SA drops its rank in the 2023 Global Gender Gap Report

Women working in male-dominated fields. Thandekile Nthethwa is seen in a science lab at CPUT (Bellville campus), where she has been working for a year as a chemist. She specialises in nanotechnology, among other fields. Picture: Jason Boud/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Women working in male-dominated fields. Thandekile Nthethwa is seen in a science lab at CPUT (Bellville campus), where she has been working for a year as a chemist. She specialises in nanotechnology, among other fields. Picture: Jason Boud/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Published Aug 14, 2023


Dr Nozi Mjoli

Every year South Africans dedicate the month of August to the commemoration of the brave women of 1956 who marched against the pass laws and the celebration of the contribution of women to the advancement of democracy in South Africa. This month is also used to reflect on the progress made towards the achievement of gender equality in all sectors of society with special reference to the inclusion of women in top leadership positions in social and economic sectors.

Gender equality is a human right which is enshrined in the 1996 Constitution of South Africa. However progress towards the achievement of gender equality in South Africa has been very slow. Millions of women continue to be the most disadvantaged members of society in South Africa due to poverty and lack of skills. The slow pace of gender transformation is not unique to South Africa, but it is a global problem. The 2023 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap report based on the assessment of 146 countries showed that the gender gap only improved by 4.1% between 2006 to 2023. Based on this slow progress towards the achievement of 100% global gender parity, this report estimated that it could take 131 years to achieve 100% global gender parity. Only three African countries were ranked in the top 20 in the 2023 global gender gap report. South Africa was ranked number 20, Namibia was ranked number 8, and Rwanda was number 12. It is worth noting that Namibia was ranked 38th in 2006, while South Africa was ranked 18th in the same year. Rwanda was not ranked in 2006. This shows that for the past 17 years, there has been insignificant improvement in gender parity rank for South Africa, while Namibia has improved its rank significantly from number 38 in 2006 to number 8 in 2023.

This demonstrates that it is possible to achieve gender parity within a short period of time when the government is committed to improving the status of women in society.

The failure of South Africa to make significant progress in the achievement of gender parity cannot be attributed to a lack of institutional support because there is a Commission for Gender Equality with a mandate to advance gender equality in the country. There is also a dedicated national government department that has responsibility for promoting gender equality in South Africa.

South Africa is considered to be one of the most unsafe countries for women and children. Almost every day the national media carry stories of women and/or children who have been raped or murdered. President Cyril Ramaphosa has held two Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF) summits in November 2018 and November 2022 respectively to find solutions to this problem.

Special programmes must be developed and implemented in schools to promote gender equality and the empowerment of girls by building their self-esteem and self-confidence so that they can challenge abusive men. It is anticipated that the outcome of these interventions could contribute to the building of a society where there is mutual respect between men and women. Every year, the National Government invests billions of rands in basic education and higher education to ensure that no South African is denied education due to poverty. It is anticipated that a highly educated workforce will contribute to the economic empowerment of young men and women, thus helping them escape the poverty trap.

A Statistics South Africa report assessed the empowerment of women over a five-year period (2017-2022) in the economic domain, social domain, and political domain. This assessment of the economic domain found that over this 5-year period, the overall unemployment rate increased by 6.8% from 27.7% to 34.5%, and women were the worst affected. This could be attributed to the loss of jobs in the hospitality and tourism sectors due to Covid-19 lockdowns from 2020–2022. The assessment report also found that 73% of male and 26.8% of female graduates in Physical Science, mathematics, and engineering were employed.

On the other hand, most female graduates in Arts, hospitality, and Tourism were not employed. This demonstrates that more women must study Science, mathematics, and Engineering in order to secure employment after graduation because there is a shortage of technical skills in the job market.

The Stats SA report showed that male and female graduates had the highest employment rates during the 5-year period of assessment. However, men dominated senior management and middle management positions. The representation of women in Parliament had increased significantly during the 5-year period of the assessment, and 50% gender parity was achieved in cabinet positions. It was also noted that the majority of voters for both national and local government elections were women.

Poor representation of women in the labour market of the future remains a challenge because only 29% of women are represented in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) positions that offer higher remuneration packages. Dedicated funding should be allocated to increase the number of female graduates in STEM fields. Young women must be empowered and supported to adopt empowering beliefs about their inherent ability to succeed in pursuing careers in Science, Engineering and Technology fields.

Parents have an important role to play in supporting and encouraging their daughters to pursue careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields. This will enable them to secure high-value jobs in technical fields where there is currently a shortage of Science, Technology and Engineering skills.

* Dr Nozi Mjoli is a gender activist.

** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of Independent Media or IOL.