24 February - Johannesburg: A gender perspective of South Africa's New Growth Path (NGP), 2012 State of National Address (SONA 2012) and the 2012 national budget presented this week reveals a common thread: - they are gender blind. These three economic mirrors of SA's short and long term strategies do not reflect the different experiences let alone needs of women and men.
South Africa is a signatory to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development that has set 28 targets to be achieved in 2015. Many of these are economic targets. The Protocol emphasises the importance of women's equal involvement in economic decision-making and the mainstreaming of gender in all economic policies and blueprints.
Gender Links analysis of the NGP states that "a centre piece of the SADC Gender Protocol, and all gender mainstreaming philosophies is that if gender is not made explicit in policies, the differential impact on women and men and conversely the policies required to correct this, will be lost."
A quick run-through of NGP, SONA 2012 (which acknowledges that women suffer triple challenge of unemployment, poverty and inequality) and the 2012 national budget show women's needs are not addressed. These documents use gender neutral language that does not take into account the gender inequalities in economic empowerment and sex-disaggregated data is absent to justify different interventions.
While listening to the South Africa 2012 national budget presented by the Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan, expenditure growth of social grants and support for job creation caught my interest. From a gender perspective, I feel the two are directly linked and one offers a solution to the other in many ways.
The budget for grants increased from R105 billion to R122 billion. Many citizens continue to benefit from the grant support. However, I still feel that the government is not addressing the issue of child support grants adequately. How sustainable is this project when research by the South African Institute of Race Relations has found that there are nine million children with absent fathers in the country? How can it influence other processes such as support for job creation and gender equality?
Stories have been reported of young girls who choose or are forced by their parents or guardians to bear a child and benefit from the child support grant system. Many have stopped worrying about securing a future by attaining a qualification because they can survive on the grant. This has consequently led to an increase in the population in the dependency band.
While the grant can be commended for providing the much needed financial support, I blame it for contributing to the disempowerment of young women. Not only does a large population of these girls "completely" drop-out of school after falling pregnant but they also get exposed to HIV. Due to low educational levels that come as a result of dropping out of school, most young women find it hard to secure "descent" jobs. In addition, the grant can be blamed for creating absent fathers who think they can father a child and the government will provide support.
Closely linked to the issue of grants is the job creation project. First and foremost, it is unfortunate that the minister did not detail what kind of jobs will be created and how women who are currently underrepresented in the employment sector will benefit from the project.
However, care work and informal trade continue to be side-lined in the debates on employment. If formalised, these would create jobs and many women who currently dominate this sector would benefit. Coming up with systematic policies and remuneration packages for care work activities would not only empower women who largely dominate the sector but society as a whole. Though rarely counted for in any economic statistics, the Gender Links NGP report points out that "the economy would crumble without this supportive work."
Our leaders need to be reminded that taking care of the sick is a good case study of care work. Women shoulder the burden of caring for the sick. South Africa has a high HIV prevalence rate and this translates into a huge burden on women. Women are then denied an opportunity to take part in other socio-economic and developmental activities as they spend most of their time nursing the sick. The SADC Protocol on Gender and Development urgies its signatories to "make programmes to ensure appropriate recognition" and "allocating resources...for care givers". Yet there is no mention of the issue in the NGP, SONA 2012 and above all the recently tabled national budget.
When it comes to infrastructure development, the Women's Legal Centre, hit the nail on the head when it commented that: "precisely because this sector is male-dominated and typically excludes women" "it would have been prudent for SONA 2012 to have pertinently laid down measures to ensure that women fully benefit from the government's infrastructure development drive."
To cap it all, the minister's speech just like the SONA 2012 and the NGP are blind to women's economic empowerment. By denying women economic empowerment, authorities are putting women in a poverty trap. This however will not only further marginalise women economically but will further perpetrate violence against women contrary to the 2015 goals set-forth in the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development.
Research conducted by Gender Links in Gauteng on GBV titled The war at home: Gender Based Violence Indicators Project (2011) states that "22.3% of women in the sample experienced economic abuse and 28.5% of men disclosed perpetration." Arguably, economic empowerment of women will give them more choices to gauge whether to stay in an abusive relationship or not.
Daud Kayisi is the Communications Officer at Gender Links. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service, bringing you fresh views on everyday views.
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