Promoting economic growth through education

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 fields.

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 those sectors.

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 sector.

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 territories.

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.