SA to act on workplace gender equity

10 August 2010

President Jacob Zuma has called for action to address transformation in South Africa’s workplace, saying the country is not achieving the kind of gender parity required by its democratic rule.

Addressing a packed Women’s Day event at East London’s Absa Stadium on Monday, Zuma pointed to a recent employment equity report, compiled by the Department of Labour, which found that transformation in the workplace, particularly in the private sector, was slow.

Unless something was done urgently, he said, South Africa would struggle to achieve its set targets of workforce gender balance.

“Some urgent action is required in the private sector to improve gender and race diversity at top management level,” he said, referring to the report’s finding that 63 percent of top management positions in South African companies were occupied by white men.

He told the more than 5 000 people gathered to commemorate the women’s struggle in the country that legislative reforms would be put in place to deal with slow transformation.

South Africa marks 9 August as national Women’s Day to honour the women who marched to the Union Buildings in protest against the apartheid government’s oppressive pass laws in 1956.

Zuma heaped praise on the 20 000 women who, under the leadership of Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Sophie Williams, Amina Cachalia and Rahima Moosa, took on the might of the apartheid regime to say “enough was enough”.

“They stated their resolve that they would never give up the fight until the dawn of freedom,” Zuma said.

He singled out former president Nelson Mandela’s wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who had “kept hope alive inside the country, in the face of endless persecution by the apartheid security apparatus. Through her, we salute all women who lived in fear and persecution for years … because their husbands or family members were activists.”

Women in the public sector

While South Africa’s authorities admit that much that needs to be done to increase women’s representation in top management positions in the country, there has been progress made on legislative reforms since 1994 to facilitate gender equality and improved representation of women in decision-making positions.

Women’s representation in Parliament jumped to 45 percent following the country’s recent elections, moving South Africa up to third place in the global women in parliament rankings behind Rwanda and Sweden, who have 56% and 47% women’s representation in their respective parliaments.

The number of women ministers and deputy ministers increased from 18 percent in 1994 to 40 percent after last year’s poll. Women are also in charge of powerful portfolios in Defence, International Relations and Cooperation, Energy, Correctional Services and Home Affairs.

Zuma said the country had also done well at provincial government level, with five women having emerged as Premiers, pushing the representation of women at this sphere of government to 55 percent.

At the same time, he said, “a lot of work needs to be done to increase the representation of women at senior levels of the public service. At the moment, women make up an average 36 percent of senior management’.

As the Labour Department survey shows, there is still under-representation of women as paid employees in general, and the challenge worsens at top management level of the private sector.

Gender Equity Bill

Minister for Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities Noluthando Mayende-Sibiya wants to change these statistics with a new Gender Equity Bill which will enforce gender parity measures across all sectors.

“Sixteen years into our democracy, we still have men holding 63 percent of top management positions in the private sector while African women are at less than three percent,” she said.

“These are women who are faced with daily struggles of caring for their families while at the same time they compete in the labour market. They need to be competent workers while carrying the burden of unpaid, and mostly unrecognised, work within their household.

“In most cases these are the women who constitute the majority of the unemployed, the poor and underdeveloped section of our society,” Mayende-Sibiya said.

The minister said that if the current pace of transformation continued, it could take the country almost 40 years to attain 50-50 gender parity.

“We cannot allow that,” she said.

Source: BuaNews