Laws and policies must be biased towards improving lives of women, says South Africa’s president

By on 20/08/2023 | Updated on 25/10/2023
Photo courtesy flowcomm via Flickr

The South African government is “irrevocably” committed to empowering women and intends to “mobilise all of society” to improve the lives of women and girls, the country’s president Cyril Ramaphosa has said.

During a speech to mark South Africa’s national Women’s Day on 9 August, Ramaphosa said progress had been made towards improving representation of women in decision-making roles but that more needed to be done to secure their economic empowerment – and that laws and policies should be biased towards this goal.

He noted that half of Cabinet ministers in South African are women and that parliament, the judiciary, the public service, the armed forces, the police and many local councils were getting closer to gender parity.

However, Ramaphosa said the South African economy remains dominated by men, adding: “More women are unemployed than men. Women are more likely to work part-time, unskilled and semi-skilled jobs and for lower pay. Women are disproportionately responsible for unpaid care work.

“As a result of all these factors, women are more vulnerable to poverty, food insecurity and hunger. Even today, nearly three decades after the dawn of democracy [in South Africa], the face of poverty is a black woman.”  

To combat this, he said “there must be policies and laws that focus and advance the lives of women,” including young women, women with disabilities, women in rural areas, and those who are LGBTQI+.  

Government’s support for women-owned businesses

Ramaphosa said the government was working towards ensuring that women enjoy equal job opportunities and equal pay and can access the support they need to start, own and manage businesses.

The government has commitment to allocate at least 40% of public procurement to women-owned businesses, for example. But, though Ramaphosa said government departments were “working in earnest” to award more contracts to women-owned businesses “we need to do more”, he said, noting that less than a third of companies listed on the government’s central supplier database are women-owned.

The government had trained more than 6,000 women entrepreneurs to take part in public procurement opportunities, he said, and it intended to train thousands more.

He added that the National Empowerment Fund and the Small Enterprise Finance Agency had been successful in supporting small, medium and micro businesses, and that since it was established in 2020, the Presidential Employment Stimulus had provided work and livelihood opportunities to more than 1.2 million people – 60% of which are women.

He said the African Continental Free Trade Area would give women-owned businesses in South Africa and across the continent access to new markets and opportunities, and that the government was working with partners on opportunities for women’s employment and entrepreneurship in agriculture, manufacturing, technology, the oceans economy and others.

The green economy presented “immense potential” for women’s entrepreneurship and empowerment, especially in renewable energy, he added.

“We call on the business community to support women’s economic empowerment by partnering with small businesses as part of their green economy plans.”

In his speech, Ramaphosa also touched on education, women’s financial inclusion, and health. On the latter, he said progressive policies around reproductive health, antenatal care, HIV/AIDS and other communicable diseases had improved women’s health outcomes, but they “still carry the largest share of the burden of HIV and are more vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases” and “still struggle to access reproductive health services”.

Ending his address, he said: “As a country, we have the right policies and programmes in place. Led by the women of our country, we continue to develop policies that will advance their interests.

“What we need now is to intensify the collective efforts of all social partners, including business, to do more to financially empower women.”

Not just a numbers game

In Global Government Forum’s latest Women Leaders Index, published in 2022, South Africa ranked third of G20 countries by proportion of women in the top five grades of its public service, at 48.6% – behind only Canada and Australia.

It had made a 7.2 percentage point improvement over two years and a 14.8 point improvement – the fourth largest rise of any nation – over 10 years.

However, in an exclusive interview with GGF, Zukiswa Mqolomba, deputy chairperson of South Africa’s Public Service Commission, pointed out that the government was yet to meet its target of achieving gender parity in public service leadership positions set 30 years ago by Nelson Mandela.

In both government and across society, women were far from considered equal, she said.

Read more: Women Leaders Index: why gender parity in South Africa’s public service isn’t just a numbers game

“Representation is important. There’s a quote I think governments should live by – ‘nothing about women without women’. Women need to sit around the decision-making table and occupy space. But there’s an issue around institutional culture. [In South Africa] it’s patriarchal and chauvinistic and it threatens women being able to sustain careers in the public service.”

She explained that female senior officials are often undermined by their peers and teams. “It’s double standards. They don’t enjoy as much of a voice [as men] and they aren’t allowed to lead as they see fit – if a woman is strong, she’s seen as a bully.”  

She acknowledged, however, that the African National Congress, South Africa’s governing party, is committed to promoting women leaders.

Listen: ‘Unless you fight for it, it’s not worth it once you get there’: Exclusive podcast with South Africa’s cabinet secretary Phindile Baleni  

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About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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