It has been 62 years since more than 20,000 South African women marched to the Union Buildings to demand an end to racial oppression and gender inequality.
Led by formidable activists like Albertina Sisulu, Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, and Sophia Williams-De Bruyn, the march was a turning point in South Africa’s social and political dynamics: Women were redefining their role in public life and demanding policies that asserted — instead of denied — their human rights.
Significant milestones have been made and younger generations of South African women are bearing the fruit of the barriers broken on 9 August, 1956.
However, the fight for equality continues, while women make up more than half of the world’s population, they only represent 39% of the workforce.
This exclusion cuts across all industries and spheres of influence, from access to quality education and sustainable economic opportunities to business and political leadership.
Despite corrective economic policies the Affirmative Action, Employment Equity, and Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment, South Africa is ranked 90th out of 148 countries according to the UN Global Gender Inequality Index.
The Motsepe Foundation was launched by Dr Patrice Motsepe and Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe in 1999 to promote initiatives that support the Global Goals, including ending extreme poverty by 2030 and gender equality.
The Gender Responsive Budget Initiative (GRBI) was launched by the Motsepe Foundation in 2012 in partnership with the Ministry of Women, Children, and People with Disabilities.
It’s aimed at advancing gender equality by shaping policies that empower women. Gender-responsive budgeting ensures that public funds are used to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment.
The cost of inequality and exclusion
A report by the McKinsey Global Institute found that $12 trillion could be added to global GDP by 2025 if the gender gap is narrowed.
It also noted that without prioritising and enforcing policies aimed at closing the gender gap, it will take at least 100 years to reach gender equality.
The programme seeks to strengthen the capacity of national, provincial, and local government, planners and policymakers, gender focus groups, civil society, and women’s organisations to review, analyse, and prepare provincial plans and budgets from a gender perspective.
The pilot project of the programme reviewed the gender policies of the departments of Health, Energy, Trade and Industry, as well as the Department of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (DAFF).
The review was set up to determine the status with regards to gender-responsive budgeting by assessing the extent to which gendered priorities are articulated, determine whether there are adequate institutional frameworks and capacity to implement gender-responsive initiatives, and to ascertain whether monitoring mechanisms and tracking tools towards women’s empowerment and gender equity have been created.
The report has been approved by the government as a working document.
Harnessing human potential
It’s estimated that South African women will have to work an equivalent of two additional months per year to earn as much as their male counterparts. This disparity exists against the backdrop of female-headed households being the most affected by poverty.
This makes adopting and strengthening policies and enforceable legislation crucial in promoting gender equality and empowering women and girls.
A multi-stakeholder GRB technical meeting was held in 2018 to take stock of where the country is, and what needs to be done to start closing the gender gap.
The meeting assessed what has and has not worked, the gaps that need to be addressed and established new commitments and shared responsibilities in the GRBI process.
Albertina Sisulu would have turned 100 years old in 2018. Her vision for a South Africa in which women and girls have equal opportunities is still as important as ever.
“Women,” MaSisulu said, “Are the people who are going to relieve us from all this oppression and depression.”
Honouring a fine legacy
Speaking at the Albertina Sisulu Centenary Lecture in October 2018, Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe said her legacy lay the groundwork for the Motsepe Foundation.
“Mama Sisulu was able to become the visionary activist she was because of her love for humanity. Her empathetic ability to build relationships with people, in her work as a nurse, allowed her to see beyond diagnoses. She saw individuals with unique challenges, in situations of despair, and was able to fill them with hope,” she said.
She added that it remains important that we honour MaSisulu’s work to empower women, including gender equality at the centre of all policies, which the GRBI is working to turn into a reality.
“It is saddening to remark on the current state of healthcare. Globally, it is estimated that 40 million women give birth every year without a skilled birthing attendant. Africa faces a significant shortage of community health workers, with only 250,000 where an estimated 1 million is needed.”