The fight for economic freedom for women is an age-old battle. While some strides have been made, we are collectively still far from achieving the full economic independence that woman deserve. We as women have proved, despite the odds, that we are as capable as anyone else and yet barriers still exist. The plight taken on by those brave women who dared to take a stand in 1956 is not yet fulfilled and it is incumbent on this generation to fight even harder.
One of the biggest barriers to women’s advancement is rife unemployment. Almost 10-million South Africans are unemployed or have given up looking for work altogether. Using the expanded unemployment figures, 41.2% of women are without work compared to 33.7% of men. One of the shockingly accepted norms in many areas in South Africa is that you need to pay a bribe to get a job. Or you need to be a family member, friend or be a card-carrying ANC member to get employed.
But surely the worst of these is the rising phenomenon of “carpet interviews”. For those who don’t know; a carpet interview is when someone demands sex in exchange for a job. Or, in many cases, in exchange for the possibility of just being considered for a job. It has become such a common occurrence that this term – carpet interview – is known and used right across the country.
The scourge of unemployment and poverty disproportionately affects women and in particular black women. The fact that these women have to be subjected to this horrific treatment in order to access a job should shock us all. Let’s be clear: this is not consensual sex. This is coercion. The men that prey on these powerless women deserve the same treatment and scorn as any other rape and sexual assault offender.
One such case occurred in Mpumalanga where two women applied for a job at the Rob Ferreira Hospital. A supervisor at the Hospital demanded sex from both women on numerous occasions in exchange for jobs that never materialised.
These women have now come forward to seek justice and to stop this man from making any more women his victims. Given their history with this man and the power imbalance between them, this could not have been an easy decision. Even more disturbing was an SMS containing a death threat that was sent after the women reported the matter to the local media.
The leader of the Democratic Alliance, Mmusi Maimane, accompanied the women to lay charges of corruption and intimidation against this official as we believe this behaviour should not be tolerated any further.
On Women’s Day last week, I led a demonstration to Bheki Mlangeni District Hospital in Soweto. At this hospital, at least 100 courageous women came forward and gave accounts of how they had to engage in carpet interviews in order to get jobs at the hospital. These women refused and they were subsequently dismissed. This act does not stop once one gets a job, it continues because women often have to continue subjecting their bodies to men in power in order to keep those jobs.
The core issue here is that it is harder to access a job in our country when you are a woman; for a number of reasons. Some of these have to do a lack of educational opportunities, the fact that women are the primary caregivers in many households which often means it is men who go out and work while women stay at home and many other besides. Now we need to confront the trend of “sex for jobs”. We need both men and women to take a stand against this.
We all need to commit ourselves to realising a South Africa that treats everyone as equals and we cannot rest until we break down the walls engulfing women’s advancement.
The Democratic Alliance wants to bring the kind of change to South Africa that promotes fair access to real, long-term jobs. A DA government will ensure that carpet interviews are criminalised and that all perpetrators face the full might of the law. We can achieve this by having an honest and professional police service available to help and protect women when they report these incidences. DM
Dr Nomafrench Mbombo is the Leader of the DA Women’s Network
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