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Opinion | 14 February 2023

Dr Sheetal Bhoola

IN RECENT years we have witnessed a global emphasis on gender equity and the progression of women within socio-economic and political spaces aligned to the 5th global sustainable development goal. The South African government has prioritised this goal too.

Our Constitution has been deemed as one of the most inclusive and progressive globally, and it clearly articulates the principles to sustain and protect women’s rights, and forbids discrimination based on gender.

Within our spaces, we have witnessed the surge of many more women joining the workforce and climbing the corporate ladder. Women are working hard, but at the same time on a daily basis they struggle to maintain work life balance, as within their homes they still remain the primary parents, caregivers and household managers.

Despite this, women in South Africa and abroad are still earning less than their male counter-parts. It has been established by the United Association South Africa (UASA), that South African women earn up to 35% less than their male colleagues, despite the positions they hold and their qualifications.

South African women are not isolated in this challenge. Women of other nationalities too earn less than their male counterparts.

In addition, women don’t ascend to higher positions than men within corporate spaces. Observations and personal narratives affirm that perhaps equal access do not necessarily equate to equal opportunities.

Often the promotion structures and stratification systems within companies are based on traditional patriarchal normative performance benchmarks. Therefore, women are now forced to meet promotion criteria that were initially structured for the male.

Is it reasonable and fair to the women that do not always have the liberty of putting in additional hours of work because of domestic and or family responsibilities? Having equal access for many women is a policy that is not effective as the opportunities are not really deemed equal.

How do we go and create equal opportunities for women? Gender equity needs to be prioritised at every level and to be fair, the life path of women needs to be considered. Therefore, promotion criteria for women within corporate spaces should be sensitive to patriarchal socio-cultural influences and pressures that exist in contemporary African and Indian societies.

In this way, the female is recognised fully as a pertinent contributor to the functionality of a society and the criteria developed for the promotion of women should be isolated from the benchmarks created for men.

Can we say that women have equal opportunities when they are continually compared and weighted against in the fight to ascend her career?

As much as we try to align ourselves with global gender equality ideologies, it remains difficult in a country, where many South African women are still primary parents in their households. We also fail to (take into) account the number of women who are formerly employed and are single parents.

Many of these single parents, are full time employees and continue to engage in further tertiary educational qualifications on a part-time basis, with an aim to reach management levels of employment.

Some women explain that being a girl child within the African context has its own challenges. Therefore, the need to advance themselves academically later in life than their male counterparts.

Central to this is the fact that the girl child from an impoverished background is often not at school, because of the lack of access to basic necessities such as sanitary towels when she is on her monthly reproductive cycle. The continual pattern of missing school can be a detrimental cycle but has also been normalised within poor communities in South Africa.

How widespread and well managed have the government initiatives been to distribute sanitary towels for the girl child from impoverished backgrounds? Is this not a fundamental step in ensuring the female has an equal opportunity to education?

The lack of intervention or minimal focus on these steps towards supporting the girl child has a negative long term impact. Therefore to support and sustain gender equality within our society, the needs of the female learners must be prioritised, so that they can have equal access to education at varying levels.

There are perceptions that inadequate educational levels and the lack of work experience delay the ascension of the female employee in the workplace. Therefore, the delayed ascension of women is justified. Many choose not to fully acknowledge the journey of a girl child within the South African context.

Other common perceptions adopted by senior employers are that females do not have the capacity to be dedicated employees in senior management or leadership positions, because of family and domestic responsibilities.

If these perceptions dominate, how do we inculcate a society that allows equal opportunities for women, and not just access? Women are still largely under-represented in positions of power and authority across the globe.

The responsibility lies with all of us within our society to be as inclusive and progressive as possible to sustain the gender equality fight in South Africa. The policy needs to be implemented and not just admired.

The concept that equal access for women means that women have equal opportunities needs to questioned and reassessed. The woman needs to be recognised as her own being, and should be valued independently from her male counterparts.

Amidst their strides to ascend the career ladder, most women are committed to raising the future generation of our society to the best of their capacity.

She does deserve an equal opportunity to progress.

‘Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER’.


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