More action than speeches needed to accelerate gender equality
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OPINION: The acceleration of gender equality must emphasize the experiences of young women and women with disabilities in pursuit of decent work, recognition of the care economy and productive resources towards achieving gender equality.
by Maite Nkoana-Mashabane
Last Wednesday the women of South Africa across diverse industries and sectors came together to launch the inaugural Women Economic Assembly (WECONA). This historic seating took place as the country celebrated the 150th birthday anniversary of Mme Charlotte Makgomo Mannya Maxeke, a woman of many firsts. The assembly was launched by President Cyril Ramaphosa.
WECONA aims to advance and advocate for the equal economic participation of women in order to build inclusive economies. The assembly convened industries, government role players and larger society to facilitate the transformation needed for an inclusive economy.
These engagements highlighted the need for making supply chain specific commitments through direct market facilitation and procurement and, in addition, integrating a gendered analysis in policy development, government plans, finance instruments and developing relevant forms of capacity building for women. All these are critical for realising women’s economic justice, rights and inclusion.
The inaugural WECONA also amplified South Africa’s commitment to accelerating gender equality as championed by the Generation Equality Forum (GEF) campaign, a global campaign that seeks to accelerate gender equality in the next five years by realizing the action plans adopted at the 1995 Beijing Declaration Platform for Action at the Fourth Women World Conference.
Twenty-six years later, and South Africa is the global co-lead on Economic Justice and Rights Action Coalition at the GEF. The acceleration of gender equality must emphasize the experiences of young women and women with disabilities in pursuit of decent work, recognition of the care economy and productive resources towards achieving gender equality.
WECONA is an important starting point in elevating the need for the economic empowerment of women. Therefore, we believe that this is an opportune time for the private sector to actively participate in driving the collaborative efforts alongside government and civil society to building inclusive economies.
The realization of economic justice, rights and inclusion of women is fundamental to addressing the ongoing scourge of Gender-Based Violence and Femicide as envisaged in Pillar 5 (Economic Power) of the National Strategic Plan on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide.
Recommendations outlined in Pillar 5 support evidence-based research that makes a direct link between the economic development of women and their vulnerabilities to violence. In attempts to provide interventions on how to build inclusive economies, the WECONA also provided a platform to reflect on some of the key reforms necessary to achieving gender equality in our country.
These include the public sector giving 40% of procurement to women-owned businesses and leveraging multilateral trade interventions such as the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement to ensure that countries mainstream gender perspective and interventions into creating the largest free trade area in the world system connecting about 55 countries and 1.3 billion people across the continent.
There were bold pronouncements made at the WECONA by industry leaders, including the need for necessary institutional, structural and societal shifts to ensure the full realization of women’s rights. The economic inclusion and empowerment of women must be central to the developmental agenda of our country as it is directly linked to the country’s National Development Plan (NDP) 2030 which outlines gender equality as a key factor in promoting sustainable development in the country.
With approximately 52% of the country’s population comprising of women and girls, the need for bold steps to transform the socio-economic livelihoods of women is a matter of urgency.
On its part, the government is committed to taking deliberate steps to ensure that transformation happens across all sectors through gender mainstreaming and integration. In this regard, the Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities has the responsibility to ensure that legislation that promotes gender equality such as the framework approved by Cabinet in March 2019 on Gender-Responsive Planning, Budgeting, Monitoring, Evaluation and Auditing is implemented.
This framework is pivotal in ensuring that the acceleration of commitments made at WECONA occurs and the government remains accountable to the women of South Africa. After all, the government of South Africa has the Constitutional mandate to promote, protect and fulfil the rights of women for the realisation of an equal future.
The theme at the WECONA is the need to promote collaboration to ensure that women’s economic inclusion is at the helm of economic development in the country.
We envision a country where women participate in all economic sectors as owners of productive assets and factors of quality production. To facilitate this change, women’s economic empowerment must serve all women in manufacturing, mining and mineral exploration, women in the green economy and women in the informal economy, amongst other key industries. Economic interventions must be cognisant of the fact that women form the bulk of the informal economy largely concentrated in low and semi-skilled industries with limited access to information.
Therefore, access to information is paramount to the process of empowerment. It is for this reason that the Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities in partnership with SABC local radio stations hosts a radio series which provides women with the necessary information on how to register a business and how to do business with the state. The series seeks to provide a public platform to answer the questions women business owners have, and ensure that information and engagement is promoted in all the official languages of our country. Our quest for economic inclusion must include all kinds of women.
We must build on the commitments of His Excellency President Ramaphosa during his term as African Union Chairship, declaring the years 2020 to 2030 as the Decade of African Women’s Financial and Economic Inclusion.
Let us work together to strengthen collaborative efforts across society to build an inclusive economy that harnesses the collective potential of its society through job creation, innovative thinking, building of competitive capacity and an overall inclusive growth.
*Nkoana-Mashabane is a Minister in the Presidency for Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities
**The views expressed here may not necessarily be that of IOL.