by Sasha Planting

Women empowerment

Is South African legislature failing its women?

SA legislature has missed the mark
Women empowerment neglected?

For the last two days the good members of the Portfolio Committee on Women, Children and People with Disabilities have been listening to public hearings on the Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill which is winding its way through the Parliamentary system.

The Bill is setting some of the toughest targets in the world – government departments, companies and civil society organisations will be required to fill a minimum of 50% of all senior and top management positions with women. It is possible the law will come into effect in 2015.

Women Matter, a research paper from McKinsey & Co suggests that the companies (and countries) where women are most strongly represented at board or top management level are the ones that perform best. Companies that cross a threshold of women managers (30%) report improved bottom line and operational performance.

Women account for one-half of South Africa’s potential talent base, thus this country’s long-term competitiveness depends significantly on whether and how it educates, utilises and respects its women.

On paper, women in South Africa don’t have it too bad. In fact according to the World Economic Forum’s Gender Equity report for 2013, South Africa is one of the most gender-equal countries in the world, ranking 17th out of 135 countries on the scale.

But the result is skewed by one subsector – political empowerment – where South Africa ranks 8th in the world. In education matters, we lie 54th, in economic participation, 78th, and in health a rather dismal 102nd out of 135 countries.

In 2013 South African women earned up to 33% less than their male peers. The current international pay gap average is 13%. And while more than half of university graduates are women, only 44% are employed in corporate South Africa.

When it comes to top management, just 19% of our top managers are women and just 17.1% of board seats are held by women; in the UK it’s 17.3%, in the US it’s 16.6%.

Women make up 5.5% of board chair roles in South Africa – double the 2% in Europe.

Clearly there is work to be done. The difference between BEE and gender legislation is that government is truly committed to BEE. When it comes to women empowerment, it is schizophrenic.

Legislation is all well and good. But what bothers me is the absence of any significant attempt to address the problems that actually underlie gender inequality.

In 2007, the Sexual Offences and Related Matters Act broadened the legal definition of rape, created a new range of sexual offences and addressed a wide range of issues relating to sexual offence cases.

Yet government failed to allocate adequate resources and develop the necessary specialised services, among other failures.

Legislation is one thing. But without real change from government, the private sector and civil society it becomes meaningless.

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