South Africa needs to address the stagnant median gender pay gap. Unlike the many countries in the Global North that we would like to benchmark ourselves against, it has first had to deal with the repercussions of colonialism and apartheid.
One of the greatest repercussions is apartheid spatial planning, where townships were created to be labour dormitories away from the hub and height of economic activity. It is against this background that South Africa has had to first attempt to equalise the playing field.
The democratic dispensation in South Africa introduced several programmes to address the historical non-representation of Africans in the economy and government. These have had special bias towards women, narratively called the face of triple oppression — that is being born poor, female and black.
Mechanisms used include the black economic empowerment policy, which has over the years evolved and improved. The state set specific targets for affirmative action in the private sector under the Employment Equity Act, which stipulated that “suitably qualified people, particularly women and people with disabilities, from designated groups have equal employment opportunities and are equitably represented in all occupational categories and levels in the workforce of a designated employer”. The Act also empowered the department of labour to impose fines and prosecute for non-compliance.
Cognisant of the continued need to fight the stark gender disparities that are still evident across the different sectors of our society, affirmative action sought to place black women at the centre of opportunities for advancement, both in education and employment.
Coupled with the above, the Commission for Gender Equality, mandated to hold the government accountable for programmes aimed at promoting gender equality and transformation, has recommended that the government’s Gender Responsive Budgeting Framework be legislated into law. This is to support the already existing efforts of various government departments that have included gender-responsive budgeting with a bias towards women in their annual performance plans and budgets.
As sought by the 1954 Women’s Charter, there are ongoing dialogues on policy directives for gender-responsive budgeting in the country. The conversation has cascaded down to political formations in the country where women are now increasingly assuming positions of leadership that were previously reserved for men.
Needless to say, the soft hand of the state and the irrefutable fact that the South African labour market is characterised by high unemployment rates that recently hit record highs and low growth that leads to low labour for demand, have directly impeded the scope for affirmative action and related policies.
The task at hand, however, remains to affirm women in the commanding heights of our economy, ensuring that they’re up-skilled to participate and meaningfully contribute in all sectors of our economy, to challenge the gender pay gap and patriarchy.
Aluwani Chokoe, a Mail & Guardian 200 Young South African, is the deputy director of parliamentary and stakeholder relations in the
Gauteng department of economic development. She writes in her personal capacity.