By Minister Ayanda Dlodlo
Hardly a day passes without South Africans being exposed to heart-wrenching stories of women and girls who have suffered violence and abuse. Often, these brutal acts are perpetrated by someone they know in the sanctity of their homes or behind closed doors.
While the social conditions that contribute to gender based-violence in our country are complex and rooted in our divided past, the greater empowerment of women will go a long way to strengthen the fight against women abuse.
We are painfully aware that financial dependency on husbands, fathers, partners and family members has increased women's vulnerability to domestic violence, rape, incest, abuse, and murder. The reality is that many of these women are more likely to stay in the abusive relationship in fear of potentially being left destitute and homeless.
Moreover, the culture of violence against women in our society is often manifested at a young age, as reflected in the recent brutal attack of a school girl in KwaZulu- Natal by a fellow male pupil.
The incident is of grave concern as it shows that violence and abuse is inculcated and accepted by some young people as the norm. In many instances, the attitudes young men see in their peers, older boys and male family members translates into how they act towards women.
The situation for many women is also often worsened by poor access to education, reproductive health risks, society’s restrictive gender norms, discrimination in employment and lack of support systems.
The solution, as Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen points out, is to increase women’s voice and sense of control of their life through their independence and their empowerment. He adds that the freedom that goes with their empowerment brings important values for women, such as self-esteem, dignity and autonomy.
In his work, “More than 100 Million Missing Women”, Sen highlights that these “missing women” would likely be alive today had they been born male. He attributes it to neglect and too little respect, as well as poor nutrition and healthcare.
It should be of great concern to us that some estimations suggest that, in the world today, there are more “missing women” than the men killed in all the wars in the 20th century combined.
This reality and our own commitment to the advancement of women has motived government since 1994 to prioritise women empowerment. We have made gender equality and women’s empowerment central to our transformation agenda, and it is also at the heart of our efforts to stimulate sustainable development.
Government has created the institutional capacity dedicated to their development and prosperity.
The Gender Equality Bill was introduced to accelerate the empowerment of women and attain 50/50 gender parity for the country. The Commission for Gender Equality is mandated to monitor, evaluate and research women’s rights and gender equality.
We are also facilitating access to formal employment for women through the Employment Equity Act, where employers are legally required to work towards more equitable representation based on gender, race and disability.
Despite our work to advance women in the workplace, the 2017 Commission for Employment Equity report shows that males continue to dominate every occupational level, and women continue to encounter the glass ceiling effect in the workforce. For example, female representation at top management remains unchanged at just over 20 per cent for the last three reporting periods.
In the spirit of OR Tambo, who was a strong advocate of gender equality, it is the responsibility of every member of society to ensure women are advanced and our progressive policies benefit them - particularly those living in our rural areas, who often bear the harsh realities of poverty.
The complete integration of women into the economy has enormous benefit for our country and our fight against the triple challenge of unemployment, inequity and poverty.
Investing in women is one of the most effective development tools of our time to both uplift them and the children of our nation. Women are a powerful economic driver when they are meaningfully involved in the economy through entrepreneurial activities and employment in decision-making roles.
Evidence has shown in both developed and developing economies that, when more women join the labour force and, in particular, become entrepreneurs, there is a rise in gross domestic product.
Female entrepreneurs are also known to use profits from their business to improve their families’ living conditions and lifestyle. More importantly, they invest in their children's education, which increases the chances of them getting better jobs and breaking the cycle of poverty.
Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, said: “The evidence suggests that women are more altruistic - one study found that women spend up to 90 percent of their earnings on health and education, as opposed to just 30 to 40 percent for men.”
While there have been numerous strides to advance women over the last 23 years of our democratic journey, the full potential of women in our society is still to be realised.
This generation of women have a shining example of what can be achieved through the heroic deeds of the thousands of women who bravely marched to the Union Buildings on August 9 1956 to change the course of history.
This month, we honour these brave women who stood up against the tyranny of an illegitimate system and the triple yoke of oppression - race, class and gender. In their march for freedom, equal representation, land rights and direct access to justice, they demonstrated the impact women can have on moving our nation forward.
Government encourages women to take hold of the opportunities that it has made available through its various programmes to rise to their full potential and economic emancipation. In doing so, they will be empowered to take their rightful place in all sectors of society, while also ensuring that they are not prisoners of circumstance.