This year marks the 55 anniversary of the women’s march to Pretoria. Dr Pearl Sithole, an independent researcher, views such commemorations as useful only if they inspire women today to confront their own challenges in the manner that women of 1956 confronted the challenges of the day. Sithole cautions against focusing too much on previous struggles to better face current challenges. According to Lebohang Pheko, an economist at Genta – Gender and Trade Network in Africa – the fact that the majority of women in South Africa find themselves in informal sectors of the economy is as a direct result of apartheid. Over a period, it created a cycle underdeveloped women.
The Department of Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities (DWCPD) has since 2009 been tasked with implementing, promoting and advancing gender equality as well as empowering women. The economic empowerment of women still leaves much to be desired. In a statement the Minister for Women, Children and people with disabilities, Lulu Xingwana, said economic empowerment would be a key focus for Women’s month this year. The theme identified by government is “Working together to enhance women opportunities to economic empowerment”. Chief economist at the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), Lumkile Mondi attributeswomen’s lack of participation in the mainstream economy to a number of reasons. One of them being the historical – where women were denied access to all forms of empowerment tools such as education and funding. The other is along ‘cultural’ and patriarchallines where men still view women as ‘naturally’ inferior to them thus refusing to acknowledge them as equals.
Masculine projects Mondi says this is more common in developing societies as compared to those that are developed Scandinavian countries where women are encouraged to take leadership roles in all spheres of social life including politically and economically. Professor Pumla Gqola, from the Wits School of Literature and Language Studies, adds that Women’s Day has a place in contemporary socio-political discourse because it reminds South Africa of the pivotal role played by women, of all classes and their contribution in the fight for democracy. She views nationalism as a masculinist project that makes male heroism visible at the expense of women’s activism. It is a perpetuation of a historical lie to reduce women’s roles in the struggle for democracy as merely supplementary – supportive, passive, sexual and behind the scenes, she added. According to the Stats South Africa 2011 population estimates, the country’s population is approximately 50.59 million, of whichapproximately 52% are female. Life expectancy at birth for women is at 59.1% and 54.9% for men. Eight out of ten women workers are considered to be in vulnerable employment in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Statistics about women African women across the continent are responsible for: -70% of food crop production -50% of animal husbandry -60% of marketing -100% of food processing (cooking), in addition to child care and other household responsibilities
Chabaku says women in South Africa have got the power to do great things but they have not been given the opportunity to express their power. She says women in South Africa are stifled because the society is male-dominated – even in the vocabulary.
*sources: SABC research*