplishments and a sobering reminder of the obstacles women continue to confront.

While progress has been made in facilitating women's empowerment globally and nationally, they continue to suffer job inequities and a lack of financial access, preventing them from fully participating in the economy. About 67% of health and social care workers worldwide are women, yet their contribution is significantly underestimated.  A similar challenge is presented in South Africa.

Historically, South African women have faced numerous challenges, from apartheid-era discrimination to deeply ingrained gender stereotypes. Although South African women have made significant strides in various sectors of the economy, there are still disparities in the types of jobs women hold, with many concentrated positions.

It is essential to establish and support policies that offer equal opportunities for women and create an atmosphere where they can thrive.

Women and men have vastly different access to power over economic institutions in their respective nations. In most regions, women need to be included in economic decision-making, including the development of financial, monetary, commercial, and other economic policies, as well as tax systems and wage regulations Research has shown that women have shouldered a disproportionate share of the burden of care. Societal expectations and gender roles often place caregiving responsibilities on women, impacting their career progression and personal development.

The care burden thus impacts women's access to economic resources and power, and, as a result, the extent of gender equality at the individual and family levels and in society.

According to the World Economic Forum's Gender Gap Report, expanding women's economic participation and attaining gender parity in business and government leadership are critical levers for closing gender inequalities in homes, societies, and economies. Collective, coordinated, and aggressive action by private- and public-sector leaders will be critical in speeding progress towards achieving gender parity while sparking fresh development and resilience. Significant losses have occurred in recent years, and gender parity has varied greatly according to organization, sector, and economy. However, an increasing number of players have understood the need and urgency of acting, and evidence of successful gender parity programs is mounting.

Even with increased awareness of gender issues, it is troubling that no country in the world has yet eliminated the gender gap, despite large gains in female representation. Nordic countries, such as Iceland, Norway, and Finland, have consistently ranked high in gender equality. However, it will take 169 years on the current trajectory to close the global gender gap in economic participation.

Gender inequities persist in nations with no clear male domination, and violence against women (VAW) of all types is nevertheless common and generally tolerated, even in highly developed societies.  In South Africa, VAW remains a significant concern and impacts women's ability to participate fully in the economy.

Despite progress, the gender pay gap persists in South Africa, with women generally earning less than their male counterparts for similar work.

It should be noted, however, that the entrepreneurial spirit of South African women is reshaping the business landscape, driving economic growth and fostering social change. Women are establishing businesses across diverse sectors, from technology and agriculture to fashion and healthcare. South African women's businesses drive job creation, promote innovation, and foster a more inclusive and equitable economy.  However, the biggest challenges that women-owned businesses often face are access to funding and securing financial support.

Good economic governance is the cornerstone of South Africa's growth and development, and it is critical to ensure that resources are used to address gender inequality and narrow the gender divide. Engendering the budget is a comprehensive and deliberate process involving a gender equality lens in public finance.

Gender budgeting promotes accountability, transparency, and generally good economic governance by measuring how money is spent. The South African government should ensure that its national economic strategies reflect its gender objectives and that national budgets are prepared, authorized, executed, monitored, and audited gender-sensitively.

Accelerating the achievement of gender equality and empowering all women and girls demands a comprehensive and interconnected strategy. By addressing poverty, strengthening institutions, and incorporating a gender perspective into financing mechanisms, we can create lasting change. It is not just a matter of moral imperative but an investment in nations' social, economic, and political prosperity. As we strive for a more just world, let us recognize that true progress is only possible when the rights and potential of every individual are fully realized.

This article was originally published by IOL

Liezelle Kumalo
Phelisa Nkomo

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