As 2018 stands, South Africa is a much-improved version of itself as it stood in 1956. These improvements are largely due to its progressive Constitution, which guarantees both substantive and formal equality before the law. However, this is not to suggest that nirvana for South Africa’s women has been reached. Statistics recently released by Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) show that the unemployment rate in South Africa increased to 27.2% in the second quarter of 2018, from 26.7% in the previous period. The number of unemployed rose by 103 000, to 6.08 million, while the number of employed fell by 90 000 to 16.29 million. The same Quarterly Labour Force Survey, when using the expanded unemployment rate, shows that rates were higher amongst women than men. The rate of unemployment, according to the official definition, was 29.5% amongst women in the second quarter of 2018, compared with 25.3% amongst men.

Further figures from Stats SA show that far more women than men are HIV-positive, while HIV prevalence in women aged 15 to 24 is nearly four times greater than men of that age. 

According to a report by First National Bank, women in property are yet to catch up to men in all aspects of home ownership, including investing. Despite recent figures showing single women making up an estimated 10.3% of buyers‚ beating single male buyers by 3.3% – women do still lag behind men with regard to overall property ownership.

When considering land holding patterns, individual men own 26 202 689 hectares or 72% of the total farms and agricultural holdings owned by individual owners. This is followed by women, at 4 871 013 hectares or 13%, according to the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform’s land audit of 2017. 

Unlike in 1956, the “enemy” for women, is not always as clearly defined. Nevertheless, the above statistics show that regardless of the industry or sector, women are still in vastly vulnerable positions, whether in their likelihood of contracting HIV/AIDS or having access to land. This means that there is need for continued engagement and activism by women over such issues. 

The last Census revealed that the average South African is 26.1 years old and is more likely to be a woman. On the other hand, a survey conducted by Afrobarometer in 2016 suggests that young women are particularly apathetic to public policy concerns and were less likely to be involved in political and civic matters. The same survey shows that youth are less likely than their older counterparts to engage in political and civic activities whether through voting, community meetings, or engaging with others to raise concerns over issues. Young women particularly, express significantly less interest in public affairs than young men.

The importance of public participation cannot be understated – it allows the public to have a say in decisions that affect their lives. The Constitutional Court in 2010 struck down the Communal Land Rights Act (CLRA) on the basis that the legislative process had not consulted the broader public. Suffice to say, the CLRA, in privileging the interests of traditional leaders above others, would have negatively impacted rural tenure security, for women in particular. To this end, the notion of public participation is supported by the right to freedom of expression, which includes the freedom to seek, receive and impart information.  It is imperative therefore that more women express themselves and be heard on matters that impact the lived realities for South Africa’s women.

South Africa’s constitutional democracy is enhanced when there is robust engagement with legislative, policy and other decision-making processes. There has to be continuous engagement with public affairs as part of one’s civic duty. As the Constitutional Court observed in Doctors for Life International v Speaker of the National Assembly and Others: “…participatory democracy is of special importance to those who are relatively disempowered in a country like ours where great disparities of wealth and influence exist”. 9 August is a clarion call for the women of South Africa to activate and renew their sense of civic duty, through meaningful engagement in issues most pertinent to women.

By Ms Phephelaphi Dube: Director, Centre for Constitutional Rights
8 August 2018