Stop telling lies about women’s lives – inequality is a political choice of government and business
The Constitution’s injunction to government is that in all policy, law and actions of governance it should be acting to progressively realise women’s rights; or, in the case of girl children, it should be doing everything possible to fulfil these rights immediately. The fact that it’s not means the inequality we lament on Women’s Day today is a political choice. It is, literally, man-made.
Another year. Another Women’s Day. Another rape. Another murder.
Another lament. Another set of editorials. Another set of op-eds.
Another Presidential speech. Another set of promises.
In some ways, the less said officially about Women’s Day 2022 the better because it’s bound to involve some degree of hypocrisy, including from the media.
In a country that consistently puts women first – first in poverty, first in violence, first in unemployment, first in vulnerability to disease and climate change, first in hunger, first in thirst – there really are no words that are adequate.
However, we are compelled to try.
The government has declared the theme of Women’s Day 2022 to be “Women’s Socio-Economic Rights and Empowerment: Building Back Better for Women’s Improved Resilience”. They say “The concept of Generation Equality is a global campaign and links South Africa to global efforts to achieve gender equality by 2030.”
However the truth is that women’s inequality in South Africa (and the world) is getting steadily worse. Sadly, the President’s weekly letter this week shows how out of touch he is with the realities of women’s lives in our country when he states that “we are on an upward trend towards the achievement of gender equality”. Representation and recognition in law is of course very important, but the real measure is the lived reality of women in poor communities.
Here the facts tell a different story. In a women’s day statement today SAFTU states that:
• there are more than 6,2 million unemployed women, including those discouraged from finding jobs. The overwhelming majority of these women are black African. In quarter 1 of 2022, 47.9% of young women aged 15 to 34 were “Not in any form of Employment, Education and Training” (NEET), compared to 42,1% of their male counterparts.
• Early in 2022, the World Bank Inequality report indicated that SA had a 37% gender pay parity, way above the global estimate average of 20%.
• 37% of SA households are headed by women, and 48% of female-headed households support extended family members. In these households headed by black women, R58,000 is an average annual expenditure, while white women-headed households spend four times higher annually, at R258,000.
• The latest Crime Statistics by the South African Police Service (SAPS) show that between January and March 2022, 10,818 women were raped, which amounts to 121 rapes a day.
Although President Ramaphosa claims that “women have access to contraception and safe termination of pregnancy in the public health system” – the truth, as reported in Maverick Citizen, is that access to abortion services has been steadily declining.
These are the facts we should be focusing on.
So it’s worth reminding ourselves what the socioeconomic rights that the government promises to “build back better” with actually promise. We should also point out that the Constitution’s injunction to government is that in all policy, law and actions of governance it should be acting to progressively realise these rights; or, in the case of girl children, it should be doing everything possible to fulfil these rights immediately.
The fact that it’s not means that the inequality we lament is a political choice. It is, literally, man-made.
They include, the rights to:
“an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being; and to have the environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations, through reasonable legislative and other measures;”
• “have access to adequate housing and not be to arbitrarily evicted”;
For girl children to:
• “family care or parental care, or to appropriate alternative care when removed from the family environment;
• “basic nutrition, shelter, basic health care services and social services;
• “be protected from maltreatment, neglect, abuse or degradation”;
Bearing in mind that this is what the Constitution orders, the steps the government could actually take to empower women are simple. At a minimum they include the duty to:
- Ensure safety, security and the protection of bodily autonomy of women by properly funding and managing the police and the criminal justice system.
- Introduce a Basic Income Grant.
- Properly fund and manage Early Childhood Development.
- Control the prices of a basket of essential foodstuffs.
But to do any of the above requires investment in people’s lives and an end to the policy of austerity in essential public spending. Until this happens every promise that will be made again on Women’s Day today amounts to little more than crocodile tears. That’s the most important message today – that it’s time women in South Africa, supported by all progressive men, emulate the actions of the 1956 women’s march and prepare to slay the crocodile. DM/MC