Aug 09

South African women: violence, health and money issues among 5 biggest obstacles that stand in their way

Moina Spooner, The Conversation and Thabo Leshilo, The Conversation

Every year on 9 August South Africa celebrates Women’s Day, marking an important moment in the country’s history. This was the day in 1956 when women marched to the seat of government, the Union Buildings in Pretoria, to protest against legislation aimed at tightening the apartheid government’s control over the movement of black women in urban areas.

Today, Women’s Day is also used to draw attention to the issues women still face throughout South Africa.

Over the years we’ve published many articles that highlight the plight of South Africa’s women. The five we’ve selected here point to some major issues that remain unresolved. These range from physical abuse – like violence and rape – to health and wealth barriers.


South Africa has notoriously high levels of violence against women. The country has among the highest rape incidences in the world. In the first quarter of 2022 alone, police figures showed that 10,818 rape cases were reported.

Amanda Gouws, a political scientist and the chair of the South African Research Initiative in Gender Politics, addressed the question of how gender-based violence could be reduced.

She argued that interventions focusing on ontological violence – men’s sense of entitlement to women’s bodies and hypermasculinity – were key. Ontological violence is difficult to address, however, because its origins are diffuse.

Unable to save or invest

The South African government has put in place measures to address gender equality. But policies on financial inclusion – the ability to access credit and manage or mitigate risks – are lacking.

Political economist Tinuade Adekunbi Ojo explained that South African women might have a bank account but still have difficulty accessing other financial products or services.

In her research, she found that women entrepreneurs sometimes had to partner with a man before being heard by financial stakeholders. And government policies were not designed to address the particular situations faced by women running a business.

Keeping healthy

Data from South Africa has shown that over two-thirds of young women are overweight or obese. This predisposes them to diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.

Alessandra Prioreschi, who studies health and physical activity, explained that the drivers of obesity included a lack of exercise, and the consumption of processed and calorie-dense foods and high amounts of sugar.

Her study found that there were many barriers to healthy eating, among them the cost of and access to healthy food options. She argued that policymakers needed to provide women with access to safe spaces to exercise, make healthier foods affordable and control the oversupply of unhealthy options.

Struggles in retirement

Poverty is a reality that many of South Africa’s retirees face, and the number of retirees at risk is growing, making them three times more likely to experience poverty than any other age group.

Financial planning expert Bomikazi Zeka revealed that female retirees were particularly disadvantaged because of the economic inequality they experienced prior to retirement. Women made up the largest group of low-paid employees, faced unequal labour market opportunities and had family care responsibilities.

Labour rights

Of all working women in South Africa, around 12% are domestic workers. Public health researcher Catherine Pereira-Kotze explained that these workers had little by way of safety nets. They often depended on the goodwill of their employer to get protection like maternity pay and leave.

South Africa’s laws and regulations do cater for non-standard workers. They’re supposed to get health protection in the workplace, maternity leave and job security. But the policy framework is fragmented and employers don’t always comply. For instance, some women lose their income for the months they are on maternity leave.

Workplaces and employers need to be encouraged to go beyond minimum national requirements. The Conversation

Moina Spooner, Assistant Editor, The Conversation and Thabo Leshilo, Politics + Society, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.