This is What Millennial Women Want to Hear at SONA 2018

Have your voice – and your issues – heard

The State of The Nation Address (SONA) is finally going down tonight, and the nation is waiting for an update on our most pressing issues. And, for the first time, incoming president Cyril Ramaphosa will be doing the talking. It’s going to be a biggie.

Hold up: what is SONA?

SONA happens once a year as an opportunity for the President to give Parliament and us a broad glance as to the station of the nation, big-picture strategy for moving forwards, a blueprint of priorities, objectives, budgets, and how the government plans to execute it all. It’s also a chance for the opposition parties to ask questions around pressing national issues, and to challenge the President via a platform that’s screened across SA.

‘Violence against women is still one of the largest dangers we face – and not enough has been done’

Why does it affect me?

It’s one thing to be included as constituents, but it’s another thing to feel like your voice is really being heard and your issues brought to the fore. So what are the problems facing South African Millennial women?

We reached out to the women of Parliament to weigh in on what we can expect Cyril Ramaphosa, who was elected President at a sitting in the National Assembly on Thursday, to address on the issues affecting us the most.

1 Gender-based violence (GBV)

According to Stats SA and the South African Medical Research Council, violence against women is still one of the largest dangers we face – and not enough has been done by the government to stamp it out. One in five women has experienced violence at the hand of a partner, with the Eastern Cape reporting the highest rate of physical abuse. And over six percent of women over 18 surveyed have experienced sexual violence. The survey also showed that among the women who had experienced violence, vulnerable women in the lowest income bracket, with little to no education, are most at risk.

‘Pay inequality and under-representation in decision-making positions is inexcusable’ – DA MP Terri Stander

What we want to hear from the President

DA MP Terri Stander told us: SONA must not merely comment on gender-based violence, but specifically outline how Government plans to keep women safe. It should also highlight that women face financial abuse. Pay inequality and under-representation in decision-making positions is inexcusable, and excludes women from fully participating in the economy. The public and private sectors must be called upon to reform and ensure gender equality.’

Honourable Stander goes on to say that it isn’t enough for us to talk about GBV, we need to see perpetrators of violence against women held fully accountable. ‘Women are legally and morally obligated to report any experienced or witnessed incident of murder, assault, rape and harassment. We can only protect our mothers, sisters and daughters if victims find support when these criminals are exposed and when they start to suffer real consequences.’

Enough is enough. Movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp are getting screen time abroad, but South Africa needs to start shifting the paradigm and denouncing gender-based violence.

‘Women do not choose to have their periods and should not be discriminated against for having them’ – Samuel Shapiro, senior researcher at Equal Education (EE)

2 Tampon tax

One-third of South African young women miss school during their menstrual cycle because they cannot afford or get access to appropriate sanitary care. Sanitary products aren’t subsidised by the government like condoms – but they should be.

It’s another way that we stigmatise women’s bodies by creating social barriers that see more than three-million young women miss school during their menstrual cycle.

‘Women do not choose to have their periods and should not be discriminated against for having them,’ says Samuel Shapiro, a senior researcher at the activist organisation Equal Education (EE). ‘The issues of feminine hygiene should be taken seriously by everyone,’ he adds.

‘Remove VAT from basic necessities like tampons and sanitary pads’

Because sanitary products are taxed like luxury items (as if having a period is a luxury, SMH), accessing adequate sanitary products is available only to the wealthy. What can we do about it? Value Added Tax (VAT) is the 14% charge on almost all products in SA. This is the way government collects a universal tax revenue, no matter who you are. Remove this from basic necessities like tampons and sanitary pads, and you alleviate the consumer from 14% of the cost of the product.

The health risks for makeshift sanitary products, such as rags, toilet paper, newspapers and leaves are high. ‘This raises major concerns around health, productivity, dignity and the ability to function as an active and respected member of society,’ says Shapiro.

