South African women making progress

sa-women---textAlthough government has put policies in place to help women and great strides have been made in the past 20-years the report says corporate South Africa still has to recognise the importance of women as too few are in senior roles and in many instances, earn less than their male counterparts. (Image: Judy Seidman, African Activist Archive)

The Status of Women Report has been released by President Jacob Zuma during the commemoration of Women’s Day 2015.

Women’s Day marks the day 20 000 women marched to the Union Buildings on 9 August 1956, to petition against the apartheid regime’s racist pass laws.

During the celebrations Zuma revealed South Africa’s first Status of Women Report that tracks the advancement of women in the economy across five areas: education, the labour market, poverty, inequality and access to assets and credit.

The theme for this year’s Women’s Month is “Women united in moving South Africa forward”.

Zuma said: “Today we mark 20 years since our country began celebrating National Women’s Day. This day was designated to celebrate the gallant contribution of South African women to the struggle for liberation and the attainment of the democracy we enjoy in our country.

“National Women’s Day also provides an opportunity to track the progress made in the advancement of women and in improving the quality of life of all women in our country, especially the poor and the working class.”

Zuma added that repressive laws entrenching white privilege in the apartheid era suppressed women in many ways up to this day. Women – and black women in particular – still suffer from that legacy.

“Also, if we are to succeed economically as a country, women must participate at both the micro and macro levels of the economy,” said Zuma.

AFTER 1994

With the dawn of a new democracy measures were put in place to empower women socially and economically.

According to the report, significant progress has been made in areas such as legal status, attitudes, women’s involvement in decision-making especially at political level, in employment, education, ownership of homes and businesses, the justice system, and economic participation.

Women representation in the National Assembly moved from a mere 2.7% pre 1994 to the current 41%. The representation of women in Cabinet has also risen following the 2014 general election and stands at 43%, with deputy Ministers being at 45.9%.

Zuma said: “Women constitute about 33% of all the judges in our judiciary. The judiciary had two white women in 1994. Now, in democracy, there are 61 women judges of which 48 are black women. Furthermore, we have two women Judge Presidents and a woman Deputy Judge President. Women constitute about 41% of the total magistracy.”

However it’s not all sunshine as the Employment Equity Report indicates that in 2014, women still accounted for only 21% of top executive management positions and 32% of all senior management positions. Women appear to be stuck at both middle and junior management levels where they account for 45% and 43% respectively.

“It would be good to have more women serving on the boards of directors of corporate South Africa,” said Zuma.


Another sobering assessment of where women stand in South Africa is the wage gap between working women and men. More than 46% of South African working women earn R2 500 or less, as opposed to 33% of men in that same wage bracket.

Women also bear the brunt of joblessness more than men and using data from the National Income Dynamics Survey, the report found in 2012 that over 63% of black South African women lived below the national lower poverty line of R597 per month, as opposed to just 1.6% of white women.

According to the report between 2008 and 2012, the proportion living in poverty didn’t change for black women yet it decreased for white women and rose markedly for coloured women.


The report shows there are more women graduating from tertiary institutions than men.

A Commission on Higher Education report reveals that women are more successful in their studies. In 2007, 59% of graduates were women, although only 55.5% of all enrolled students were women.

Zuma said: “At the universities of technology, 55% of graduates were women compared with 51% of enrolments. In the comprehensive universities 62% of graduates were women, while women made up only 57% of enrolments. And at the universities, 59% of graduates were women, compared to 56% of enrolment.

“In the education field more than 70% of the graduates are women while in the human and social sciences, more than 60%.”