PALESE PHILI ready to take on the challenges of another day at the office. | Supplied
DURBAN -  Women’s Day and Women’s month are not only a tribute to our contribution to the struggle against apartheid but an affirmation of our ceaseless pursuit of gender parity and equity.

According to the 2018 Global Gender Gap Report, South Africa was ranked 19th overall. However, in terms of the active economic participation of women and opportunities available for women, our country is ranked 91st and for educational attainment, South Africa is ranked 72nd globally. Our overall ranking may be good, but much more work needs to be done to empower women to create inclusive and sustainable economic development and growth to address our socio-economic challenges. 

South Africa is at a crucial tipping point. The economy needs greater active participation from women who make up just  more than 51% of the total population but only accounted for 43.8% of total employment in the second quarter of 2018. 

That number is reduced even further when it comes to women occupying decision-making positions. Promoting gender equality and women’s economic empowerment through participation requires continuous strategising, planning, implementation and monitoring on the part of both public and private sector decision makers. Female entrepreneurs and small business owners represent a significant potential source of job creation and inclusive and sustainable economic growth in South Africa. Yet, the number of women entrepreneurs and business owners remains fairly low. 

In 2019, women in our country continue to be constrained by cultural, social and economic barriers that hinder their participation in the economy. Both government and organised business need to action policies and programmes that actively empower women, through education and access to opportunities, to join the workforce or participate in the economy as entrepreneurs and business owners. 

The challenge women in South Africa face is not a shortage of policies, but action and commitment by government and organised business to help to ensure women entrepreneurs and business owners are well-supported in terms of starting and growing their businesses as well as having access to funding, access to markets and business networks and non-financial support such as practical business management training and mentorship. 

Addressing gender parity is, in fact more about enabling overall economic growth than it is about gender. There is a need for platforms to be created that encourage and empower women to participate in our economy to a greater extent. There is also a need for women to be coached and supported by peers in having a balanced and holistic approach to their work and life. 

The Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry created the Women in Business forum for women business leaders, business owners and entrepreneurs to create a dialogue for business support and engagement regarding what is needed to move to the next level of leadership, profitability and influence. This platform is used to identify and deal with the gender-specific issues and limitations faced by women in the workplace and in business as well as to provide structured training, coaching and business mentorship. Support structures, both in business and one’s personal life, are crucial for professional and personal growth and stability.

This curated forum allows women to network with peers, share their experiences and discuss and unpack solutions to challenges they encounter in the business world. Additionally, the forum helps ensure that we actively promote the application of gender-responsive investment and procurement practices to ensure that more women have access to opportunities. Role models play a crucial role in society, in government and the private sector that is why this year the Durban Chamber has partnered with Gagasi FM in celebrating Women’s Month through the Shero campaign, which recognises and honours women who are making a significant difference in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) communities.

The nominated “Sheroes” serve as role models for young girls and women alike. It is up to us, as women entrepreneurs, business owners and business leaders to support each other. Together we can drive sustainable economic growth in eThekwini and beyond.

Palese Phili is the chief executive of the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

BUSINESS REPORT