Poppy Mailola | Women bear the harsh brunt of unemployment and poverty

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 An unemplyed woman grills sheep feet in her shack on June 26, 2001 in Site B Khayelitsha. She is doing this to earn some extra income for her family of four. Photo: Per-Anders Pettersson/Getty Images
An unemplyed woman grills sheep feet in her shack on June 26, 2001 in Site B Khayelitsha. She is doing this to earn some extra income for her family of four. Photo: Per-Anders Pettersson/Getty Images


South Africa is at the precipice of an employment and poverty disaster, to which our government has no discernable plan.

Those who bear the brunt of this unemployment crisis are women whose responsibility it has been to take care of their families, raise children and ensure that there is food on the table.

The latest unemployment statistics indicate that for the first quarter of 2022, unemployment sat at 34.5%, an improvement from the 35.3% of the previous quarter.

However, the expanded unemployment rate, which includes people who have given up looking for work, is at 45.5%.

In reality, this means that almost half of working-age people who need jobs cannot find work in South Africa.

In provinces such as the Eastern Cape, Limpopo and the North West, the figure is over 50%.

Looked at within the context of rising food prices and the general cost of living, these are extremely difficult times for the majority of households in this country.

Over 42% of South African households are headed by women, meaning they are required to face these difficulties alone. And 52% of all these women-headed households are considered poor.

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The unemployment rate of women is consistently higher than that of men, and those employed women get paid between 19% and 37% less than men.

Every single year, over 500 000 pupils drop out of school, most of these pupils are girls who are raped and fall pregnant by teachers, relatives or other opportunistic men in society who exploit the vulnerability of girl children.

These girls will grow up to swell the ranks of women who are more vulnerable to abuse in the workplace and at home, and, worse still, the ranks of unemployed women.

The practical implications of these difficulties are grossly underreported. There is no sociological work undertaken to understand the linkages between the realities outlined above and the rise in the number of gender-based violence cases, as well as the life choices that women are forced to make to survive.

It is not a stretch to argue that the socioeconomic realities which make it difficult for women to make a living are significant contributing factors to the crisis of violence perpetrated against women in this country.

The EFF has consistently argued that the empowerment of women must be as comprehensive as possible to ensure that the socioeconomic problems they face are addressed within a generation. This can only be done through concrete, workable and measurable objectives for each of the government departments.

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The department of basic education must be made to account for each girl child who enters school – from Grade 1. It must not be accepted as normal that children drop out of school because each girl child that drops out is one girl too many.

The police must be held to a far higher standard when it comes to handling cases of women abuse. It is unacceptable that many cases reported at the police never get to trial because of excuses of lack of evidence and generally poor investigative work. The justice system in its entirety must account for the huge numbers of reported cases that are not investigated fully at police stations, and those not prosecuted appropriately by the National Prosecuting Authority.

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Most importantly, there must be a fundamental restructuring of the economy to ensure that women attain economic freedom in this lifetime. This must include broadening access to land and to the markets, to offering production support to women who want to start their own businesses and so on.

True equality and development lie in these fundamental ideals, but they are not possible because we have a state that primarily serves the interests of capital.

Women can no longer be pawns in an economy designed for the benefit of men while relying on the blood and sweat of the same women.

Women who are employed grapple with the unreasonable costs of living as it is women domestic workers who must spend the bulk of their salaries on transport to and from work; it is women cleaners and low-wage workers at government departments who have to endure the abuse of senior male colleagues; it is women executives who have to tip-toe around the egos of men.

READ: Higher unemployment, lower pay: Women still get raw deal

The entire structure of our social economy needs to be transformed, and women must be at the forefront of this transformation.

The only viable machinery for the advancement of these ideals is the EFF. It is for this reason that women across class stratifications should respond to the call for the expansion of the membership of the party because the socialist future which the EFF envisions is their only salvation.

Under that future, all those who must get education will get it, and no girl child will be left behind. The socialist future we envision will ensure a progressive advancement of the interests of women across all sectors.

Mailola is the deputy secretary-general of the EFF


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