Whilst there is much work still to be done at home regarding parity and closing the gender gap, we need to place our performance in context and look at how South Africa is measuring up to its BRICS partners, and world trends in general.

In its eleventh year, The Global Gender Gap Report 2016 published by the World Economic Forum (WEF) measures gender disparities in 144 countries, tracking their progress over time, whilst focussing on four key areas:
• Health
• Education
• Economy
• Politics

One of the main takeaways of the 2016 report is that women now have only 59% of the advantages that men have – regressing to the status circa 2008. Till Leopold, Project Lead, Employment, Skills and Human Capital Initiative at the World Economic Forum attributes this to the slowdown in the global economy, despite continuing progress across educational and political spheres. “After a high point in 2013, we have actually reversed all the progress that had been made since 2008.” – Till Leoppold, WEF

Whilst this statistic is extremely concerning, it had a silver lining as far as South Afria is concerned. We were number 15 in the world out of 144 countries that have been analysed – as opposed to the other members of BRICS: Russia is 75th, Brazil is 79th, India is 87th and China is 99th.

“In the last 10 years since the WEF began measuring the global economic gender gap, it has narrowed by only 2%. Higher levels of female participation in education are not leading to commensurate employment opportunities for women – many barriers to entry and progression still remain along the female talent pipeline.” – World Economic Forum

To better understand and address this concerning reality, the WEF initiated pilot Gender Parity Task Forces in Mexico, Turkey, Japan and the Republic of Korea to catalyse collaborations between public and private sector with the objective of bringing more women into the economy. Having learned from these pilots, the Forum has established a Gender Parity Task Force in Chile in partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank.

Given that the global context is showing negative trends, and South Africa is ranked 15th out of 144 countries, what are we doing to improve parity back home?

The Honourable Minister of Women in the Presidency, Susan Shabangu, spoke to us about the importance of women and men working together for mutual empowerment and the benefit of society as a whole.

“We’ve got to bring back the spirit of Ubuntu, the spirit of oneness, the spirit of community behaviour. If we live as communities, I believe things will get better – including a reduction in crime, which is flourishing because in cities we are no longer a collective, no longer members of caring communities. We’ve got to change, break that mould, to say we are a community. We are together. We are staying here, therefore we need each other,‘I am because you are’.

“We need to break the cycle of poverty, to change this cycle of women who live in a patriarchal environment, and focus on creating environments wherein articulate young girls are able to assert themselves safely and with positive effect.”

Structural causes and effects of both the cycle of poverty and patriarchy are addressed in the report titled, Status of Women in the South African Economy, produced by the Department of Women. In the summary of the report the chapters are divided into: Education; the Labour Market; Credit, Land and Property; Poverty and Inequality; and Women’s Contribution to Total Production.

The conclusion of the report states, “The goals of equity and inclusive economic growth cannot be achieved without ensuring women’s full participation in the economy… For women’s status in the economy to be truly transformed in all areas, a national discussion around the various gender stereotypes and practices is required. This is not just a ‘women’s issue’ in that these norms and stereotypes do not only constrain females’ choices, but may also remove the power of choice of men.”

The minister was very clear that we need active involvement from both women and men in order for a meaningful societal mindshift to take place:

“You cannot talk to women alone. You have got to change those attitudes. You must educate men, hence part of our responsibility is that we partner with some of the men’s organisations which are keen to change, which see things differently, which believe that society must change. In South Africa, we have a constitution which says we are equal. It cannot just be on paper. It has to be in practice. We have to lever it and make sure that the men themselves change.

“We need men who are not only changing their attitudes, but who are also participating in activities which advance women.”

A prime example is Zonke Gender Justice – an organisation started by men – which works across Africa, strengthening the capacity of governments, civil societies and citizens to promote gender equality, prevent domestic and sexual violence, and reduce the spread and impact of HIV/AIDS; it is these kinds of organisations which engender optimism that gender parity will become a reality.