9th of August Women’s Day in South Africa
by Georgina Pujol-Busquets Guillén
This day is celebrated as a reminder of the contribution made by women to society, the achievements that have been made for women’s rights, and to acknowledge the difficulties and prejudices many women still face. The first National Women’s Day was celebrated in 1995. South Africa had just become a democratic country at the time, and the day was declared a national holiday. Since then, annual celebrations take place throughout the country. August has since been declared National Women’s Month.
- Women’s situation nowadays in South Africa
Before 1994, women had low representation in parliament, only at 2.7%. Women in the national assembly were at 27.7%. This number has nearly doubled, being at 48% representation throughout the country’s government. National women’s day is based on much of the same principles as International Women’s Day, and strives for much of the same freedoms and rights.
Gender inequality remains a major barrier to human development in South Africa. The disadvantages facing women and girls are a major source of inequality. All too often, women and girls are discriminated against in health, education, political representation, labour market, etc.—with negative consequences for the development of their capabilities and their freedom of choice.
The under-representation of women in technical education, training and employment is not unique to South Africa. This, together with the societal attitude to women in general, is responsible for the gender differences both in educational establishments and in the workforce. Differential access to educational and training opportunities have led to low proportions of women in the formal sector and their concentration in low paid production jobs with limited career prospects.
The Gender Inequality Index (GII) is an index for measurement of gender disparity. It measures gender inequalities in three important aspects of human development—reproductive health, measured by maternal mortality ratio and adolescent birth rates; empowerment, measured by proportion of parliamentary seats occupied by females and proportion of adult females and males aged 25 years and older with at least some secondary education; and economic status, expressed as labour market participation and measured by labour force participation rate of female and male populations aged 15 years and older. The GII is built on the same framework as the Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index (IHDI)—to better expose differences in the distribution of achievements between women and men. It measures the human development costs of gender inequality. The GII ranges between 0 and 1, thus the higher the GII value the more disparities between females and males and the more loss to human development.
The GII sheds new light on the position of women in 159 countries and South Africa is in the 119th position with a GII of 0.394. The component indicators highlight areas in need of critical policy intervention and it stimulates proactive thinking and public policy to overcome systematic disadvantages of women.
- Women’s education
The question is: why are the women the ones in charge of the families but are the ones that received less education? How can a community increase their knowledge if the ones that take care of it are not receiving it?
Female education affects family health and nutrition, agricultural productivity, and fertility, yet there is a wide gender gap in education. Lack of resources and pressures on time and energy put enormous constraints on the ability of women to maintain their own health and nutrition as well as that of their children. As a result, women are less equipped than men to take advantage of the better income-earning opportunities that have emerged in South Africa.
Although there are still a lot of issues related to women inequalities, things are slowly changing. More women are joining the formal sector of the economy, more girls are continuing to higher education and joining technical courses, more women can be found in the management hierarchy, more women are moving into professions so far dominated by men, and more women are becoming self-employed.
With programs like Eat Better South Africa, the community education initiative created by the Foundation, we provide nutritional education to groups, most of them formed by women. The purpose of the program is for participants to implement lifestyle changes themselves, ensuring independence, self-sufficiency and sustainability. Through our programs, we have found that by empowering women, the wider community is influenced by virtue of her position in the household. So when a woman is being educated in consequence a community is too. Improving various health markers in a way that is sustainable by nutritional interventions advocating the low carb healthy fat lifestyle can ensure healthier lives for women and for their families.
Although women have come extremely far in the fight for equality, we should still be drawing attention to issues that affect women today, ensuring that they are placed on both national, local and corporate agendas. National Women’s day draws attention to significant issues South African women still face, such as parenting, domestic violence, sexual harassment in the workplace, unequal pay, and schooling for all girls.
As a woman, ask yourself, what are you prepared to take a stand for today, if not to help yourself, then perhaps to help other women more vulnerable than you? Women’s Day is a reminder of that.