Pali Lehohla
Pali Lehohla

Regarded as one of the largest demonstrations at the time, more than 20 000 women marched to the Union Buildings on August 9, 1956, to protest against the apartheid government’s pass laws.

This powerful statement of protest brought the struggle for women’s rights to the fore and signified a critical point in the fight for a non-racist and non-sexist South Africa.

As a nation, we now celebrate this historic march in the form of Women’s Month in August.

How far have we come in the last 61 years towards instilling gender equality?

We take a look at the numbers.

There are more women than men in South Africa.

A meeting of 1 000 people that perfectly represent the country’s population of 56.5 million would consist of 511 women and 489 men. In other words, women comprise 51 percent of the total population.

Yet, despite this, women remain relatively unrepresented in positions of authority and power.

This is recognised by South Africa’s constitution, which sets out gender equality as a founding principle. The Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill in particular calls for 50 percent representivity in decision-making positions.

If we consider the entire workforce, 44 in every 100 employed individuals are women, according to labour data released for the second quarter of 2017. Women fill 44 percent of skilled posts, which includes managers, professionals and technicians. This figure hasn’t shifted over the years; it was 44 percent in September 2002.

Although South Africa has made great strides, gender representivity is still below 50 percent for positions that come with a great deal of influence, according to data from 2014.

Women comprised 32 percent of Supreme Court of Appeal judges, 31 percent of advocates, 30 percent of ambassadors and 24 percent of heads of state-owned enterprises.

For the Top 40 JSE listed companies, only one company had a female CEO. Parliament fares a lot better.

South Africa is ranked as the 10th country in the world with the most number of females in parliament, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, with just over four in every 10 benches held by women.

What about city and town councils?

In 2016, 276 of South Africa’s 278 municipalities had a sitting mayor, according to Stats SA’s Non-financial Census of Municipalities report. Of these, 107 (or 39%) were female, slightly lower than the 42 percent recorded in 2011.

Municipalities in Limpopo led the charge in gender equality, followed by North West and Eastern Cape.

South Africa has made progress towards the realisation of a non-sexist society, but there is still a way to go before the aspirations of those who took part in the historic march are fully realised.

A worrying statistic is that 60 percent of fathers say they are married, against 31 percent of mothers. The questions this disjuncture in the evidence raises, as we commemorate this march and celebrate women, are: first, what is the nature of conjugal responsibilities of South Africans? Second, what are the implications of the expression of these conjugal arrangements on the environment under which children are raised and their subsequent wellbeing? And, finally, what does this hold for the future?

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Dr Pali Lehohla is the Statistician-General of South Africa and head of Statistics South Africa.