Still many challenges facing women

2011-09-03 20:28

South Africa has just reached the end of August, a month in which we celebrate and commemorate women every year.

While the focus for this year was on women economic empowerment, the programme for Women’s Month also addressed other social challenges facing women, including gender-based violence, maternal health and HIV and AIDS.

 It is my belief that the struggle for gender equality and empowerment of women should continue beyond the National Women’s Month, it should ideally be part of our daily lives as a society, and not just an August topic.

The programme for National Women’s Month 2011 has been effective in highlighting the disparities that continue to marginalize women from participation in the economy.

While South Africa’s general unemployment is estimated at 25,7%, it rises up to 50% amongst African women. About 41% of these women live in the former Bantustans where economic prospects are limited.

Even amongst the employed women, the majority is found in low paying jobs such as domestic work; tellers in the retail sector; or shop-floor workers in the textile sector that has been shedding jobs over the past years.

A number of women are in the informal sector of our economy, with little prospects of economic advancement.

The severe underrepresentation of women in various economic sectors and in decision making positions in the private sector demonstrated during this month, emphasizes the need for urgent intervention to improve the status of women in our society.

In view of this worrying trend that defeats the objective of equality and women empowerment, the Department for Women, Children and People with Disabilities will advance its efforts to develop the Gender Equality Bill that will enforce 50/50 gender parity in both the public and private sector.

This Gender Equality Bill is expected to be submitted for consideration by Cabinet by March 2012. One of the advances of Women’s Month 2011 was securing a commitment that the New Growth Path which aims to create 5 million jobs over the next 10 years, will have clear gender indicators that will be used to measure the inclusion of women in the sectors targeted to advance the country’s economic growth.

Mining is one of the sectors with the lowest representation of women at about 12%.

During the women’s month, the Department of Mineral Resources enhanced its efforts to increase opportunities for women’s participation in mining including awarding of bursaries to young women to study for various careers within this sector.

We also had firm commitment that Khula Enterprise – a subsidiary of the Department of Trade and Industry, tasked with financing of small and medium enterprises - will from this financial year, allocate 50% of all its new business loans to women.

This requires that we mobilize women to submit business proposals and grab these opportunities for business funding.

 On gender-based violence, we participated in a gay and lesbian conference in Khayelitsha and expressed our commitment to do everything possible to protect the right to sexual orientation as enshrined in our Constitution.

Such interventions will be guided by the proposals of the Task Team on lesbians; gays; bi-sexual; transgender and inter-sexual, which is currently developing an intervention plan against what is termed “corrective rape” and other related violations and concerns.

As the Department for Women, Children and People with Disabilities, we have also collaborate with the Department of Health in responding to deaths of women as a result of pregnancy or child birth complications.

We have signed an agreement with the Minister of Health to focus on HIV Testing during pregnancy. Every pregnant woman who tests positive should be able to enrol in the Treatment and Care Programmes to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV and to also prolong her own health.

Our target is to achieve zero HIV transmission from mother to child. Various government departments, provinces and municipalities planned and worked together to highlight their programmes which contribute to empowerment of women.

The Department of Human Settlements, for instance, handed over 55 houses to women in the town of Brandfort in Free State, to commemorate the 55 anniversary of the historic 1956 women’s march. Under the guidance of qualified builders, more than 100 women volunteers were trained to lay bricks, plaster 100 houses during the women’s month.

Department of Public Works also handed houses to women in Gombani village near Musina, Limpopo.

I would like to express my sincere appreciation to all organizations and individuals, government departments, provinces and municipalities who participated in making the programme for National Women’s Month 2011 a success.

Let us continue to work together to enhance women’s opportunities for economic empowerment.

Ms Lulu Xingwana is Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities

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