Brief on South African Women


South Africa represents one of Africa's most advanced nations in terms of development indicators and women's rights. Women have enacted legislation to ensure political representation and social protection. There is clearly high-level awareness and support for gender equity within the Government of South Africa, as exemplified in a number of gender initiatives throughout the government apparatus. Some of these include the Commission on Gender Equality, the National Gender Forum housed in the Department of Justice, and the Office on the Status of Women within the Office of the Presidency. The government's numerous initiatives in different government bodies also seem to indicate its interest in mainstreaming gender throughout all sectors. While their participation in higher education and the workforce are far above most other developing nations, when it comes to the realities of everyday life, violence against women and children is epidemic, and HIV is rampant. In South Africa, almost 25 percent of women aged between 15 and 19 could become infected between 1995 and 2010. In comparison, only five percent of men in that age group would fall victim to the virus. Women are at greater risk of infection due to biological, social and economic factors.

Like most other counties with a history of apartheid, race still constitutes an obstacle for many of the nation's black population. Since the introduction of the new constitution and related anti- racism laws, South Africans' living conditions have generally been improved. For example, income disparities between the poorest 20 percent of the black and the richest 20 percent of the white have been narrowed by 50% over the past seven years according to a report by the Bureau of Market Research of University of South Africa. The end of apartheid inequality in welfare and pension payments has been a significant factor in helping reduce the income gap.

A recent survey by Statistics South Africa shows that nearly 70 percent of the black people are now living in formal dwellings, a 35 percent increase as compared to that of 1994. And the proportion of households with a telephone or mobile phone rose by more than 25 percent to 34.9 percent during the same period. In terms of access to education, the government's budget allocation for the blacks' education also grew by 8.7 percent compared to seven years ago, and at present 95 percent of the black people under the age of 18 can afford to go to school.

In spite of the great achievements, most of the 29 million blacks in the country are still not satisfied with their lives, with 48 percent of them believing that their lives have remained the same and 32 percent saying that their quality of life has even deteriorated, largely because racism and racial discrimination remain ingrained across all sectors of the society.


Girls in South Africa are above other regions in Africa -- yet their enrollment in tertiary nontraditional fields is still very low. However, South African girls and women are faring better than other nations in Sub-Saharan Africa.


-- 77% Black Female Adult Literacy:
-- 51% Female Secondary School Enrollment:
-- 12% Women Enter Tertiary Institutions
-- 48% of all Tertiary Level Students are Women,
-- 6% of all Women in SA Graduate from Tertiary Institutions
-- 9% of Engineering Graduates are Women
-- 33% of Technikon Permanent Educators are Women
-- 31% of Permanent Staff in Universities are Female
-- 30% of Internet Users are Women

Education Statistics for South Africa -- First South African Report on CEDAW, 1997. www://


Basic indicators for women’s education, such as female secondary school enrollment and adult female literacy rates, place South African women above most developing countries. See Box 1. Secondary school enrollment is higher for girls than boys, but tertiary enrollment is somewhat lower, as fewer women than men matriculate after secondary school. Overall, about 1/6 of secondary students progress to tertiary education. Just under half of the students at the tertiary level are women. Moreover, SES and race factor into the quality of education one receives with black girls being the least advantaged group.

Most recent data from 1996 indicates that only 10% of secondary schools in South Africa have access to computers. Moreover, "only about 2000 (7.5%) schools have adequate telephone lines, electricity, and computers to use IT in schools." Therefore, although the educational indicators are overall very good in South Africa, this does not translate into access to IT due to lack of facilities at the secondary level, where the largest populations of educated girls are found. Current efforts to build IT infrastructure for all schools are underway, but it may be a slow process. It is reasonable to expect that access to IT at the tertiary level is much better, although the numbers of students affected is much smaller.

Politics and Women's Human Rights

Research has shown that if women were to have the same degree of capital investment in agricultural inputs as men, output would increase by up to 15 percent. Of all the 14-member (SADC) states, South Africa has the highest number of women in both parliament and cabinet -- at about 30 percent. South Africa adopted CEDAW in 1994 and has established a Women's League in the African National Congress although in many cases, it has been deemed ineffectual. The Women's League President, Winnie Mazeki-Mandela, has received harsh criticism for not taking women's gains more seriously. Moreover, the high percentage rate of women in parliament attained by countries like Mozambique and South Africa cannot be automatically taken as a success because despite the fact that women are today more visible in public life, they are still facing difficulties of access to the power structures that mold their society.

