An interview with Honourable Minister of Women in the Presidency, Susan Shabangu. By Fiona Wakelin

I had never been to Tuynhuis before. Situated in the heart of the Mother City it literally means “garden house” and used to be a tool shed for Jan van Riebeeck back in the 1600s. My appointment was with Minster of Women in the Presidency, the Honourable Susan Shabangu who, together with the rest of the Cabinet, was in Cape Town for the first sitting of Parliament after the recess prior to the local government elections.

Welcomed graciously by the Minister and her staff, I was ushered into her office and whilst taking photographs, it became apparent that we were in the presence of more recent history than that of Van Riebeeck. Her office used to be that of Minister in the Presidency responsible for Planning and Chairperson of the first National Planning Commission, Trevor Manuel. I felt that this resonated positively with my purpose of an interview for Vision 2030.

The Minister herself posed the questions “How do you reposition women in society as a whole? What do we need to do? What difference can I make in the lives of women?”

Key to the above is the following:
• Ensuring women’s self-esteem
• Women’s economic empowerment

And how is this being actioned?

First there needs to be a reliable knowledge base followed by constant monitoring and evaluation. The Department of Women has produced a report on The Status of Women in the South African Economy. In the foreword President Jacob Zuma writes: “This report serves as a baseline document for the work to promote the socioeconomic empowerment of women and gender equality, and to advance their human rights”. In the preface of the same report, the Minister herself says: “The role of my Department is to ensure that women are actively involved in the processes of radical socioeconomic transformation in order to effect their economic change themselves.”

Following the concept of radical socioeconomic transformation is the issue of access to land, “an area we are lagging behind in” and access to finance, “a critical issue” – both of which are trussed in norms and legislation reflective of a deeply patriarchal society.

“We need more Sonke Gender Justice Networks – more men who challenge the idea of a society where it is men versus women and rather promote the culture of women and men working together for equal human rights.”

Founded by Dean Peacock and Bafana Khumalo, Sonke Gender Justice works across Africa to strengthen government, civil society and citizen capacity to promote gender equality, prevent domestic and sexual violence, and reduce the spread and impact of HIV and AIDS.

Sonke’s vision is a world in which men, women and children can enjoy equitable, healthy and happy relationships that contribute to the development of just and democratic societies.

Taking women seriously in the NDP

And how does the Department of Women align with the National Development Plan? The issue of women’s rights and gender empowerment is not a vertical, stand-alone pillar, but rather a horizontal imperative that must permeate planning at all levels in both the public and private sectors and be reflected in all the points of the 9 point plan.

The strategic overview of the Department in the PAIA document, 2016, states “The Department has a dynamic role to play in terms of implementing the National Development Plan: Vision 2030 by ensuring that in its implementation gender is mainstreamed and responsive to the needs of South African women.”

I asked the Minister how her Department is ensuring this takes place.

“When we talk about gender mainstreaming, especially when it comes to the NDP, while planning a programme we ensure that the reality women face and the obstacles they encounter in everyday life need to be factored in to the roll out of the programme. We also need to create a work environment where women do not have to choose between being a mother and having a career. Issues of childbirth, issues of being a wife, should not be roadblocks in allowing women to pursue their careers.

“Employers must ensure access to childcare and when companies do their budgets they need to allocate funds that will enable women to work and parent – thereby constructing an enabling environment for women to be able to do both to the benefit of society.

“Women in rural areas face a number of particular constraints. The economic planning for the different provinces has to take into account how much time they spend gathering firewood, how much time they spend carrying water, and put measures in place whereby all those things can be factored in to making women’s lives easier. If you look at the issue of having to go and fetch wood, it can take a whole day, but if there is electricity, then it means women will have time to do other things like educate themselves, which contributes to the economy. The issues of water and firewood collection speak directly to infrastructure development.”

And for each of the government departments, are there gender goals in place?

“Our first goal is to look at the economic cluster, because that is the directive from the President. Take for example the DTI – how many grants are they offering to women? How many women are beneficiaries? We will be getting a report soon which will show us what their targets are. We are anxious to see that report, not just because of the numbers but in the true sense of change, having translated and transformed the life of an ordinary woman from being a worker to being an owner, an entrepreneur.”

The problems of finance and fronting

“How many women have access to funding? One of the biggest obstacles for women we have interacted with, is that they cannot get money to start up their businesses. No matter how good their business plan is. That is why we will be engaging the financial institutions to discuss access and conditions of access to funding by women.

“We are also working with Treasury in terms of the 30% set aside for procurement by women-owned companies. The issue is not clearly defined and what we have discovered is that there a lot of gender fronting by men. This needs to be addressed.”


What are the consequences when people are non-compliant and are found to be gender fronting?

“There are various laws. All of them have penalties, but let me tell you, from my own experience, people would rather pay a penalty than empower women. That is the challenge. That is what we have got to change. Punitive measures are not helping us, so we have got to look at what kind of measures can be put in place to ensure a culture change. I come from the mining industry, and in that sector there are so many punishments – penalties – which get paid and then the situation continues. So we have do change mindsets – of both men and women.

“We are running a programme called Techno-Girl where companies mentor young women who then are able to start working in those particular fields. Girl children must have choices. If they want to be pilots, let them be pilots; if they want to be engineers, they must be engineers. Phakisa, the Oceans Economy, is opening up many jobs in areas that were once seen as men-only preserves. We are working with the private sector, mainly because that is where you find the money and mentorship.In 2016, we started partnering with Cell C. Their “bring a girl child to work” programme has translated into scholarships which means there is follow through in real terms to the mentoring that started in the workplace.

“We have a lot of women who are successful, but we need more. Many of the obstacles that lie in the way are embedded in patriarchal attitudes which have to be unpacked and replaced with a human rights culture. To achieve this you cannot talk to women alone. You have got to change attitudes. You must educate men, hence part of our responsibility is to partner with some of the men’s organisation 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. This cannot just be on paper. It has to be in practice. We have got to lever it, we have got to make sure that the men themselves change. To this end we are making progress. But the biggest challenge which women face is at home – the burden of having to bring up children, and balancing it with work.

“How do you address that? You address it by looking at how early childhood learning fits into the space of a working parent. The debate now is where do you build the centres – close to home or to the workplace? Both parents and emploers have a role to play in this decision.

“As I said, this is a complex issue and requires the re-imagining of society, both by women and men and both at home and at the workplace.”

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