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Under pressure: Women hardest hit by increases in the Big Three

Given the affordability crisis, the latest aggressive interest rate hikes are going to hit everyone, but especially women, hardest, says an expert. Picture Ian Kiragu/Unsplash

Given the affordability crisis, the latest aggressive interest rate hikes are going to hit everyone, but especially women, hardest, says an expert. Picture Ian Kiragu/Unsplash

Published Jul 27, 2022

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It’s harder and harder to go into the field to talk to ordinary South Africans about how they are surviving financially, says Mervyn Abrahams, programme co-ordinator of Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice & Dignity Group (PMBEJD).

“This affordability crisis hitting South Africans is so serious I have to limit my time in the field as emotionally I can’t take it any more,” says Abrahams.

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He is a stalwart in the social justice world with first-hand experience of seeing families go to bed hungry because they just can’t afford to put food on the table.

And, rising costs across the board, especially with transport, electricity and debt repayment, is hitting women the hardest.

As of 2021, about 42 percent of the households in South Africa were female-headed. Provinces with larger portions of rural areas, such as Eastern Cape (50.6 percent), and KwaZulu-Natal (48.3 percent), were more likely to share large numbers of female-headed households, according to StatsSA.

“In the midst of one of the most challenging affordability crises we have seen in years – worse even than during the hard lock downs of Covid – we have seen a 50bps (basis points) and then a 75bs increase in interest rates.

“A woman who heads a house and whose money is stretching less and less - this is another form of violence against women in a world that is in crisis.

“I see it all the time – a mother will spend every cent she has on her household.

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“Aggressive interest rate hike –which hits across formal and informal debt repayment – hits everyone but is most violent towards these women, the mothers of our nation, who at present can’t make ends meet and who are often more poorly paid than men.

“A mother who cannot provide sufficient food for her family feels beaten by life.”

Mervyn Abrahams. Picture: supplied

While Abrahams says we can expect a stabilisation in the affordability in a food basket in his group's July Household Affordability Index, due out before the end of the month, this is likely not to provide any relief.

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If transport, electricity and debt servicing increase way above CPI, they take more money out of the budget, leaving less money for food and other necessities, he says.

An increase in the interest rate also hits both the formal and informal sectors. Money lenders, says Abrahams, have also increased their rates in line with the SA Reserve Bank’s increase. Hence an interest rate hike filters down even to the informal sector.

“An economic downfall is in a way an act of violence perpetuated against women...

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“Mothers are the last to eat in the house – they protect their children at all costs and sometimes don’t even get to eat just so their children can.

“This is why women, mothers especially, have the highest rate of non-communicable diseases (NDCs) such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

“By the time they get to eat there is no nutrition left. That’s the reality.

“In the long run, when a household has shrinking money - it detrimentally and violently hits every aspect of a woman, from her mental and physical health to how she is able to care-take.

“In the field I see it. But I can’t solve the problems, all I can do is listen.

“The mother carries the burden of all these increases. It’s not just the economic factors – it’s the pain, the emotional pain – of all of this.”

Meanwhile, the June 2022 Household Affordability Index, which tracks food price data from 44 supermarkets and 30 butcheries, in Johannesburg (Soweto, Alexandra, Tembisa and Hillbrow), Durban (KwaMashu, Umlazi, Isipingo, Durban CBD and Mtubatuba), Cape Town (Khayelitsha, Gugulethu, Philippi, Langa, Delft and Dunoon), Pietermaritzburg and Springbok (in the Northern Cape), showed that:

• In June 2022: The average cost of the household food basket is R4 688.81.

• Month-on-month: The average cost of the household food basket increased by R78.92 (1.7%), from R4 609.89 in May 2022 to R4 688.81 in June 2022.

• Year-on-year: The average cost of the household food basket increased by R560.57 (13.6%), from R4 128.23 in June 2021 to R4 688.81 in June 2022.

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