The SADC leaders in 1998 signed an addendum to the CEDAW protocol, which requires member states to eradicate discrimination and violence against women and children -- particularly domestic violence, rape, property theft, femicide, forced abortions and trafficking in women. But to date, only South Africa and Mauritius have enacted comprehensive legislation dealing with domestic violence, which is widespread in the region, although they have not provided the money to implement the programs. However, not unlike most countries, adoption and enforcement of protective legislation for women are not mutually reflective of one another. Deeply embedded patriarchal values are diminishing slowly.

Some 30,000 children from different African countries are engaged in prostitution in South Africa, according to a new report by the International Labour Organisation. Approximately half of the children are between 10 and 14 years of age, revealed the report unveiled at the ongoing Second World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in Yokohama, Japan. It said young girls exploited in the sex industry in South Africa come from Mozambique, Angola, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zambia, Cameroon, Malawi, Rwanda, Senegal, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Ethiopia.

Moreover, a recent survey in an industrial province of South Africa found that male adolescents viewed rape as a game, a rite of passage. One in six South African women are in abusive relationships. A staggering 21,000 cases of child rape were reported to police in the past year in South Africa. (Africa News, 2001)

Women's Reproductive Health Issues

About 15 percent of all pregnant women have developed a potentially life threatening complication which required professional treatment. And Aids, abortions, obstetric hemorrhage, heart disease and complications of hypertension in pregnancy were the main causes of maternal deaths last year according to the Health Minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang. Presently, the overall rate of maternal deaths in South Africa is at least 150 per 100,000 live births. However, some estimates would put it as high as 260 per 100,000 live births. Although complications arising from abortions continue to be prominent, there has been a decline in this number over the past three years. This drop in the figures was a result of increased access to safe termination of pregnancy.

More than four years ago, the health department formed the 24-member committee to investigate every maternal death, including deaths taking place during pregnancy, childbirth or within six weeks of confinement. Maternal mortality or the 'neglected tragedy' is still the leading cause of deaths among women of reproductive age in all developing countries. For every maternal death, another 30 women suffer severe illness during pregnancy or child birth.

One in four pregnant women in South Africa is infected with the Aids virus and one person in nine in the population as a whole is estimated to be HIV-positive, according to government figures. Of a population of 42 million, 4.7 million are now estimated either to be HIV -positive or already suffering from Aids. The total represents a 12 per cent rise on the previous year. In the eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal, the infection rate was greater than one in every three people - 36.2 percent last year, up from 32.5 per cent the previous year. The Development Bank of Southern Africa stated that South Africa's population would begin to contract by 2016 when the number of deaths from Aids would exceed births. Yet, the new figures show that HIV infection rates have dropped in women under the age of 20 and women over 35. This appears to indicate that recent education campaigns on sexual behavior are beginning to have an impact. (The Independent, London)

Last month over 9,000 women visited the research centers and 6,400 of these had opted to be counseled and tested for HIV/AIDS. The government has drawn widespread criticism for not supplying anti-retroviral drugs to those infected. A lawsuit has been field which aims to force the government to give the drug Nevirapine to all HIV-positive pregnant women to reduce their chances of passing the virus to their babies. Nearly 200 South African babies were born with HIV/AIDS every day, and studies showed that Nevirapine could reduce that number by nearly 50 percent. Every day the government delays, providing the drugs will cost lives and those are lives they could have saved.


Government and the private sector needed to re-evaluate their empowerment initiatives in order to facilitate the mobilisation of 47% of Africans in highly skilled jobs. The majority of Africans were unemployed compared with their white counterparts. Many women have been left unemployed as a result of government's rationalisation process, particularly in the agriculture and banking sectors. The two sectors required highly skilled workers, of which women were a minority. Providing a breakdown of unemployment statistics, 52% of black women were unemployed in comparison to only 5% of white women. Research commissioned by the Gender Commission showed a high level of racial and gender discrepancies in employment practises.

The Employment Equity Act passed in 1998 was a major step towards improving the position of women in society, companies had been slow to respond. However, affirmative action and employment equity has had virtually no effect on the face of the CEs' offices of SA - white men still fill more than nine out of 10 top positions in local companies, according to Deloitte & Touche Human Capital Corporation's benchmark annual research on executive remuneration.

White men fill 93% of CE posts, compared with 95% in 1998. Of the more than 1000 organisations polled, one has a female CE, says the latest SA Guide to Executive Remuneration and Reward, which analyses the remuneration packages of more than 4000 senior executives at SA companies nationwide, employing more than 2-million people. Executive remuneration increases still outstrip those for lower posts and inflation. Average executive salary increases for 2000-01 were recorded at 9,7% for basic salaries and 10% for total guaranteed packages, and executive increases for the 2001-02 period are expected to range between 8,5% and 11,5%.

