The South African government and the empowerment of women

This article is written by Percy Moleke and Silondile Mpothane for the August 2018 Edition of the SDG Bulletin South Africa. The SDG Bulletin South Africa is a collaborative product of the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, the United Nations in South Africa and the South African SDG Hub.

 

South Africa honors Women’s Month in August as a tribute to more than 20,000 women who marched to the Union Buildings on 9 August 1956 in protest against the extension of Pass Laws to women. The Government of South Africa declared August women’s month and noting 9 August as an annual celebration as Women’s Day.

Women face many challenges in South Africa. These challenges relate to voice and representation of women in society in general. Women are economically, socially and politically disempowered due to social attributes and gendered norms that hinder their access to opportunities of employment and social organizations.

South Africa honors Women’s Month in August as a tribute to more than 20,000 women who marched to the Union Buildingson 9 August 1956 in protest against the extension of Pass Laws to women. The Government of South Africa declared August women’s month and noting 9 August as an annual celebration as Women’s Day.

The South African Framework for women’s empowerment and gender equality defines empowerment as the process of ‘conscientisation’ which builds critical analytical skills for an individual to gain self-confidence in order to take control of her or his life. Empowerment of women is an essential process in the transformation of gender relations because it addresses the structural and underlying causes of subordination and discrimination (Republic of South Africa, 2000:xvii).

Promoting gender equality and women’s economic empowerment requires a regular and careful planning and monitoring. There are times when mainstreaming is not enough and in such situations, women-specific programmes are required.

Few government departments have programmes catering for women. In this context, Department of Women (DoW) looks at (1) Social transformation and economic empowerment and (2) Policy, stakeholder coordination and knowledge management. Department of Trade and Industry looks at (3) Women economic empowerment programmes. Department of Cooperative Governance (DCoG) looks at (4) Employment and economic participation through the Community Work Programme (CWP).

  1. Social transformation and economic empowerment

The purpose of this programme is to facilitate and promote the attainment of women’s socio-economic empowerment and gender equality. The programme has three sub-programmes:

  • Social empowerment and transformation: provides intervention mechanisms on policies and programme implementation for mainstreaming the social empowerment and participation of women towards social transformation.
  • Economic empowerment and participation: provides intervention mechanisms on policies and programme implementation for mainstreaming the economic empowerment and participation of women towards economic transformation and development.
  • Governance transformation, justice and security: mainstreams gender equality, and contributes to eliminating gender-based violence.
  1. Policy, stakeholder coordination and knowledge management 

The purpose of this programme is to undertake research, policy analysis, knowledge management, monitoring, evaluation, outreach and stakeholder coordination for women’s socio-economic empowerment and gender equality. This programme has four sub-programmes.

  • Research and policy analysis: promotes the development of gender sensitive research and conducts policy analysis to intervene in transformation for socio-economic empowerment of women and gender equality.
  • Information and knowledge management: positions the department as the knowledge gateway on socio-economic empowerment of women and gender equality
  • Stakeholder coordination and outreach: stakeholder management, international relations and conducts outreach initiatives which promote women’s socio-economic empowerment and gender equality.
  • Monitoring and evaluation: monitors and evaluates progress on the empowerment of women in line with national laws, regional, continental and international treaties and commitments.

The DoW has had partnerships with several institutions and organisations such as NGOs, private sector, labour movement, Crime Line SA, Ekurhuleni Skills Development and Training Centre, UWESO, UNWOMEN, UNICEF, etc. to empower young women and girls.

  1. Women economic empowerment programmes supported by DTI
  • B’avumile skills development initiative: Supports women’s empowerment through capacity-building aimed at identifying talent in the arts and crafts and textiles and clothing sectors. The programme provides formal training in developing women’s expertise in the production of marketable goods and the creation of formal enterprises in the creative industry.
  • Technology for Women In Business (TWIB): Accelerate women’s economic empowerment and the development of women-owned enterprises through the recognition of technology-based business applications and systems.
  • Technogirls programme: The mandate of TWIB extends to programmes that encourage girls to pursue careers in engineering, science and technology by facilitating access to educational information, career opportunities, academic and extra-mural learning programmes.
  • South African Women Entrepreneurs’ Network (SAWEN): the DTI identified and adopted SAWEN to fast-track support provided to women in addressing challenges faced when establishing, strengthening and sustaining their enterprises.
  1. Employment and economic participation

The Employment Equity Act of 1998 has facilitated equity in access to formal employment for women. Access to training programs and gender inequality in the workplace remains a challenge. In addition, poor access to, and the availability of childcare services for women, particularly single mothers, prevents them from advancing in the workplace. The successful implementation of the Community Work Programme (CWP) is specifically demonstrated through increased participation by women, the youth and people with disabilities. The CWP has been well targeted to achieve its objectives of income generation, skills development and work opportunities for these vulnerable groups.

The journey travelled for women’s empowerment and gender equality in South Africa since 1994 has been a promising but a difficult one. It is evident that when one compares the time before 1994, where women had little choice about the kind of lives they wanted to live, huge developments have been made in realising the rights of women post-democracy.

Government has made significant progress in empowering women in the influential sphere of politics, the public sector and education as well as the economy. Government continues to host a variety of events to commemorate its achievement and dialogue with women on opportunities and challenges facing them.

Empowering women has a direct benefit for families, communities and society at large, especially when investments are made in increasing the capability of women and recognising both their productive and reproductive roles.

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