News & Media

Examining the progress made by South African women

Cristal Peterson, Deputy-Director of Communications and Marketing, Graduate School of Business Leadership, Unisa

Both before the advent of democracy in South Africa in 1994 and since then, women in this country have worked hard to empower themselves. "Nevertheless, many still face obstacles such as gender-based violence (GBV), gender pay gaps and inequality in the workplace," notes Cristal Peterson, Deputy-Director of Communications and Marketing at the Graduate School of Business Leadership, as she reflects on the progress made by women in the country.

Peterson sees the rights of women to participate in society as non-negotiable, with gender equality an important objective of the Constitution. Nevertheless, women remain under-represented. She says: "In giving meaning to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal number 5, which concerns gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, we must therefore constantly remember how important it is that no one should be left behind."

Commenting on whether enough is being done to elevate women, Peterson explains: "We should not merely pay lip-service to gender transformation; we must create conducive spaces for women to thrive in. They must be given opportunities to explore their creative imagination, grow their careers, make their voices heard and find their proverbial seats at various tables."

With regard to the recognition of women in various fields, and academia in particular, Peterson decries the fact that there are not many women in top positions. She asks: "Does this mean that out of the 26 South African public universities we do not have enough women leaders who can fill those positions?" She does, however, acknowledge the positive developments occurring in the media space where, according to an Oxford study, nearly half of the major publications and broadcasters in South Africa are led by women. 

Peterson points out that despite South Africa having a progressive legislative and policy framework, rates of femicide and rape in the country are unacceptably high. She also expresses concern at the fact that even though they constitute over 50% of the population, women are less favoured than men in the labour market, and only a few companies are accommodating women in top positions.

She notes: "The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated already severe inequalities, with many women having lost their jobs during the hard lockdown. Moreover, the GBV rate is much higher than it was before the pandemic." She adds: "In consequence, women are now at more of a disadvantage than before, and unless there are appropriate interventions, the situation will only get worse." The recent 2021 Second Quarter Labour Force Survey, which found unemployment among women to be 36.8% compared to 32.4% among men, provides a clear indication that more should be done to prioritise the inclusion of women in the mainstream economy.

Peterson acknowledges the progress made in the public sector, and also in parliament; moreover, women make up half of the cabinet in the current administration. However, she notes that although Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka was the first South African deputy female president, no other woman has occupied the position since.

Peterson emphasises: "Women’s Month should not be about having tea and spa days. Instead, it should be about reflecting on the various issues faced by women. We should never have a shortage of conversations, engagements and activities that will ensure that women of all races, classes and generations take up their rightful positions in transforming our society, and in generating sustained economic growth."

She concludes: "While August may be dedicated to women, this should in no way be taken to suggest that gender issues can be forgotten during the rest of the year. It is incumbent on us to ensure that the rights of women inform our everyday lives in our families, communities and places of work."

* By Simphiwe Mthimunye, Unisa Student

Publish date: 2021/09/02