In dollar terms, SA's executives earn less than one fifth of the amount taken home by their US counterparts, who are the world's biggest earners. Even after purchasing power parity adaptations, their packages amount to less than half (42%) of their US peers' pay. This vast difference in pay is one of the major causes of the brain drain - emigration accounts for 13% of executive turnover, with half leaving for better employment opportunities overseas, compared with 27% who cited crime and violence as causes for their moves.

Although white males constitute 13% of SA's total workforce, they held 52% of the senior positions in private companies. According to recent labor department statistics on employment equity at large companies in the country, 32% of employees at the management level were black; 30% were female, and 0,72% were employees with disabilities. Black men made up 39% of the total workforce at these large companies, but only 11% of the management was comprised of black men. Black men and black women have almost equal representation in management, at 11%. For the remaining race groups, men have a much higher representation in management than women (Business Day, 2001)

Additionally, women earn 50c on the average to every rand that a man earns. In IT professions, it is somewhat higher. Some data exist on gender differences in IT salaries in South Africa. Of the few IT employee respondents to the SAITIS survey who shared salary information, male and female respondents indicated a pay disparity in their average salaries. The average annual salary for females was R103,793 ($13,711) compared to R130,671 ($17,261) for males.

While the country has adopted gender equity policies, business in South Africa has shown little interest in promoting gender equality. Forty-seven percent of companies in the country do not have a gender-promotion policy and 50% say they employ people who can do the job, which all shows a complete lack of [gender] understanding. Forty-nine percent of women are in apprentice positions compared to 41% of men, while less than 41% of companies had no sexual harassment policy and only 4% were in the process of formulating one. (Africa News, 2001)

South Africa and IT

According to the ILO, in South Africa, a tripartite training authority in the ICT sector specifically was set up in 2000. Addressing the skills shortage has resulted in new ways in which training is delivered and new deliverers of that training. Distance-learning is a valuable substitute for classroom instruction. For example, multinational enterprises are increasingly using distance learning applications for their staff worldwide: in an environment of rapid change, lifelong learning has become critical to corporate success, as well as to the employability of workers. To remedy a worldwide shortage of skills in ICT makes good economic sense and will require both an innovative new range of public/private partnerships as well as investments of human and financial resources.

According to AED(2000), within this context, women in South Africa are underrepresented in the IT workplace, mirroring the current reality for women across the globe. The recent Survey of the IT Industry and Related Jobs and Skills in South Africa provides an indication of women’s standing in the country’s IT labor market. Most IT jobs and IT activity are centered in the Western Cape and Gauteng Provinces. Overall, women make up between 26-28% of IT employees. The majority of women are employed in IT Education, Training and Development (39.2%), Sales/Marketing (36.08%), and End User Computing (36.41%). AED (2000) also reported Women make up only 18.65% of data communications and networking jobs, the third lowest representation in IT jobs, next to hardware and computer architecture (13.68%) and IS and IT management (18.42%). It is interesting to note that the employment, while low, is proportionately higher than the numbers of women in the engineering faculty. Therefore, it is likely that women are coming into these jobs from non-engineering backgrounds. The table also demonstrates how the digital divide in South Africa has as much to do with race as it does with gender. Whites clearly dominate IT jobs in all categories.


TABLE 1: IT Skills Domains by Race and Gender (%)

IT Domain








Computer Operations








Data Communications & Networking








End User Computing








Hardware & Computer Architecture








IS and IT management








IT Education, Training, & Development








Information Technology Sales & Marketing
















Systems Development

















Source: SAITIS Jobs and Skills Scan, 1999

IT Job Programs for Women

South Africa is abundant with NGOs and community-based organizations (CBOs) conducting education and job training programs for women and girls. The Women’ s NET directory of women’s organizations  provides an extensive list of organizations with contact information and description of activities.

According to AED (2000), while some of these provide word-processing, web design, or Internet training to women, the majority of IT and gender initiatives led by NGOs are devoted to promoting women’s use of the Internet as a communication, advocacy and networking tool. WomensNET, referred to above, is a web portal that serves as a resource base for information on women and IT in South Africa. Women'sNet currently houses news on global women’s development events, data and research on the status of women, and offers a forum for exchanging information and networking. Planned activities include providing Internet training for women and developing regional technical support centers in South Africa’s nine provinces with assistance from UNDP Info21.