Young girls play in the streets of a township. Their prospects of gaining meaningful employment without suitable qualifications are low.Picture: Itumeleng English
Young girls play in the streets of a township. Their prospects of gaining meaningful employment without suitable qualifications are low.Picture: Itumeleng English

Educate a woman, and you educate a nation

By Boipelo.Mokhutshane Time of article published Aug 30, 2017

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‘IF YOU educate a man, you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a nation.” This Fanti proverb, found in the DNA of Ghana, has somewhat become of a cliché.

For many, these clichés are quoted simply to sound politically correct, but the point of proverbs is that they hold fundamental truths - truths that speak, in this case, to the very existence of the nation, as a people, as a community, as a family.

Women’s Month gives us an opportunity to reflect on the need for us to improve the plight of women, especially in our country.

A census gives a state the opportunity to assess where things are at and what interventions, especially through national budgets, must be made. We analysed some of the figures that Census 2011 told us about women and families and it would be good to measure how far we have come.

One of the opening startling figures of the Census was that nearly 30% of African children were living with neither of their parents. Forty percent of African children were living with their mothers only while this number is at nearly a third for coloured children. Only just over a quarter of African children live with both parents whereas only half of coloured children live with both parents. The figures for white and Indian children living with both parents are 73% and 83%, respectively. Women, the Census said, are more likely than men to live in the same household as their own children.

As far as education is concerned, a third of white women obtained a qualification higher than Grade 12 whereas less than 10% of African women have achieved some qualification after basic schooling.

Coloured women fare even less than their African counterparts with only 7% achieving a qualification after basic schooling, the figure being 21% for Indian women.

Only 22% of African and coloured women have obtained Grade 12 whereas the figure is 35% and 40% for Indians and whites, respectively.

In 2011, the majority of women who have not obtained a matric in South Africa were coloured, with nearly two-thirds of coloured women having not obtained a matric.

Fifty-three percent of African women have not obtained matric, 40% of Indian women and only 23% of white women.

Half of women in South Africa do not possess a Grade 12 qualification, whereas the figure is the same for men.

In general, the numbers are not very different between the sexes.

However, literacy rates, being able to read in at least one language, is higher for men than it is for women in rural and urban areas.

It is safe to suggest that these figures have not changed much.

As far as the workplace is concerned, the Census went on to indicate that the majority of those not economically active, who will probably never get a job in their lifetimes, are women.

Half of Indian women and nearly half of African women are not economically active (NEA), while 40% of coloured women are NEA. The figure is at 38% for white women. While African females top the chart for unemployment as they hold 30% of the jobs in the workforce, the least among the races.

Other interesting figures that the Census showed us was that while 36% of women employed in 2001 had no schooling, the figure by dropped by half by 2011, with only 14% employed having had no schooling.

In other words, the first to be targeted for retrenchment would be women without schooling.

The pattern is similar for men. However, what is most concerning is the regression made by women in the workplace, who have a Grade 12 qualification or more.

What the figures show is that women are less likely to be employed even a decade later.

Nationally, women remain more unemployed than men, with African women remaining the majority of those who cannot find employment.

Yet what is to be done?

Those who have studied developmental state theory know it is the role of the state to understand which industries or sectors are doing well and then invest more into these. While mining, for example, remains one of the industries, it simply is not labour absorptive. The industries that are providing jobs are the ones that should be invested in and developed. Yet what are these and what are these for women in particular?

Census 2011 showed that the industries most absorptive for creating jobs for women are services. The next is trade, followed by private households and finance. Fifth only is manufacturing.

Many of us familiar with the textile and clothing industry in the Western Cape would know the devastating effect cheap imports had on this industry and, in particular, women factory workers. While it is ideal that we invest in manufacturing, we have to ensure we know what our domestic and global competitive advantage is.

It would seem, at least for women, manufacturing is not that competitive advantage.

As an aside, the statistics indicate that manufacturing lie in the top three industries for jobs for men. Therefore, it would not be correct to dismiss manufacturing completely.

As a result, we see from these figures women beating men in industries such as services by almost double and in trade and private households. While trade registers as a high indicator for women in the economy, the figures go on to show that nearly 60% of this trade is done informally.

At the same time, it is important, though, to question the level of skills needed in this industry and whether these industries will be affected by STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths) jobs and how so.

While it is estimated the vast majority of jobs in the future will be linked to STEM jobs, we must ask whether industries such as community and social services, private households and trade will become obsolete.

Yet we must be careful in our investment not to trap women into these low-skilled industries.

When looking at occupations, the participation of women in these industries makes sense. The majority of women are either in an elementary role - clerks, sales and services or are domestic workers. While we must never downplay the dignity provided by work, we must ensure that if someone is a domestic worker they have the requisite skills to be able to change jobs, if needs be, and therefore in that way become sustainable. Domestic work must therefore be a site for skills development of first-aid, early childhood development, culinary expertise, among others.

In other words, while we may want to take the developmental approach in ensuring that we invest more in those industries that are working for women, it is also important we recognise that these industries yield these results often based on past inequalities. The type of investment into these industries must ensure that we rectify the structural injustices of the past that continue to plague our economy today.

Here the role of our sector education and training authorities (Setas) becomes key.

At the moment, R31billion is ring-fenced for skills development through the Setas annually. Yet it would make interesting reading to find out how much skills development has taken place and how many women, in particular, have benefited from these Setas, especially from the health and welfare, services, culture, arts, tourism, hospitality and sports Setas.

Are we upskilling women who are currently employed in order for them to have more sustainable livelihoods and futures?

We must continue the outcry against femicide and the daily abuse of women in our country.

However, unless we act and make the necessary interventions to ensure radical economic transformation for our women particularly, we will not be breaking the chains that men hold them trapped in.

Nomvula Mokonyane is Minister of Water & Sanitation and a member of the ANC NEC

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