By Nolitha Fakude
The world is currently grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic and its effects on lives and economies.
When the South African government declared a level 5 lockdown at the end of March, there was not one sector of society that was left untouched by the pandemic.
The government, business, labour and civil society were called to respond to the challenge of Covid-19 and did so with commitment.
The Solidarity Fund was set up, where citizens and businesses could contribute up to one third of their salary for three months – many South Africans did this willingly and more than R1 billion has been collected.
Government budgets were prioritised to enable relief funds to be utilised for businesses and families to benefit through various grants.
Industries’ response has been comprehensive during this Covid-19 period in its focus on both infection prevention and economic recovery.
Sadly, the Covid-19 virus in South Africa and globally has brought many inequalities to light. These are primarily social and economic disparities. Covid-19 has shown us that inequality has a gender, colour and age. The face of inequality continues to be female, black and young.
President Cyril Ramaphosa describes gender-based violence (GBV) as one of three pandemics engulfing South Africa, alongside Covid-19 and corruption. Just as we were galvanised to respond to Covid-19, we need to be invigorated and jolted into action on GBV.
Wherever we find ourselves – in the government, business, civil society or any other sector – this needs to become a burning priority. So much still has to be done to ensure that we all have a single purpose and mindset to destroy this growing cancer.
The introduction of three key bills on GBV is most welcome. They have been described as filling the gaps that have allowed some perpetrators to evade justice. We have a national strategic plan on GBV and femicide focusing on six key interventions.
Furthermore, R1.6bn has been sourced through budget reprioritisation. For this, we have to acknowledge the many young women who marched to the JSE in 2019 during the total shutdown (protesting against GBV).
As the vice-president of the International Women’s Forum SA and as the chair of the board of a leading South African corporate, and having served in various executive business positions, I will speak about how business can make a difference to GBV.
One of the key factors that can be addressed is the financial liberation of women. Economically empowered women have made, and make, different choices. The strategic plan consists of six pillars, one of which is the economic empowerment of women. Beyond the triple BEE codes, there should be clear “set-asides” for women-owned businesses.
As women business leaders, we are committed to being a trusted partner for change in the boardrooms. Within the JSE-listed companies, the majority women representation of board committees is that of the social and ethics transformation committees.
There are many women business networks and forums, including IWFSA, African Women Chartered Accountants, and BWA and Women in Engineering – and all of these should be able to speak with one voice.
Guidelines from UN Women and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), particularly SDG’s 5 (gender equality), 8 (decent work and economic growth) and 10 (reduced inequalities), set benchmarks and we, as business, should measure ourselves against these standards.
As business, we must hold each other accountable, including through making sure we use the legislation on equality. Also, making sure that through the JSE listing requirements, the social, ethics and transformation committees fulfil their mandates and terms of reference as stated in the Companies Act. In addition, advocate for target setting on gender representation on boards as a listing requirement as well as having more disclosures around the gender pay gap.
Research by Dr Nadia Mans-Kemp of Stellenbosch University says that at least three women are required to really make a difference at board level.
She says that several locally listed companies still have no female board members, while most companies that do diversify their boards tend to appoint only one female director at a time. It is time to name those companies without women on their boards.
As business, we need to deal with the culture of our organisations. We need to ensure that the culture of the workplace is appropriate for both women and men to grow and thrive.
Cultural change requires leadership of organisations to be visible and committed to change as role models. This should be demonstrated by the boards’ social and ethics committees, challenging management on social transformation, women empowerment, where women fit in the supply chain and addressing gender pay gaps.
In a country where women make up almost half of the workforce, we have a responsibility to represent them properly. We are in this together … because none of us are safe and empowered until all of us feel safe and empowered.
* Fakude is the vice-president of the International Women’s Forum SA and chair of the management board, South Africa, for Anglo America to the Brotherhood and Sisterhood GenderBased Violence Conference.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.