According to the latest inequality report released by OxfamSA titled Reward work, not wealth, women do the worst work and almost all the world’s super-rich are men with nine out of 10 billionaires being men. Part of the reason women can’t build generational wealth is because of income disparities and the fact that women are often doing (unpaid) care work in addition to work that they are employed to do.
South Africa doesn’t fare any better. For every R100 that a man earns in South Africa, a woman earns just R73 for the same work. You would think that in a country with so many female-headed households, trade unions and civil society would do more to hold government to account and to deal with this wage gap between men and women.
This week The Big Debate will host a strategic conversation between women from different walks of life on how patriarchy can be challenged effectively. Our panellists are both women who are the opponents of patriarchy and women who are seen to gatekeepers of patriarchy in the business and political sphere. We will reflect on the ways in which social power works to exclude women in the labour market, business and politics. Inequality in South Africa is rooted in entrenched patriarchal systems – systems that ensure that women are still economically exploited and vulnerable to gender-based violence.
Why are women still regulated to deputising roles in politics? It seems there is little room for women in the political space as visible and audible agents. The presence of women is still prioritised over active participation. In the political space, women are both hidden and visible and possibly absent even when present. Currently the presence of women in political parties and conferences is celebrated even if their participation is contrived and limited. Representation in the current form – of just wanting to fulfil quotas without transforming business and political spaces – is inadequate.
The conversation will use women in mining as a case study. Women in mining navigate difficult terrain underground. The field of mining is typically understood as a very masculine enterprise and mining companies have done very little to accommodate women within the profession. In South Africa, for example, national government has made a deliberate effort to recruit women into the mining sector, passing legislation that encourages (and sometimes enforces) mining corporations’ employment of women miners. Though this inclusion is lauded and admirable, according to a research report from Womin this has not been an empowering experience for women as they have stepped into extremely masculine and already deeply exploitative (in class, race and ethnic terms) work cultures and environments; and there has been little or no adaptation of facilities, work clothing, policies and work practices to address the physical and social differences between women and men. These are the kind of issues that our trade unions and the Department of Women should be taking on.
That black women continue to be over-represented amongst the poor and the unemployed, making them vulnerable to increasing levels of economic exploitation and gender-based violence, is an indictment on all institutions of power. It is our hope that a conversation of this nature will allow all women to draw from the strength of their shared experiences in order to strategise how best patriarchy can be challenged. We must recognise that the political demands of millions speak more powerfully than the pleas of an isolated voices. DM
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