International Women’s Day Debate by Cde TZ Makata: Invest in women: Accelerated progress in the context of building a better Africa and World

12 March 2024

Gender Equity: A Catalyst for Economic Growth

Honourable House Chair
Honourable Members of the House

From the inception of the United Nations, the promotion of women’s rights has been enshrined in its founding Charter. Article 1 unequivocally underscores the commitment to fostering respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all individuals, irrespective of race, sex, language, or religion. This commitment was further solidified with the inclusion of gender equality in international human rights law through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. This landmark document affirmed all individuals’ inherent dignity and rights, regardless of gender or any other distinguishing factor.

Since then, the global community has witnessed a burgeoning focus on women’s development issues, both at the global and regional levels. Inspired by the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 5, which aims to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, nations worldwide have intensified their efforts to address the multifaceted challenges faced by women.

Moreover, the African continent has demonstrated its unwavering commitment to gender equality through Agenda 2063, specifically Aspiration 6, which alludes to Africa’s development that should be people-driven, relying on the potential offered by African People, especially its Women. This resounding declaration underscores Africa’s determination to uplift and empower its women, recognizing their indispensable role in driving sustainable development and prosperity.

The ANC Freedom Charter enshrines the fundamental principle of equal opportunities for women, affirming their right to participate in all spheres of society on par with their male counterparts. This pivotal document acknowledges women’s inherent worth and capabilities and advocates for their active involvement in the decision-making processes that govern our nation.

In South Africa, the ANC Freedom Charter serves as a beacon of hope and progress, guiding our journey towards a more equitable and just society. By championing women’s inclusion and participation, it paves the way for the realization of our collective aspirations for a brighter and more prosperous future.

Thus, as we commemorate International Women’s Day and reflect on our strides in advancing gender equality, let us draw inspiration from the principles espoused in the ANC Freedom Charter. Let us reaffirm our commitment to fostering a society where women are recognised and empowered to contribute meaningfully to the fabric of our nation. Together, let us continue to strive towards a future where the rights and dignity of all individuals, regardless of gender, are upheld and protected.

Through the influence of the Freedom Charter and our constitution, which prioritize creating equal opportunities for both women and men, recent census data has highlighted a remarkable trend in South Africa. It reveals that more women have attained higher education qualifications than men during the specified period. This achievement is notable. However, there is a pressing need to ensure that these educated women ascend to higher echelons and are spread across various industries.

Moreover, the scarcity of women in (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) STEM fields exacerbates the gender digital divide, hindering their participation in digital technology development and decision-making processes. To address this gap, a comprehensive approach is required. This entails enhancing digital infrastructure in underserved regions to ensure equitable access for women and educational initiatives to promote digital literacy and empower women with the necessary skills. Raising awareness and challenging societal norms are vital in encouraging women’s engagement with digital technologies. Encouraging girls and women to pursue STEM education and careers can further contribute to bridging the gender gap in the technology sector.

In terms of employment and the discrepancies therein, The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Gender Gap Index for 2020 reveals that in South Africa, women hold 38% of senior-level positions within business organizations, encompassing managerial and CEO roles. However, the representation of female CEOs among all enterprises listed on the JSE stands at a mere 3.31%.

The private sector’s adherence to transformative laws like affirmative action and BBBEE has been slow, despite efforts made. The government should prioritize enhancing enforceability, starting with companies doing business with the state. Broader regulatory measures are also necessary to ensure women’s inclusion in employment and upper echelons. Women’s aspect of BBBEE should be recognized and supported, possibly through gender budgeting mechanisms.

The public services sector has made progress in increasing women’s representation in management to 43%, with efforts to push beyond 50%. The Public Service Plan for Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality framework and the Public Service 8- Principle Action Plan for Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality are being implemented to enhance strategies within the public sector to advance women’s participation. The National Empowerment Fund administers the Women
Empowerment Fund, which supports businesses owned by black women with funding ranging from R250,000 to R75 million. While some government departments have allocated resources for women’s empowerment initiatives, there is a call for expanded efforts in this regard across governmental institutions and the private sector.

There is a pressing need for more private sector entities to support and invest in women, particularly those in rural areas who often exhibit lower risk aversion. The Women Development Bank (WDB) serves as a prime example of the impact such initiatives can have. Originating as a microfinance program in 1991, the Women Development Bank was established to combat poverty and provide rural women with the resources necessary for self-empowerment. Over the years, this bank has played a transformative role in supporting cooperatives and women-led business ventures.

While financial resources are crucial, it’s important to recognize that women, especially those in rural areas, require a range of non-financial resources as well to thrive and succeed.

The key to achieving more strides in women’s empowerment is to break down societal barriers and dismantle patriarchy, which requires a multifaceted approach. Education and awareness initiatives, policy interventions, economic empowerment programs, community engagement efforts, support networks, mentorship programs, and promoting diverse portrayals of women in the media are all critical in promoting gender equality in both social and economic spheres.

Critical institutions are pivotal in safeguarding women’s rights, fostering empowerment, and ensuring comprehensive representation. The Human Rights Commission plays a fundamental role in protecting the rights of all individuals while
also evaluating and monitoring progress. Similarly, the Gender Equality Commission and the BBBEE Commission oversee and monitor transformation and women’s inclusion efforts in both the private and public sectors. Moreover, the establishment of the Department of Women, Youth, and Persons with Disabilities underscores the overarching need for holistic monitoring, evaluation, and coordination of women-inclusive transformation programs. It is imperative for every South African and sector of society to recognize that affirmative action is constitutionally imperative.

The ANC-led government recognizes the importance of monitoring, evaluating, and coordinating efforts to ensure the realization of the aspirations outlined in the Freedom Charter, Bill of Rights, and our Constitution, which advocate for equal opportunities for all. Therefore, the ANC emphasizes the need for deliberate support of these institutions, both financially and through other means.

As we embark on this crucial debate, let us reflect on these milestones and recommit ourselves to advancing the cause of women’s empowerment today and every day.

Together, let us strive for a world where gender equality is not just an aspiration but a reality for all.

Thank you.