South Africa: Women in Occupational Levels

Published on 5th September 2017

Women continue to be under-represented in various occupational levels both in the private and the public sectors, as demonstrated by the 17th Annual Report of the Commission for Employment Equity for the year 2016-2017. In top management females comprise of 22% while males comprise 72%, this is against the economically active population (EAP) which reflects females at 44.8% and males at 55.2%.  This under representation of females remains visible in most of the occupational levels. I have observed as well that in our universities, top management levels are occupied by 50% of Africans, 4.2% by foreign nationals, what still worries me is that females are comprising 30.5%, whilst males are at 69.5%. I have also noticed in our universities that training opportunities with regards to top management have been afforded to the white group, both white males at 37.3% and white females at 29.3% whilst African females are at 4.9% and African males at 6.0%.

We cannot be happy with these demographics, twenty three (23) years into our democratic breakthrough, it is even worse in the private sector, where white males are dominating at 44% and white females at 19.4% which is equal to 63.4% representation in senior management.

These are some of the indications that the journey ahead of us is still long though there is something to write home about, in an effort to fully empower women socially, politically and economically. The United Nations analysis of the progress made towards global gender equality notes the following:

About two thirds of countries in the developing regions have achieved gender parity in primary education;

In Southern Asia, only 74 girls were enrolled in primary school for every 100 boys in 1990. By 2012, the enrolment ratios were the same for girls as for boys;

In sub-Saharan Africa, Oceania and Western Asia, girls still face barriers to entering both primary and secondary school;

Women in Northern Africa hold less than one in five paid jobs in the non-agricultural sector. The proportion of women in paid employment outside the agriculture sector has increased from 35% in 1990 to 41% in 2015; and

In 46 countries, women now hold more than 30% of seats in national parliament in at least one chamber.

The United Nations “Women’s Empowerment Principles” suggest that “empowering women to participate fully in economic life across all sectors is essential to build stronger economies, achieve internationally agreed goals for development and sustainability, and improve the quality of life for women, men, families and communities.”

The further interpretation credited to these Principles and subtitled “Equality Means Business” goes on to suggest that “the private sector is a key partner in efforts to advance gender equality and empower women. Current research demonstrating that gender diversity helps businesses perform better signals that self-interest and common interest can come together. Yet, ensuring the inclusion of women’s talents, skills and energies—from executive offices to the factory floor and the supply chain—requires intentional actions and deliberate policies.”

On the home front the democratic dispensation since 1994 has arguably achieved a lot in the fight against institutionalised oppression and exploitation of women and the girl child.

A Finance 24 news article reporting on gender equality in South Africa notes the following:  “Gender equality really does matter. From a purely rational observer’s perspective, a patriarchal society is guaranteed to underperform economically because half the workforce is being disadvantaged. For another, it illustrates whether a nation’s aspirations are properly aligned. Whatever other mis-steps, since 1994 South Africa’s promotion of a non-sexist society has delivered considerable progress – it edged up two more positions to an impressive 15th of 144 countries in the WEF’s annual gender equality list, one of the few global league tables where it is moving in the right direction”.  This article indeed confirms the fact that as government our money is where our mouth is with respect to promoting gender equity.

Today I salute Women Artisans and Apprentices who were brave enough to venture beyond social stereotypes and debunk the myth that certain skills and occupations are the preserves of men only.  I will indeed honour these women.

In one of the previous National Women’s Month events, 26-year-old Asisipho Maqhashu from Kuils River in Cape Town who is originally from Engcobo rural village in the Eastern Cape said, I quote “most of my peers dreamt about becoming teachers, but I wanted something else,” unquote.

Asisipho went on to work as an apprentice boilermaker at Damen Shipyards in Cape Town. Jocularly she further said, I quote "they don't treat me any differently; at times they forget that I'm a woman. During conversations they sometimes call me 'brah' "; unquote.

Just like all of women artisans and apprentices who are here, we need far more of this skills trajectory for women to be empowered economically so that we may win the war against poverty. Income inequality based on gender bias also needs to be confronted and reversed wherever it shows its ugly head.

One of the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals, goal number 5 to be precise, proposes the achievement of gender equality and empowerment.

Under this goal, the UN further notes that “while the world has achieved progress towards gender equality and women’s empowerment under the Millennium Development Goals (including equal access to primary education between girls and boys), women and girls continue to suffer discrimination and violence in every part of the world.

Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world. Providing women and girls with equal access to education, health care, decent work, and representation in political and economic decision-making processes will fuel sustainable economies and benefit societies and humanity at large.”

We still need to do more for women.

By Blade Nzimande

Minister of Higher Education and Training.

This article has been read 2,574 times