Economic empowerment under the spotlight on Women’s Day

2011-08-09 14:27

The economic empowerment of women in South Africa was under the spotlight today as the country commemorated Women’s Day.

President Jacob Zuma said statistics showed that not much progress is being made to advance women in the business sector.

Only 4.4% of the chief executive and managing director positions were held by woman and they held 15.8% of all directorships, according to the 2011 Women in Corporate Leadership Census of the Business Women’s Association.

He said this year was the year of economic transformation and job creation and government wanted to see a “visible change” for women from “all walks of life”.

He encouraged women to enter industries considered to be traditionally male dominated – such as mining.

“We are however concerned that the target of 10% for women participation in mining was not met, as the recent Mining Charter review has indicated. This means that more work must be done to open this sector for women,” he said.

Zuma said the government was aware that women entrepreneurs remained on the periphery of the national economy.

Their participation was low in this area because of poor access to business opportunities, information, financial markets and the knowledge of running a business.

“There are a number of support programmes across government departments, designed to assist women to remedy these constraints. One of these is the promotion of co-operatives especially in rural areas to enable women to participate in the economy,” he said.

The ANC also called on businesses to speed up the empowerment of women.

The ruling party expressed “great concern” over the “slow pace” of empowering African women in the workplace – African women account for only 0.8% at top management level.

DA spokesperson Lindiwe Mazibuko said freedom from oppression was only a reality for a few “fortunate women” in South Africa.

“Women still lack satisfactory access to jobs and economic opportunity that flow from having equal access to skills development and training; women remain more at risk of contracting HIV and AIDS than men, particularly as a consequence of being denied rights over their own bodies in a deeply patriarchal society,” she said.

Economist Mike Schussler said women were not as active in the economy as they should be due to the high adult unemployment rate in the country.

“We have a bigger problem in South Africa. The big problem isn’t women, the problem is we have the lowest adult employment rate in the world outside of a war zone,” he said.

“Certainly, we are in a very bad shape, for both men and women. Because of the low adult employment rate, women in South Africa are not participating in the economy as they should be.”

Schussler said South Africa had done well to empower women on the political side – but lacked on the economic side, with 40.5% of adults not working.

The National Union of Metalworkers’ of SA urged women to celebrate women’s day “in protest”.

“Our country is amongst the most and leading unequal country in the world which manifest itself in the form of high rate of mass unemployment, deepening income inequalities, rising cost of living, ravaged by scourge of HIV and AIDS diseases, high cost of health care, grinding poverty and high cost of transportation which are a burden to the working class and poor women,” said spokesperson Castro Ngobese in a statement.

He called on working class women to fight and defeat capitalism, which Numsa believed was the cause of the inequalities in South Africa.

The IFP recognised that women needed opportunities to empower themselves economically. Its president, Mangosutho Buthelezi, said South Africa needed to “help our women to help themselves”.

DA Limpopo provincial leader Desiree van der Walt said women still made up 70% of those living below the poverty line.

“It is of utmost importance that our government fundamentally improves its approach to land reform. Not only must the government remove all the bureaucratic bottlenecks that hinder a successful land reform, it must make sure that the beneficiaries, especially women are fully capacitated to carry out sustainable and long term agricultural enterprises.”

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