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Empower a woman, empower the nation, says Sisulu

International Relations and Co-operation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu. File photo: ANA

International Relations and Co-operation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu. File photo: ANA

Published Aug 8, 2021

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IN 2005 the department of housing ran an advert that showcased the achievements the department had amassed since the beginning of a democratic dispensation. What stood out was and still is very memorable.

With this advert was a young woman with a smile on her face, a key chain around her neck, a proud homeowner. This was a stark difference between 2005 and 11 years prior. The young woman was a homeowner, something she would have struggled with in apartheid South Africa.

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I recently visited Sky City Human Settlements project. Again, I was humbled to visit a woman-owned house. She lives with her son. The difference with this one is that she was neither qualifying for a fully subsidised house nor a bonded one. However, with the assistance of our programme called Financed Linked Individually Programme she was able to enter into the property market.

When this government came into power in 1994, one of its priorities was to redress the imbalances of the past; and among those was homeownership by women. This was driven by the knowledge, backed by research, that, women were by and large heads of households who were, however, neglected by the policies of the past.

This led to abuse of women in various societies, where they could be easily be displaced from family homes; where they would be unable to secure homes as future assets from their children. So through the housing policies of the new dispensation, women finally got to be homeowners in their own right.

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In 2004, the department introduced the Breaking New Ground (BNG) policy, which saw the emergence of new settlements such a Cosmo City, Zanemvula, N2 Gateway and others.

One of the most important pillars of this policy was to ensure that marginalised groups, such as women, are at the forefront of housing benefits, by especially ensuring that these new places built offered improved social amenities, close to work opportunities and were in places where families would thrive.

The department and its policy makers have always been aware and always in conversation around how to change the plight of women where housing opportunities are concerned – whether as beneficiaries of housing units or women who participate in the Human Settlements building value chain.

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Programmes such as People’s Housing Process (PHP), now known as Zenzeleni, were the biggest draw card, offering business and educational opportunities for women.

Policy shifts and considerations have been at the forefront of delivery in the human settlements sector. Policies of this government have had to be adaptable and responsive to changing needs of the beneficiaries, based on the changing environment in which women exist.

To date the biggest beneficiaries of housing and housing opportunities have been women. This is not just a consequence of population configuration but also of the deliberate policies that put women in the forefront of these delivery mechanisms.

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Through BNG, the human settlements sector saw a rise of women in construction and an even more meaningful relationship between the department and organisations such as South African Women in Construction, that have now become key strategic partners. This was born from a realisation that in order to grow as a sector there was a need to bring on board women who had otherwise been marginalised. This has come incrementally and in various forms.

– In 2006 we launched Women’s Build that has since been a permanent feature in the Human Settlements calendar. This programme encourages women in various provinces to build houses for other women.

This has seen the birth of many construction companies (at various levels) who are now fully fledged service providers who participate in the value chain. The houses built through this programme benefit vulnerable and indigent women and their families.

– In 2008, the department drafted the Framework for Empowerment and Participation of Women in Housing Delivery. This was one of the many deliberate and intentional pieces of policy augmentation that were focusing on empowering women not just as beneficiaries of houses but as builders of these houses as well.

- In 2014, NHBRC, an agency of the Department, partnered with the Gordon Institute of Business Science to develop the Women Empowerment Programme, which aims to develop leadership potential and boost business skills for women in the construction industry. So far 100 women have participated in the Women Empowerment Programme.

- In 2014 the government announced 30% set aside for women contractors and this has since been revised to 40%.

Other important conversations the department is having with various stakeholders are on how cities are configured and their access thereof. There is a call for gender-sensitivities and gender-inclusiveness around where specific projects are built that would ensure that women are safe and are enabled full benefits of what cities have to offer.

These are key conversations that re-shape and augment policies to allow women full access to housing and human settlements.

Academics have pointed out that women’s rights need to be tightened around how women benefit in housing projects. In the past women had to be married to have access to housing. This has since changed.

However, more still needs to be done around the once-off benefit for households, as it sometimes inadvertently discriminate against women who may be out of unions (for various reasons) with the partners with whom they had received housing benefits.

All these incremental changes point to a Department and a sector that realises the importance of women in society and that is trying to close gaps that were created my yester-year policies.

While there has been criticism of the department in the past, around lack of direct favourable bias to women, as beneficiaries and contractors, this seems to be dying down as strides are forged every day for the department to be women-centric in its approach.

In 2021, with almost 5 million houses and housing opportunities delivered, the department celebrates strides made in ensuring that more women have their house keys around their necks; that over the years the story of homeownership has been favourably disrupted and that with more partnerships, more women will benefit.

We still have a long way ahead of us but when we empower a woman we empower the nation; this is what will make us achieve our goals as a country.

* Lindiwe Sisulu was the Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Minister when she wrote this but in the Cabinet reshuffle on August 5, she was appointed as Tourism Minister.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media or IOL.

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