Empower women and the entire nation will grow

Two unemployed mothers dig for soft yellow clay in Soweto. They make their own coal from the clay Picture: Moeletsi Mabe / The Times / Gallo Images
Two unemployed mothers dig for soft yellow clay in Soweto. They make their own coal from the clay Picture: Moeletsi Mabe / The Times / Gallo Images

How much of the budget will be spent on gender-specific initiatives?

South Africa is facing a national crisis of rape, violence and femicide against women and children.

Globally surpassing all our counterparts, we have the highest level of femicide at 12.1 women murdered per 100 000 and the highest incidence of rape at 138 per 100 000.

These shockingly and unusually high levels of violence require a multi-pronged approach but, more importantly, the judicial and policing response must be buttressed by finance.

Minister of Finance Tito Mboweni, in his recent budget speech, told the nation that a R1.8 trillion budget estimate would be spent in the coming financial year.

We heard about the R15 billion downward tax burden revision and the R248 billion shortfall with which treasury is confronted.

This points to an indebted fiscal position as we now spend more than what we are able to collect as tax.

The result is a persistent budget shortfall leading to between 4.3% to 4.6% deficit over the short to medium term.

Driving unsustainably high debt to GDP ratios, we have meandered from 55.9% and we creep towards the threshold of 60%.

If we surpass these levels, we will not only have credit rating agencies to worry about, but we are also likely to reverse government expenditure gains as we knock on the 59% ratio in the short term due to the high debt servicing cost burden.

The numbers show growing our economy has to be the priority of the state and all its partners.

This growth has to exceed the stagnant 0.7% growth of last year; in fact we have to be dreamers and target a 6% pro-poor, labour-intensive and inclusive growth.

Some would argue that is what we did more than a decade ago but we derailed. I agree that we derailed, but I disagree that our economic policies were pro-poor and labour-intensive, targeting, in particular, rural and marginalised women in both urban and peri-urban regions.

They were not.

We experienced a largely jobless growth in the mid 2000s. We need a different type of growth.

A growth that drives poverty indices downwards, that minimises inequality and that attacks unemployment that is largely female in nature.

Poverty looks black, inequality is intensified on women and unemployment exacerbated with the youth.

The 2017 Stats SA Poverty Report observed that poverty levels in the population had dropped from 66% to 55% between 2006 and 2015.

Yet we still have more than 30 million people living in poverty.

What was observed, however, is the national level of inequality as measured by the Gini coefficient is 0.65, with black Africans showing the highest levels of poverty.

Women have both higher levels of poverty and unemployment; they bore the biggest brunt of the jobless growth phenomenon due to our economic structure and the inability of existing incentives to absorb the marginalised in critical mass into the heartbeat of economic activity.

Finance Minister Tito Mboweni

South Africa is now growing at a snail’s pace and this has to be changed.

The pattern we see is that there is a clear feminisation of unemployment as women are facing 29.4% unemployment versus male unemployment of 25.9%; this worsens in the 15- to 24-year-old bracket where it more than doubles.

The nation is in dire need of succinct, prioritised sectoral interventions and a funded growth plan.

How will we achieve acceleration of growth with the multiplicity of economic cluster interventions that have not yielded an increase in the value-added contribution of primary and secondary sectors in the past two decades?

The targeted incentives that are already in operation through our economic cluster ministries and agencies have not led to a jump in growth.

Instead, we see a crippled mining and agriculture sector coupled with de-industrialisation. This was long before anyone even mentioned the words land expropriation without compensation.

Instead, while emerging market economies are averaging 4.5% growth, South Africa remains on its knees at an estimated 1.5% growth for the year ahead.

Positive signs are the evidence of fiscal consolidation shown by the state in reducing expenditure and the efforts towards the improvement of SA Revenue Service tax collection capabilities.

The conditionality of attaining guarantees for state-owned enterprises (SOEs) is a sign of a change in the free-for-all mentality that reigned, leaving us with almost R800 billion of state guaranteed debt.

Thrown upon us, might I add, by a predominantly male-led government, with male chief executive officers, executives and chairpersons in SOEs.

A concerted effort for the growth of the economy must be made to ensure that 51% of women become economically active agents of the economy.

Factors such as the scale of state expenditure that is allocated towards women, women-owned companies, rural-based cooperatives that comprise largely of women and equivalent have to be emphasised.

State procurement is not sufficiently used to empower women in a targeted and concerted effort.

To improve the social and economic status of women, Treasury must capture and monitor gender-related indicators in a procurement that must drive legislative prescripts, advancing women across all departments and agencies.

How much of the proposed R1.8 trillion budget will be allocated towards gender-specific initiatives that have the power to transform the economic plight of women significantly?

How much of our economic cluster focuses on equipping small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) through agencies such as the National Empowerment Fund and Small Enterprise Finance Agency which are geared towards supporting the likely game changers of our economy?

Significant capitalisation of these institutions must be considered and included in the allocation by ministries towards development finance institutions that empower specifically women and SMMEs that are black-owned.

What was observed, however, is the national level of inequality as measured by the Gini coefficient is 0.65, with black Africans showing the highest levels of poverty.

Disappointingly, after the gender-based violence (GBV) summit and promises made to resource the fight against GBV, there were few concrete financing proposals mentioned at budget level.

We don’t know how the state intends to finance interventions that are required to prioritise the institutional response to the GBV crisis.

There is need for a multiplicity of interventions: The criminal justice system must be supported to ensure it can adequately address the complexity of prevention, law and policy support interventions that strengthen our responses.

This requires sufficient budget allocation and resources to hold offenders accountable to adequately equip the justice and policing cluster with the might to respond.

I am not suggesting we build more prisons. We will watch closely the budget votes and whether institutions that support the plight of women will be adequately financed.

If not, the budget as it is stands means the average woman on the ground will stay the same, excluded, marginalised and poor.

The continued struggle of women will remain evident in statistics that show the lack of prioritisation and more exclusion and violation.

There can be no real growth without women being empowered. Empower women and the entire nation will grow.

Moleko is a commissioner at the Commission for Gender Equality who also teaches economics and statistics at the University of Stellenbosch Business School


What should the government do to empower women, who seem to be invisible?

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