Maverick Citizen


Women’s vulnerability in the labour market demands ‘dual-purpose’ interventions

Women’s vulnerability in the labour market demands ‘dual-purpose’ interventions
Covid-19 is forcing us to think quickly – and to think outside the box – for ways of rebuilding our economy from the lowest level, and in a manner that protects the most vulnerable, says the writer. (Photo by Gallo Images / OJ Koloti)

Innovative entrepreneurial opportunities for women, that address community needs and provide income and personal fulfilment, are the solutions we need to tackle a looming spiral into poverty and inequality.

As we celebrate Women’s Month in August 2020, women remain the most vulnerable in the labour market. Female unemployment sits at 32% compared to 28% for men, with Statistics South Africa estimating that four in 10 young women are not in employment, education or training.

According to the recently published National Income Dynamics Survey (NIDS) – Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (CRAM), more women than men lost their jobs in the early months of the Covid-19 lockdown. Worsening unemployment as a result of the pandemic – predicted to be as high as 50% by the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry – will likely be felt for generations to come, and could see many more women and the families they care for in a downward spiral into poverty and inequality.

South Africa has long been faced with the challenge of rising unemployment and the uneven participation of men and women in the labour market, but Covid-19 is forcing us to think quickly – and to think outside the box – for ways of rebuilding our economy from the lowest level, and in a manner that protects the most vulnerable.

Alongside the negative economic consequences of Covid-19 are the detrimental psychosocial and mental health effects associated with loss of income, uncertainty about the future and a general sense of social disconnect that many in South Africa are feeling. This has been made painfully evident by the surge in violence against women and children.

As President Cyril Ramaphosa noted in his national address on 17 June 2020: South Africa is facing a second pandemic along with Covid-19, that of gender-based violence. “Giving women the necessary support to become financially independent is the greatest of priorities, especially now,” he said.

There surely can be no doubt that the need to address this dual challenge of unemployment and social distress is more urgent than ever. One way South Africa can achieve this is through social enterprises such as SmartStart or Flourish.

Flourish is a programme of the Grow Great campaign, which seeks to “galvanise South Africa towards a future where no child is unjustly denied the opportunity to reach their full potential by achieving zero stunting by 2030”.

Flourish is a social franchise of antenatal and postnatal classes which fulfils the dual purpose of providing women with skills, training and support to earn additional income as social franchisees, while they in turn support other women through their pregnancy and caring for a newborn baby. Even before the onset of Covid-19, maternal depression affected an estimated one-third of all pregnant women in South Africa. The support provided by Flourish will be needed in our society long after Covid-19.

Sinikiwe, a single mother, supplements her income as a social franchisee by running Flourish antenatal and postnatal classes in her spare time. Besides the extra income of about R250 a week, which she uses to purchase her weekly fruit and vegetables, Sinikiwe also reaps personal fulfilment from the work she does.

“Being a Flourish host has influenced my parenting positively. Knowing and seeing that other moms are also trying their best, and that no one has it all together all the time, has made me more forgiving towards myself and more motivated to try to be a better parent every single day.”

Grace, a successful SmartStarter who has been operating in the Eastern Cape from May 2017, was moved to join SmartStart – an early learning social franchise that provides quality pre-school education to three and four-year-olds – to ensure that children in her community are kept safe. This was after a child went missing after going out to play. Since then, she has wanted to make sure that children in her community have a safe place to play and learn.

“I’m so grateful to SmartStart because it took me from the bottom and now I run my own business. I am independent. I even fixed up my house. I see the power of education every day. I am now a teacher; a principal giving children the power to succeed.”

Our “new normal” will have to include social enterprises like Flourish and SmartStart – dual-purpose interventions that prioritise the needs of communities while simultaneously ensuring that the people who are part of them can make livelihoods out of the things they are most passionate about.

For the last two years, Flourish has seen its 100 franchisees do exactly this in four provinces. It will continue growing, along with all who are part of it. 

SmartStart, which launched in 2015, has created more than 7,000 entrepreneurial opportunities for women across South Africa and delivered quality early learning to more than 76,000 children.

If we are to change the dire projections of many women’s futures, these are the kind of innovative solutions we need. DM/MC

Ruth Mathys is a curriculum developer and master trainer at the Grow Great Campaign.


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