Women’s Month launched in South Africa

Minister Noluthando Mayende-Sibiya, right,
with fellow cabinet ministers.

Government would like to see more women
occupying top positions in the private sector.

Both public and private sectors will support
the Take a Girl Child to Work initiative.
(Images: Bongani Nkosi)

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Bongani Nkosi

The public sector in South Africa is making “steady progress” in securing senior positions for women in the workplace, said Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities Noluthando Mayende-Sibiya.

The minister was speaking at the launch of Women’s Month in Pretoria on 2 August 2010.

Although the entire month is dedicated to women, the public holiday on 9 August is particularly significant, as it marks the 54th anniversary of the women’s march to the Union Buildings, Pretoria, which at the time were the headquarters of the apartheid government.

More than 20 000 women took part in this march to protest against racial segregation and the discriminatory pass laws, which restricted the movement of black people within declared “white areas”.

This year government will use August to reflect on efforts made since then to empower women in rural areas, townships and cities.

Women now occupy about 36% of senior-level jobs in government, Mayende-Sibiya said at the launch. “There is steady progress in the representation of women at senior levels of public services …”

Similarly, this will be the focus of Public Service Week, which also falls in August.

According to the minister, there are now more women in decision-making roles than there were in 1994, the year South Africa held its first democratic elections.

Up to 44 % members of the legislature, on a national and provincial level, are women – this puts South Africa in third position worldwide for the greatest number of females in Parliament, Mayende-Sibiya said.

The number of women ministers and deputy ministers has more than doubled over the past 16 years, growing from 18 % in 1994 to 40 % in 2010, she added.

Transformation slow in private sector

While the South African government works hard to empower women and positively influence their role in society, other employers are lagging behind.

According to the country’s Affirmative Action policy, the employment of women and previously disadvantaged individuals should be prioritised, but top private-sector positions are still dominated by white men, government said.

Black, Indian and coloured South Africans fall into the “previously disadvantaged” category.

At present, white men hold about 63% of senior management jobs in the private sector, while black, Indian and coloured women only account for 5%.

While massive progress has been made in boosting female access to education, South Africa has to “ensure that skills development programmes focus on empowering women”, so they are able to follow “careers that are still male-dominated”, Mayende-Sibiya said.

Speeding up transformation

The Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities is planning to introduce a new policy to “enforce gender parity measures across all sectors of society”.

The Gender Equality Bill should be tabled by next year, Mayende-Sibiya said.

The Bill reflects government’s realisation that it needs to act decisively to enforce change in the workplace. “Our analysis of various studies available indicates that if we continue at the current pace of transformation, it will take us almost 40 years to attain 50-50 gender parity.

“We cannot allow that. Measures have to be taken to hasten the process of gender and racial transformation in our country,” the minister said.

Empowerment projects in August

Government is planning to launch a number of countrywide initiatives to empower women this August.

Mayende-Sibiya said their projects are aimed at tackling challenges facing women, reducing poverty and improving the socio-economic status of women in South Africa.

The Gauteng provincial government said it will launch 200 women-only schemes across the province from 9 August.

The schemes will take the form of cooperatives offering cleaning and catering services in hospitals, according to Simon Zwane, spokesperson for the Gauteng Department of Health and Social Development. “This is part of our agenda to empower women,” he said.

Both the public and private sector will support the Take a Girl Child to Work initiative on 19 August, as has been done since the drive was launched in 2003.

“To enforce mentoring of girls into various careers, we will all be supporting the campaign,” Mayende-Sibiya said.