128-Susan Shabangu Minister of Women in the Presidency speaking at the United Nations Secretary-General High Level panel on women's Economic Empowerment held at Wits Braamfontein Campus yesterday

Johannesburg - Despite major strides and progress made in gender equality for women over the past 20 years, there is still a long way to go in the economic and social sectors.

Globally, women still earn 24 percent less than men, said UN undersecretary-general and executive director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, yesterday.

Her address was part of discussions on women’s economic empowerment at the Wits Club in Braamfontein, hosted by UN Women together with Oxfam and Wits University.

“No country in the world has achieved gender equality. Laws in many countries make it hard for women to accumulate assets.

“The majority of women are in low-paying jobs where their rights are not protected,” Mlambo-Ngcuka explained.

Minister in the Presidency responsible for Women Susan Shabangu added to this, saying women continue to lag behind in the tail end of the workspace.

“We find ourselves in places we didn’t study for, and in certain sectors there are still unwritten laws that are barriers to women.”

Shabangu said these barriers made sure that women can’t pursue their chosen path.

“She has to choose between being a mother, a wife or a professional woman; she can’t be both.

“We can’t have this... these two cannot compete with each other because the world needs people, and women are the bearers of people,” Shabangu said to a room filled to capacity with women from across Africa and beyond.

The focus was to examine ways in which economies can work for women, especially as 70 percent of working women are based in the informal sector in low-paying jobs.

Speaking on the academic sector, Wits vice-chancellor Professor Adam Habib said there had been “phenomenal progress” over the past 20 years. What was happening at Wits was a microcosm of what was happening in society.

“Of our enrolment in the university, 58 percent are women. Forty-five percent of our mining engineering students are women, whereas 20 years ago we struggled to have even one (woman),” he said.

But while there were “incredible advancements” of women, simultaneously the most terrible atrocities were taking place on campuses across the country and the world, Habib said.

“The culture in residence and the abuse of women where they are the targets... There is a crisis with on-campus rape.”

When looking to find solutions to gender disparity, said Habib, one had to look closely at the social context.

“Context matters, because it makes a difference if we’re looking at New York, London, Joburg or Tembisa.

“You have to look at the class structure and the vulnerability of young women, their rights access and the access to the law, which they can bring to their defence,” he said.

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THE STAR