Economy lacks woman power

Women are not as active in the South African economy as they should be due to the high adult unemployment rate in the country, an economist said on Monday ahead of Women’s Day.

“We have a bigger problem in South Africa. The big problem isn’t women, the problem is we have the lowest adult employment rate in the world outside of a war zone,” said economist Mike Schussler.

“We are in a very bad shape, for both men and women. Because of the low adult employment rate women in South Africa are not participating in the economy as they should be.”

Schussler said South Africa had done well to empower women on the political side—but lacked on the economic side, with 40.5% of adults not working.
He said there were many initiatives by the government to empower women but expressed doubt that they were actually working.

This comes ahead of Women’s Day on Tuesday, when South Africa commemorates the march of 1956 when women from across the racial spectrum protested against the carrying of pass books.

Slow pace of empowerment
The government’s theme for Women’s Day 2011 focuses on the economic empowerment of women.

The African National Congress called on South African businesses to speed up the empowerment of women.

The ruling party expressed “great concern” over the “slow pace” of empowering African women in the workplace—African women account for only 0.8% at top management level.

“In paying tribute to women, the ANC calls on captains of industry to redress this huge imbalance by speeding up women empowerment, particularly when it comes to the previously disadvantaged,” spokesperson Jackson Mthembu said in a statement.

“Although much has been done to recognise and empower South African women, we share the view that the struggle for women emancipation remains an incomplete project if choices women have to make, are primarily influenced by their economic status.”

‘Gender sensitive’
The Gender Commission agreed. Spokesperson Javu Baloyi said government had accomplished much in its bid to empower women but the private sector had to come to the party.

He said government’s New Growth Path, announced by Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel last year, had included women and was “progressive”.

“We believe as the gender commission that it should not be government only, the private sector has to come to the party as well,” he said.

Much could be done by the mining sector for example, Baloyi said, to skill women and ensure that the environment in which they worked was more “gender sensitive”.

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) said women should now take up the fight for economic freedom as they were hardest hit by inequalities in South Africa,

“Women constitute more than 50% of all unemployed people in this country and they also constitute a majority of all casual or contract workers in the country,” said Nehawu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla.

“Those in the rural areas suffer from triple oppression because they are victims of gender, racial and economic oppression.

“Nehawu salutes all women of this country and we call on all of them to take the baton from the previous generation that sacrificed for political freedom and wage a fight for economic emancipation of women.”

President Jacob Zuma, accompanied by Women’s Minister Lulu Xingwana, will commemorate Women’s Day at the Peter Mokaba stadium in Polokwane on Tuesday.

Gauteng premier Nomvula Mokonyane will launch the Provincial Policy Framework, aimed at furthering women’s interests, at the Union Buildings on Tuesday.—Sapa

Natasha Marrian

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