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14 Aug 2015 00:00
Education is central to gender equality. Education improves access
to the labour market, specifically
higher-skilled and more remunerative occupations – but it also enables
individuals to engage more meaningfully in society.
The first report of
its kind, launched at Woman’s Day
2015 in Sasolburg, the Report Status
of Women in the South African
economy says that for women, education is important in opening up
higher skilled areas of the labour
market that have traditionally been
dominated by men, but also empowers women, providing them a more
equal footing in their engagements
within male-dominated or patriarchal institutions and spheres.
The importance of education in as
one of the key methods of promoting
economic growth and reducing poverty cannot be understated.
In its section covering education,
data on enrolment indicates that
females account for an increasing
proportion at higher levels of education. As a result, by the time they
reach post-secondary education,
females outnumber males by a ratio
of around three to two.
Despite this position, women
still remain less likely than men to
enrol in higher degrees. Household
survey data indicates that a lack of
finances remains a problem for educational access for both females and
males. However, it also indicates that
females are considerably more vulnerable to family commitments and
may be sacrificing their education
for others in a way that males are
perhaps not required to. Pregnancy
remains an important factor keeping
young women out of school.
Engaging with the economy
The report says that evidence on
outcomes such as functional literacy
rates and mean years of education,
point to improvements for women
over time and that in a number of
areas women have overtaken men
and may be extending their lead.
Challenges remain, however with
females accessing and participating
in mathematical and science-related
According to the report, female
and female youth literacy rate has
been increasing since 2010 and has
been rising more rapidly than that of
males (albeit that male adult literacy
rates are still higher). The high youth
literacy rates confirm improved
access to education over time.
The second focus area of the report
is on the labour market, which is certainly the key arena in which most
individuals most regularly engage
with the economy. The report says
an environment that enables women to effectively engage in the labour
market is essential to address some
of the various economic inequalities
that exist between the sexes.
The report says that employment gains have accrued to women
across the educational distribution,
while older women and African
women have benefitted from above-average employment growth rates.
Employment, though, is more concentrated in a smaller number of sectors than for men, with 84% of
female employment in the services
sector. It says this concentration of
employment may expose women
relatively more to downturns within
Despite education gains, women
remain more likely to be employed
in low-skilled occupations. This difference is driven by the large proportion of women working as domestic
workers. Conversely, women are less
likely to be employed in the informal
Within the formal sector, women
are more likely to have written contracts and leave entitlements and
are less likely to work excessively
long hours. Women remain disad-
vantaged in terms of earnings and
dominate lower earnings categories.
This is borne out by both household
survey and tax data.
Participation of women and youth
in the economy is essential to eradicate poverty and promote growth
that is inclusive, equitable and sustainable. The cornerstone for South
Africa’s development is the advancement of women and youth as agents
of change and leaders in the development processes that shape their lives.
This is in line with the African Union
Agenda 2063, a global strategy to optimise use of Africa’s resources for
the benefit of all Africans – women,
men, youth and children.
Such a strategy should include
women, men, youth and children. It
focuses on how the continent should
effectively learn from the lessons of
the past, build on the progress now
underway and strategically exploit
all possible opportunities available
in the short-, medium- and long-
term, so as to ensure positive socioeconomic transformation within the
next 50 years.
There is no question that women
are making inroads into business
leadership and heading up global
giants in the country such as the
head of the ABSA bank. Women own
conglomerates and some business
women are millionaires. Women
also can be found as chairpersons
of corporate boards in the country,
while others are entering and leading in previously male-dominated
South African Airways (SAA) now
has women pilots, some flying international bound flights. Women are
in the defence force, navy and air
force in South Africa. Women make
up almost 40% of the senior
management service in the public
service and overall women comprise
more than 50% of employees
in the public service.
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