Reduce vulnerability to increase competitiveness

 Lynette Ntuli article“A country’s competitiveness requires in part the efficient use of human resources – men and women alike,” writes Lynette Ntuli.

As borders between countries become more permeable, nations look to strengthening their global competitiveness in order to access global markets for tourism, foreign direct investment, skills and more. But every country doing this must realise that its competitor countries are doing the same.

South Africa must be vigilant in growing the equity of its nation brand and safeguarding its reputation as it strengthens its competitive advantages in the global marketplace. In our work to improve our competitiveness, social cohesion and equality are critical.

Vulnerability, as a concept, can seem overly broad and abstract. After all, most people and most societies at different levels of development are vulnerable to adverse events and circumstances, not all of which can be anticipated or prevented. But vulnerability as a concept becomes less abstract when broken down into who is vulnerable, what are they vulnerable to and why.

Vulnerability, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) 2014 Human Development Report, reduces the individual’s ability to manage their affairs, which weakens the foundations of society. The report looks at groups of people who are structurally the most vulnerable and the reasons for this vulnerability. Structural vulnerability is rooted in people’s position in society – their gender, ethnicity, race, job type or social status – and evolves and persists over long periods.

Gender inequality in South Africa

According to the UNDP, South Africa ranks 94th in the world for gender equality, with a total inequality score of 0.461. (The best score, for Switzerland, is 0.021.) Women make up 41% of South Africa’s parliamentary representatives, while 72.7% of women aged 25 years or more have some secondary education, in contrast with 75.9% of men.

The labour force participation rate for those aged 15 and older is 44.2% female and 60% male – a significant gap in a democratic society. Children aged up to 14 who live with HIV account for 410 000 of the population, while HIV prevalence amongst youth aged 15 to 24 stands at 13.9% for females and 3.9% for males.

A key part of vulnerability is often an inability to influence decisions that affect one’s life. At the heart of true development is the choice to decide about the direction of your own life.

This requires, the UNDP suggests, giving the poor and marginalised a greater voice in decision-making and opportunities for recourse when rights are violated or discrimination is encountered. Research suggests that women are more likely than men to suffer from negligence, petty corruption and harassment when they engage with state institutions.

How does this relate to competitiveness?

A country’s competitiveness requires in part the efficient use of human resources – men and women alike. The National Development Plan and its vision for a transformed South Africa in the year 2030 can only be implemented when women and children are no longer vulnerable to any form of abuse. This will not only impact on the development of our country, but will also increase equality between men and women, ultimately contributing to our reputation as a nation. We must therefore all play our part to stop the spread and acceptance of abuse, one person at a time. Count me in!

Brand South Africa Play Your Part ambassador Lynette Ntuli is a founding director and chief executive of the property, asset and infrastructure development and solutions firm Innate Investment Solutions.