'We need to do away with male clubs at work': Ramaphosa at Women's Economic Assembly

06 October 2021 - 17:05
President Cyril Ramaphosa at the launch of the Women's Economic Assembly, where he told delegates SA has not fundamentally transformed patterns of ownership, control and benefit.
President Cyril Ramaphosa at the launch of the Women's Economic Assembly, where he told delegates SA has not fundamentally transformed patterns of ownership, control and benefit.
Image: Masi Losi

To reshape the economy to include and empower women, President Cyril Ramaphosa says, he wants to see an increase in the number of women-owned enterprises.

“For as long as women shoulder the greatest burden of poverty, for as long as they are more likely to be unemployed, for as long as they are paid less than their male counterparts, for as long as they struggle to start businesses, for as long as they face discrimination in the workplace, for as long as women confront these and other challenges, our vision of an equal and just society will remain elusive,” he said.  

Ramaphosa was speaking during the launch of the Women's Economic Assembly (Wecona) formed by a partnership between the government, the private sector, women's organisations and businesswomen in Sandton, Johannesburg, on Wednesday.

The first-of-its-kind event was attended by minister in the presidency for women Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, chairperson of the assembly Futhi Mtoba, Gauteng MEC for economic development Parks Tau, business mogul Basetsana Kumalo and former first lady Zanele Mbeki.

Ramaphosa said the assembly aims to facilitate the participation of women-owned businesses in core areas of the economy. The initiative emphasises the participation of women-owned enterprises in industry supply and value chains to foster sustainable economic development.

Among the six targets he wants to be met to empower women are the establishment an ecosystem of support for female business owners and increased employment of women and youth, with set targets.

“There are still companies where there are all-male clubs, we need to do away with that,” he said.

The president said he wants the country to rebuild township and rural economies in an inclusive manner, to create an enabling policy environment as well as to encourage similar commitments in related industries.

Ramaphosa said more needs to be done to support women. “When you empower a woman, you empower a nation, you empower her economically. [When] you empower her as a mother, she puts her family first. When you empower a man, he has other things in mind.”

Every government department, public institution and private company can and should implement mechanisms to fast-track preferential procurement for women-owned enterprises.
President Cyril Ramaphosa

While significant progress had been made in several areas, “we have not fundamentally transformed patterns of ownership, control and benefit in our economy”.

He said the empowerment of women was an integral part of efforts to achieve inclusive growth, create jobs and expand economic opportunities for all. This, he said, is a task that requires dedicated and unrelenting attention.

“In addition to being underrepresented in almost every part of the economy outside community, social services, domestic and informal work, women are virtually absent as owners in key industries like steel, energy, mining and agriculture,” he said.

The unemployment rate among women is nearly 37%, compared to 32% among men. In 2018, women’s median monthly earnings were 76% of those of men, he said.

“These disparities are not only the product of a profoundly unbalanced economy, they also arise from — and contribute to — gender inequality in society.”

He said 42% of children in SA live with only their mother, compared to 4% who live only with their father.

“The great divide in parental responsibility translates into a great divide in economic opportunity and circumstance. It is equally disturbing that of the reasons given by children aged seven to 18 for not attending school, 17% of females cited family commitments while only 0.3% of males did.”

It was therefore abundantly clear, he said, that the economic empowerment of women is not a technical exercise, achieved merely by improving policy and introducing progressive programmes.

“It is a process of fundamental social transformation, in which every institution, every sector and every citizen must be involved. There is another reason this initiative is so vitally important.”

The economic empowerment of women was one of the pillars of the national strategic plan against gender-based violence and femicide, he said.

“By improving the economic circumstances of women, we are reducing their vulnerability to abuse and violence. By being less economically dependent on male partners, women have a better chance of leaving an abusive relationship.

“That is why a significant portion of the R21bn that national government departments have allocated to implementing the National Strategic Plan over the next few years is dedicated to economic empowerment programmes.”

Ramaphosa said there was huge unrealised potential in the design of industry value and supply chains and preferential procurement to empower women. 

“Every government department, public institution and private company can and should implement mechanisms to fast-track preferential procurement for women-owned enterprises.”

His office, working with government, has mapped out a strategy to achieve 40% preferential procurement in the public sector. Now, he said, public procurement accounts for 9% of GDP, which is about R500bn annually. Of this amount, 12% went to women-owned enterprises in the first and second quarters of 2021.

“Government, working with industry, has started building the capability of women-owned businesses to submit proposals to provide goods and services in the public and private sectors.” 

He said as the government expands procurement opportunities for women, it will never be enough to answer the need.

“Business, as the key driver of economic growth and employment, needs to step forward. Business needs to deliberately and actively use industry value and supply chains as key tools for economic transformation.”

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