Lip-service celebration of women in present-day South Africa, while they remain marginalized and often disenfranchised and disempowered is a disservice to the 20 000 women in their diversity, who bravely marched in unison to the State Union Buildings in Pretoria on the 9 August 1956. 66 years later South Africa has made strides towards attaining gender parity, but it still falls short of the valid expectations of women in the country.
"South Africa is regarded as the most unsafe place in the world for women with the highest level of violent crimes against women and girls. Why are we comfortable with this title as if it was the Crown Jewel that we should be proud of and continue to uphold as a shining example of our power as a nation? Year-on-year we have themed Women's Month awareness-raising initiatives and dialogues and yet every August on the eve of Women's month we witness an increase in sexual and gender-based violence against women," says Karen Pillay, Business Continuity Manager at the Centre for Study of Violence and Reconciliation.
South Africa ranks overall 20th among 146 countries, according to the Global Gender Gap Index 2022, which benchmarks the current state and evolution of gender parity across four key dimensions: economic participation and opportunity; educational attainment; health and survival; and political empowerment. A gender-sensitive approach to understanding the needs of women in terms of their reproductive, care and employment responsibilities is needed from the government, private sector, labor and civil society to more fully grasp what would make women resilient to shocks and insecurities that so often beset South Africa.
When it comes to economic participation and opportunities dimension, South Africa dramatically falls to 92nd place on the index. The country has made progress in terms of political empowerment, health, and education dimensions. But women remain underrepresented in the economic sphere. Women only account for 43,6% of the formal employment force, and this is mostly as domestic workers, clerical and technical occupations.
The theme for Women's Month 2022 is Women's Socio-Economic Rights and Empowerment: Building back better for women's resilience, but towards what resilience? Women in the country still disproportionately bear the brunt of Gender-Based Violence in the country. Moreover, sexual harassment against women in the workplace has been on the increase, especially within the public sector. "The persistent threat of sexual and gender-based violence that every woman in South Africa faces, is the Archilles heel of every effort to advance women's socio-economic rights. Unless the foundational harms against women – the pervasive narrative in society that their existence, value and being is secondary to that of a man – are addressed in every facet of human interaction, well-intentioned themes to celebrate women over one month in twelve, will remain slogans that we chase every year," says Allan Ngari, Advocacy Programme Manager, Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR)
CSVR urges the government and private enterprise leaders to pivot in the month of August to start dealing with latent issues that affect women in South Africa and that prevent women from manifesting the fullness of socio-economic rights, including moving into more lucrative employment and entrepreneurship. This would entail understanding the barriers that women face. It starts with the meaningful inclusion of women in national and devolved structures and programming in line with the principle of "nothing for us, without us".
As long as the government continues to ignore the real plight of women across their diversity, it will always be building a house of cards when it comes to holistically advancing women's rights in South Africa.
For more information please contact: Liezelle Kumalo, Gender Specialist: firstname.lastname@example.org