Address by Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities, Ms Lulu Xingwana, at the Women Economic Empowerment Conference, ICC, Durban.
11 Aug 2011Programme Director
MEC for Economic development and Tourism
Mayor of eThekwini
Ladies and gentlemen
It is a great pleasure for me to join you today as we celebrate Women’s Month. This is an opportunity for us to take stock of the progress made and reiterate our commitment to address the many challenges in our path to gender equality and empowerment of women.
We have just held a successful National Women’s Day at Peter Mokaba Stadium, in Limpopo on Tuesday. The event attracted more than 20 000 women from all corners of South Africa who gathered to celebrate the achievements we have made since the historic march of 1956.
Programme Director, I would like to commend the Department of Economic Development and Tourism in this province for organising a conference of this nature. Thank you also for aligning the theme of this conference with the theme for the National Women’s Month this year which is: “Working Together to enhance Women’s Opportunities for Economic Empowerment.”
I have been asked to focus on the topic: “Tracking the development of women post 1994: How relevant is the Women Economic Empowerment Programme in ensuring South Africa’s global competitiveness and economic growth?”
The negative effect of gender inequality on economic growth has long been established. The exclusion of more than 50% of the population in economic activity limits the country’s skills base and constrains potential for full market expansion for end products.
There are many economic challenges facing women arising from a long history of oppression on the basis of gender and race. Based on the narrow definition, South Africa’s unemployment is estimated at 25,7%. However, amongst African women in particular, unemployment rises up to 50%. About 41% of these women live in the former Bantustans where economic prospects are limited.
Those employed are found in low paying jobs like domestic work, as tellers in the retail sector or shopfloor workers in the textile sector that has been shading jobs over the past years. Other women will be found in the informal sector of our economy.
As you all know, government declared 2011 as the year of job creation and developed the New Growth Path to create five million jobs over the next 10 years. We have engaged with the Department of Economic Development with regard to engendering the New Growth Path.
At the National Women’s Conference we held in Gauteng last week and attended by Minister Patel, it was resolved that from now on, the New Growth Path will have clear gender goals that will be monitored. One of the key advances we made is that from the current financial year, 50% of all new loans issued by Khula Enterprise will be allocated to women.
Furthermore, specific economic sectors identified for growth will be targeted to absorb large numbers of women. These economic sectors include the green economy, light manufacturing, tourism and hospitality and cultural sector.
Mining and energy remain a great area of challenge for women participation with women constituting only 12% of people in the mining sector. I am glad that this conference will have a discussion focused on these sectors.
There is a mine owned by De Beers in Kroonstad in Free State. This mine, called Voorspoed, is headed by a young black woman as a general manager. It has achieved 2% employment equity target for people with disabilities and 35% for women in various positions including technical posts involved in the extraction of diamond.My view is that if a mine in rural Free State can achieve such progress by recruiting and training local matriculants, all other sectors of our economy can achieve the targets we have set on gender and disability representation.
While we push for attainment of gender equity targets on employment, we are also focusing on encourage girls to enroll for courses in professions where women are still under-represented. The enrolment of women in universities has increased from 48 percent in 1996 to 56 percent in 2008. However, despite this increase, women only constitute 44 percent of enrolments in Science, Engineering and Technology.
We are therefore putting in place programmes like Techno Girls which provides mentorship by placing girl-learners in various companies during school holidays to gain exposure to science, technology and engineering fields.
For rural women in particular, the key issue is access to land for women to engage in development initiatives. While the Green Paper on Rural Development is still subject to consideration by Cabinet, our conference last week expressed firmly the need for applying gender equity measures in the redistribution of land and implementation of agricultural support programmes. This includes provision of developmental finance, access to market and skills development.
Notwithstanding all the challenges, there are areas where women have made significant progress since 1994. Much progress has been made in increasing women participation in both elected positions as well as in the public service. South Africa currently has 44% of women representation in Parliament and 43% in Cabinet.
The number of women councilors declined from 40-38% during the last Local Government elections. While the ANC featured 47% women candidates for these elections, other parties pulled the overall figure down. COPE had 38% women candidates, Inkatha Freedom Party had 32% and the National Freedom Party had 34% women.
The public service has also made progress. We are monitoring all government departments to ensure that the public service continues to increase from the current 35% of women at senior management level. And we equally monitor compliance with regard to 2% employment equity for people with disabilities.
A number of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) continue to feature amongst the top performing companies when it comes to improve women representation including Telkom SA which is now headed by woman CEO, Pinky Moholi.
As the President said during the National Women’s Day, the number of women in leadership positions in the private sector remains very low with 21% of executive management positions held by women. The President further indicated that the Department for Women, Children and People with Disabilities is developing legislation which should compel all organisations – public or private - to adhere to the principle of gender equality.
The President was referring to the Gender Equality Bill that we are developing to gain legislative authority to enforce this principle of 50/50 gender parity. We are consulting various stakeholders on the scope, enforcement measures and various elements that need to be included in this Bill. Our target is to have this Bill considered by Cabinet by March 2012 and thereafter it will go through parliamentary processes including public hearings on its contents.
It is possible to enforce gender quotas. In 2002, barely 6 percent of Norway's corporate directors were female, and about 70 percent of the top companies in the country didn't have a single woman on their executive boards. As a result, the Norwegian parliament passed a law in 2003 giving companies five years to have 40% women in their boards. The law affected about 460 listed and none of them have been penalised because they all complied.
The Financial Times says this of the Norwegian experience and I quote:
“After initial skepticism that there would be not enough competent women…many investors and executives today regards it as a success. The law laid bare a previously unused potential of female managers.”
A few months ago in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel described lack of women in management a “true scandal” and said that companies had last chance to make progress before binding commitments are put in place.
Gender equality is an issue that the whole world is grappling with because of an understanding that continued economic marginalisation of women is not just socially unjust. It does not make business sense as it limits the overall potential for economic growth.
I would like to wish you fruitful deliberations and I am looking forward to the outcomes of this conference which I believe will contribute to our efforts to attain gender equality and empowerment of women.
Issued by: Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities
11 Aug 2011
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