South Africa: Addressing a nation of women and men!

Date: March 6, 2012
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24 February – Johanneburg: Although I did not watch President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) on the 9th of February 2012, I did myself a favour by downloading the speech. Little did I know that wearing my gender lenses, the speech would make some good (or bad!) reading on my flight to Cape Town.

My first thought is that the President should have brought out women’s issues more strongly and articulate how basic service delivery issues affect women and men differently. The President would have then gone further to clearly demonstrate how government will put in place specific interventions that address gender inequalities.

The SONA focussed on ten key issues namely job creation, mining, infrastructure development, housing, electricity, education, health, land reform, labour reform, and social cohesion.

My experience working with local government in South Africa has taught me that these are the issues that matter to women and men on the ground. It is thus unwise to quote statistics and put in place programmes and processes that deal with issues in a gender-neutral manner. Surely, the lack of clean water affects women and men differently. Women need water for domestic use and thus if there is access to clean water, then the time they spent on unpaid work in the home is minimised.

The President pointed out that statistics released two days before delivering his speech indicate that unemployment has come down from 25% to 23.9% (365 000 in 2011) as a result of new jobs. How many of these jobs were taken up by women and how many by men?

President Zuma went on to say that it is important to note that all of these jobs are in the formal sectors such as mining, transport, community service and trade. As these are largely male dominated one can take an educated guess that men probably benefited more than women.

A key point to note in the mining industry is that the number of women in the mining industry is extremely low. This is despite the existence of the South African Mining Charter that sets a target that women should make up 10% of mining companies’ total workforce by 2009. The lack of sex-disaggregated data on women and men in the mining industry implies that we cannot measure if current projects and programmes are appropriate and relevant to addressing the needs of women and men.

President Zuma also mentioned the 2011 Job Fund. So far 2500 applications have been received and over one billion rand allocated for the Job Fund projects. However, citizens do not know how many applications were submitted by women and how many by men. How then can we make our government accountable if we do not have these facts?

If we cannot disaggregate the number of jobs based on sex, we will never know what government is doing to ensure that women are being integrated into the job market.

There is no clear plan as to how the one billion guarantee fund instituted in 2010 and will start its operations in April 2012 will be disbursed. We all know the struggles that women face in accessing credit and land in both urban and rural settings. This fund could assist in women’s economic empowerment.

President Zuma boasts about the improvements in education and the fact that Grade R enrolment has doubled, from 300 000 in 2003 to 705 000 in 2011. Knowing what proportion of these are girls would be revealing. We know the plight of many young girls who are not able to enrol in school because of such reasons as caring for HIV and AIDS patients in the home.

While highlighting the 5% decline in the proportion of reported serious crimes, the President did not specifically mention gender-based violence: a major crime and one of the worst violators of human rights in South Africa. Many women are afraid to report GBV crimes because they often depend on the perpetrators for financial support and shelter. A statement on the Government’s position on this issue would have been welcome so that more women report GBV.

The good news – is that the government is working towards a Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill “to promote compliance in both the private and government sector and to provide for sanctions in case of non-compliance.”

President Zuma also ended off his speech by quoting the late ANC Women’s League president Charlotte Maxeke who said: “This work is not for ourselves – kill that spirit of self, and do not live above your people, but live with them. If you can rise, bring someone with you.”

Now we need to see women’s voices and gender considerations running through all aspects of your speeches, Mr President!

Abigail Jacobs Williams is the Head of the Gender and Governance programme at Gender Links. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service, bringing you fresh views on everyday views.


0 thoughts on “South Africa: Addressing a nation of women and men!”

Claudia says:

I agree with most of what you have said but your “gender lenses” tend to be very slanted in terms of female issues. While I agree that a lot more needs to be done to address the issues relating to women and employment there are also massive areas involving men that have only been considered on the fringes of policies if at all. Like for example that men (particularly young men) are increasingly figured in unemployment statistics. I don’t believe that this is as a result of the feminization of employment but it also points to a trend that needs to be given more consideration. Another gender aspect, in terms of men, is that men more that women are the victims of violent crimes (crimes other than rape or sexual assult). For example, more men that women are murdered. Another aspect is that crime is mostly carried out by men.

So whilst I agree with you that government needs to be more gender sensitive I think that when analysing their policies and statements you should be careful of falling into the trap that equates gender with women.

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