What started as a celebration for South Africa’s Women’s Month in the UK turned into an idea generating session of how women who are in the United Kingdom, whether South African or not, could help women and young girls in South Africa. Brand South Africa hosted an Afternoon Tea in London in order to Commemorate South Africa Women’s Month under the theme “Reflections on the Journey of South African Women: Past, Present and Future”.
It was on the 9th of August in 1956 that South African women across racial groups marched to the Union Buildings to protest against being forced to carry passes. The women carried a petition signed by hundreds of women. What always strikes me when I reflect on the march is the Resilience of the women as they fought for their cause. The manner in which they did the march did not consist of any violence or destruction yet they managed to carry their message across. They stood there in silence with a clear intent: an end to the law that forced people to carry passes.
To date, Women’s Day (9 August) and consequently Women’s Month in South Africa has become a period of educating the nation about the role women played in the emancipation of the continent, documenting the correct stories of heroines of South Africa, celebrating women who have made it in all spheres of life in the continent, honouring and celebrating the girls of 1976 and recognise the role played by young women in the liberation struggle, uniting South African women, celebrating the struggles of the women over the decades and a rejuvenation of South Africa’s commitment to strive for a society that is truly non-racial, non-sexist, united, democratic and free of all forms of discrimination.
The 2015 national theme for Women’s Day “Women United in Moving South Africa Forward” takes place against the backdrop of the declaration by the African Heads of State and Government that 2015 is the Year of Women Empowerment and Development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063.
In South Africa, in every week for the month of August 2015 there will be a focus on a specific sub-theme:
Week 1: Celebrating Women in Fashion
Week 2: Celebrating Women in Film
Week 3: The fight against human trafficking and labour exploitation of women
Week 4: Economic Empowerment (Financial Inclusion of women)
This year, South Africa, presented results of a study aimed at highlighting the State of Women in the South African Economy. The report was conducted by the Department of Women in the Presidency. Brand South Africa took the opportunity to present the findings to the UK audience.
The Report covers 5 broad themes:
ii) Labour market
iii) Access to credit, land and property
iv) Poverty and Inequality
v) Unpaid work
On Education the report highlights that in South Africa, there are more who women enrol at primary and high school level but the numbers are reduced when it comes to Masters and Doctoral degrees Attendance of girls 16 – 18 years is lower than that of males in the same age group. Girls drop out due to family commitment, care work and sometimes to head households (child headed households). The question that needs to be answered is ‘How do we keep girls at school after the age of 15?’
Women need to participate in all sectors of the economy. There is also a need to unlock the potential of women and girls in the STEM sector. In South Africa, more women are in the services sector and less in sciences. The concentration of employment of women in the services sector may expose them to relatively more downturns within those sectors. Women also find themselves in low skilled occupations therefore a large proportion of them work as domestic workers. Yet the scope can be increased to ensure women’s participation in the mining, agricultural, finance and technology sectors. The dichotomy between the Formal and Informal economy also needs to be looked at. Within the formal sector women continue to be disadvantaged in terms of earnings and dominate lower earnings categories (household survey and tax data). There are also other issues which relate to the contribution that women make to the economy such as the fact that the extra work they do for example caring and household chores cannot be quantified, thus its contribution to the GDP cannot be measured. Childcare facilities in the workplace are suggested as one of the ways in which companies can provide in order to assist women create a balance between their roles as mothers and as professionals within a workplace.
Access to credit, land and property
South Africa has over the last 20 years been progressive in promoting access to credit for women. Infect, the country meets international standards. However barriers exist due to a lack of collateral and lower levels of financial literacy amongst women. It is suggested that women must be involved in the value chain of land which includes agriculture and food security, property, access to credit, manufacturing, exports, however the gains must be up-scaled. It is also important to note that asset inequality has declined post –apartheid and that the provision of public services, therefore access to services for women has been an area of success for the government in the last 20 years.
Poverty, Inequality and Unpaid
Poverty has declined but females remain more likely to be poor than males. Social grants try to close the gap but more needs to be done. Females tend to live below the poverty line compared to males. In general women largely responsible for a large share of unpaid work.
Violence against Women
In the meeting held in London, Baroness Patricia Scotland shared insights on how she led initiatives to eradicate Domestic Violence in the UK. The unintended consequences related to a reduction in the productivity of a nation as women would either be absent from work, or when they were at work they would not be fully ‘present’ as they had to deal with the emotional trauma of domestic violence. What the Baroness Scotland stressed was that Domestic Violence cuts across class, race, social status etc. Women – rich or poor experience it. She also shared learnings of how some of the women who have committed crimes and thus find themselves in prisons, are actually victims of Domestic Violence. The Methodology of combating domestic violence can be replicated in any country.
We will certainly make a follow up on how best it can be adapted for the South African situation. The meeting learnt that globally, 1 in 3 women has experienced Domestic Violence.
The South African study notes that although women in South Africa have opportunities to participate in income generating activities violence against women remains one of the challenges that are an obstacle to their full participation.
Call to Action
The Women who gathered in London for the afternoon tea resolved that they would collaborate to work on a project that will empower girls in South Africa. They would use the various knowledge and expertise that they have to make the project a reality. The funding would be sourced through Crowdfunding. The said project will also serve as a pilot to test the effectiveness of Crowdfunding as a means for Financial Inclusion for Women.
The location of Women’s issues is at the highest office in South Africa: The Presidency. President Jacob Zuma on Sunday, 9 August 2015, released the first Government Report on the Status of Women in the South African economy as part of the national Women’s Day celebrations. The report acknowledges that the South African Government has made significant progress in empowering women in the political, public and educational spheres, but the marginalisation of poor women severely compromises progress. As Brand South Africa we encourage you to engage with the document, to make an input – comments and suggestions for mitigating the challenges, so that in turn, we as Brand South Africa can forward the inputs to the relevant parties within South Africa.
Next year (2016) will be the 60th Anniversary of the Women’s march. We welcome ideas of how we can make the commemoration bigger and even better.
Click HERE to view our Flickr gallery of Women’s Month celebrations across the UK