Advancing women's economic empowerment key to equality

Monday, October 4, 2021

President Cyril Ramaphosa says the economic empowerment of women will bring the country closer to its Constitutional aspiration of meaningful equality between men and women.

The President was addressing the nation through his weekly newsletter ahead of the Women’s Economic Assembly expected to be held in Johannesburg later this week.

President Ramaphosa said that although other sectors like justice, sports and culture have been making progress to level the playing field between men and women, economic empowerment – a key milestone in realising equality – still remains elusive.

“There are more men in employment than women. Men are more likely than women to be in paid employment, and women are more likely to be doing unpaid work. The most recent employment numbers show the unemployment rate of black African women is the highest at 41% percent, more than 4 percentage points higher than the national average,” he said.

President Ramaphosa said the upcoming Women’s Economic Assembly offers an opportunity to engage on ways economic equality can be attained.

The President said delegates from government, civil society and the private sector are expected to come together at the assembly “in an effort to develop a common plan of action for advancing women’s economic empowerment”.

“The Women’s Economic Assembly will consider how supply chains can be used to benefit women-owned businesses, address the policy impediments to women’s economic empowerment, and improve access to financing for women-owned businesses, especially rural enterprises.

“A number of economic sectors, such as automotive, agriculture, mining and energy, will present commitments and action plans to enhance the participation of women-owned businesses. Some government departments and state-owned enterprises will also present their commitments,” he said.

Government support of women’s empowerment

President Ramaphosa said government has been at the forefront of supporting women-owned businesses through government procurement, establishing frameworks, holding capacity building workshops for female led businesses and connecting women to opportunities for participation in public procurement.

He added that although it is critical, public procurement is not the only sector government has been actively involving women in.

“Women continue to be prioritised for work opportunities through a number of public employment programmes. In the first phase of the President Employment Stimulus, for example, 66% of participants were women.

“Of the 206 000 hectares of state land released in the last year, 54 000 hectares – comprising 78 farms – were made available to women beneficiaries. However, we need to do more to improve women’s access to productive land for farming, and the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development aims to allocate at least 50% of allotted state land to women,” he said.

He highlighted that for women’s economic equality to be realised, the private sector needs to come on board.

“For us to realise our ambitious goals, business needs to be on board. The financial services sector must work to broaden access to credit and digital financial services like e-commerce and online banking. Lack of financing impedes the expansion and sustainability of many women-owned businesses, especially SMMEs.

“We also need to address the inadequate representation of women in managerial positions in the private sector. Some 67% of managerial positions are held by men compared to 33% by women. Even though we have solid policies that outlaw gender discrimination in the workplace, wage differences between men and women persist…women earn R72 for every R100 earned by a man,” he said.

The inaugural Women’s Economic Assembly is expected to be held on Wednesday with President Ramaphosa billed to address the gathering. –