Enforcing quotas is possible: Minister

Thursday, August 11, 2011
By: 
Kemantha Govender

Durban - The South African mining and energy sector is one in which more participation from women is required. Women constitute only 12 percent of people in the mining sector, and Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities Lulu Xingwana has called for speedy action.

Speaking at the Women Economic Empowerment Conference, Xingwana said she is glad that this two-day conference will focus on these sectors. Government and business leaders will discuss measures needed to enhance women participation in the economy.

"More needs to be done in attaining gender equity targets in employment, we are also focusing on encourage girls to enroll for courses in professions where women are still under-represented," said the minister.

While the enrolment of women in universities has increased from 48 percent in 1996 to 56 percent in 2008, 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," said Xingwana.

The minister used an example of the Voorspoed mine owned by De Beers in Kroonstad in Free State as an example of what recruiting and training local matriculants can achieve.

This mine is headed by a young black woman as a general manager. It has achieved two percent employment equity target for people with disabilities and 35 percent for women in various positions including technical posts involved in the extraction of diamond.

South Africa's unemployment is estimated at 25.7 percent. However, amongst African women in particular, unemployment rises up to 50 percent. Xingwana said about 41 percent 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.

The minister said the Department of Economic Development committed to having clear gender goals in its New Growth Path. With a massive smile, she added she will be monitoring this development very closely.

"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," Xingwana said.

South Africa, though, has made significant progress since 1994. It has 44 percent of women representation in Parliament and 43 percent in Cabinet.

KZN MEC for Mike Mabuyakhulu also present at the conference said government is not just preaching gender equality, but is demonstrating through inclusion of women in the running of the country.

"This is against the backdrop of many years in which women had been denied opportunities to exercise their rights of access to opportunities to engage in their country's politics and decision making process in their communities and the economy," said Mabuyakhulu

Xingwana said she will be monitoring all government departments to ensure that the public service continues to increase from the current 35 percent of women at senior management level. "And we equally monitor compliance with regard to two percent employment equity for people with disabilities".

Xingwana is hoping the Gender Equality Bill, also touched on by President Jacob Zuma during his Women's Day address, will be ready by March 2012 for Cabinet's consideration.

The Bill is being developed to gain legislative authority to enforce this principle of 50/50 gender parity.

The minister said it is possible to enforce gender quotas. "In 2002, barely six 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 percent women in their boards. The law affected about 460 listed and none of them have been penalized because they all complied"

The conference will also tackle the issues of women entrepreneurship and access to finance.