June 18, 2024

Gender transformation in South Africa an example to the world, but more must be done

4 min read

South Africa dedicates the month of August to honouring the fearless women who stood against the brutal pass laws in 1956, marking it as Women’s Month. This period not only pays tribute to the brave pioneers of gender equality but also highlights the ongoing struggles that modern South African women face.

Despite considerable strides toward achieving equality, issues such as gender-based violence, economic disparity, health inequities and socio-political challenges pose significant hurdles.

However, South Africa is emerging as a beacon of hope toward achieving gender equality; according to the latest Global Gender Gap Report released by the World Economic Forum for 2023, South Africa registered the most significant improvement in 2023 with a five percentage points + improvement score from 2022.

But despite the country’s notable achievement compared to its global counterparts, it is also clear that much work remains to be done. 

Dr Linda Meyer, management expert and managing director of The Independent Institute of Education’Rosebank College, says addressing enduring societal norms, enhancing the access and quality of healthcare for all women, and promoting female representation in emerging sectors of the economy are among the key areas that still require further focus and improvement in South Africa.

“While the path to total gender parity is undoubtedly steep and fraught with challenges, South Africa’s recent improvements illuminate a hopeful future. The country’s relentless drive to advance gender equality is rewriting its narrative and setting a laudable precedent for the rest of the African continent and the world,” she says.

The Global Gender Gap Index, initially established by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in 2006, was conceived to measure progress in achieving gender equality and to facilitate a comparative analysis of gender disparities across four key dimensions: economic participation, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment.

The primary objective of this annual report is to provide a consistent metric for evaluating long-term advancements toward gender parity. Adhering to the methodology introduced in 2006, the index and its ensuing analysis are primarily concerned with assessing and benchmarking equality between females and males across different countries and regions.

The degree of advancement toward gender parity, denoted as the parity score, is computed as the ratio of the value of each indicator for women to that of men. A parity score of 1 symbolises complete equality. The gender gap, therefore, represents the deviation from this state of perfect parity. In the 2023 Global Gender Gap rankings, South Africa ranked 20th out of 146 countries, with a score of .787 / 1. Iceland, Norway, and Finland clinched the top three positions, with African countries Namibia (8th place) and Rwanda (12th place) ranking ahead of South Africa. Algeria, Chad and Afghanistan ranked in the last three positions. 

“The evaluation performed in this report is centred on analysing gender disparities between females and males across economic, educational, health and political outcomes, predicated on the available data,” explains Dr Meyer.

“South Africa has recorded significant progress in this year’s report, reflecting the country’s steadfast commitment to narrowing the gender gap. This trend should provide a sense of optimism within the country and should serve as an inspiration and a model for the broader African region and the international community.”

The annual WEF report rigorously evaluates 146 countries across four critical dimensions to provide an extensive picture of gender equality worldwide. Compared to last year’s edition, South Africa has witnessed a considerable improvement in rankings. 

“A closer look at South Africa’s performance reveals that the country’s rankings reflect the economic disenfranchisement that women still face in Economic Participation and Opportunity,” says Dr Meyer. South Africa ranked 81st out of 146 countries, scoring .676 / 1.

“The South African government has enacted robust policies to increase women’s participation in the workforce and bridge the gender pay gap. As a result, the nation has seen a rise in the number of women contributing to the labour force and a marked decrease in the gender wage gap. These developments indicate South Africa’s resolute drive toward establishing gender parity.”

Regarding Political Empowerment, South Africa has consistently grown in the number of women taking on leadership and decision-making roles. This rise in female representation in politics is a step in the right direction, signifying that women are not just on the receiving end of empowerment initiatives, but are active contributors to shaping policy and making critical decisions at the highest level, says Dr Meyer. South Africa ranked 13th out of 146 countries, scoring .497 / 1 in this category.

South Africa also remained steadfast in maintaining its near parity in Educational Attainment, continuing the promising trend from the previous year, ranked 43rd out of 146 countries, with a score of .998 / 1. The country has sustained strong performance in the Health and Survival category, ranked 29th out of 146 countries, with a score of .998 / 1, even though it grapples with public health challenges such as the HIV/Aids crisis, which disproportionately affects women.

“The Global Gender Gap Report 2023 is a crucial reminder of the global imperative for achieving gender parity,” Dr Meyer says. “The journey to gender equality is long and demanding, and achieving this goal requires a sustained and collective effort from all nations. It is heartening that countries like South Africa are making significant strides forward and are invaluable players in this global pursuit of equity and setting an example for the rest of the world.”

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