In 2011, Jacob Zuma announced plans to provide free sanitary pads to vulnerable women living in poverty in an effort to improve reproductive healthcare conditions. Seven years down the line and the dream of creating access to sanitary healthcare has yet to be realised.

‘If not having sanitary towels makes girls not go to school, it should be your primary concern’ – ANC MP Patricia Chueu

What we want to hear from the President

Shapiro suggests that for real transformation to happen, everyone from private to public sectors needs to ‘shift their priorities from political rhetoric and public relations to policy.’

Not only do we need a policy to combat tampon tax and protect women financially and socially, Shapiro says government also needs to focus on menstrual education and provide adequate facilities for women.

In 2016, the Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on women lobbied for the availability of sanitary products to women and girls in school across the country. The Members of Parliament in the committee critiques the expense of sanitary products, arguing that the Department of Trade and Industry introduce a zero VAT rating sanitary products. ‘Sanitary pads are not only for health purposes but are going to be an enabler for girls who are unable to buy the pads,’ said ANC MP Patricia Chueu. ‘So, it’s not only for health purposes. You have to enable that child to go to school every day because the concern is that women are illiterate. If not having sanitary towels makes girls not go to school, it should be your primary concern.’

‘Why are products for women so expensive?’

Inkatha Freedom Party’s Liezl van der Merwe is credited as the first MP to bring the conversation of tampon tax to the fore. ‘The most appropriate measure would be lobbying the government or the Department of Health to ensure that women who can’t afford sanitary pads are able to access them through a subsidy,’ she explains. ‘The Department of Health provides condoms; they make lots of budget available for that. Shouldn’t we lobby the Department of Health to ensure they are able to access sanitary towels, or at least they are subsidised?’

An official from the Department of Women, Mmabatho Ramagoshi, said the conversation around tampon tax should start with South Africa questioning gender roles and the commodification of women’s bodies. Ramagoshi says South Africans should lead the topic by asking, ‘Why are products for women so expensive, including soaps, perfumes and sanitary towels?’

‘Among the nine top South African universities, just one has a female vice-chancellor’

4 Education

According to adult education specialist Jackie Carroll: ‘UN Women reports that increasing women’s and girls’ education contributes to higher economic growth, and international evidence shows that if women control a portion of the household income, spending changes in ways that benefit children.’

At the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), male academics outnumber females by almost three to one. This is despite the fact that the university is turning out around 9 000 more female graduates than male each year. UCT also produces more female graduates than male, yet presented figures to the commission late last year to the effect that 74% of full professors at the university were male. Things are more equitable down the academic food chain, however, with 68% of lecturers being female.

‘Women can’t shift the narrative if we’re not included’

Among the nine top South African universities, just one – the University of Pretoria – has a female vice-chancellor who, as of 2014, was earning less than her male counterparts.

Something’s got to change if we want to see women as thought leaders with direct influence on shaping policy and perception as vice-chancellors, professors and academics. Women can’t shift the narrative if we’re not included in the first place.

What we want to hear from the President

We need to know how gender gaps are being closed: how are women being given access to funding for studies and training, and being protected from the gender pay gap, through policy and legislation? How are we ensuring that all girls can go to school, and that it’s safe for them not just to get to school, but to be at school during the day?

‘The South African gender pay gap is estimated to be between 15% and 17%’

There’s also still the crisis of free or affordable higher-education fees that Zuma failed to implement even after promises that fees would fall. Will Ramaphosa step up? We’re waiting to see.

3 Gender pay gap

According to the Women in the Workplace research programme at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), the South African gender pay gap is estimated to be between 15% and 17%. This means that a woman would need to work two months more than a man to earn the equivalent salary that he’d earn in a year.

‘It takes women 10 more years to earn a man’s pay. If we don’t close the gender wage gap, the typical 20-year-old woman starting full-time work today stands to lose R5-million over a 40-year career compared to her male counterpart,’ said The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER).

‘Black women would have to work to age 83 to equal the pay of their male counterparts’

‘When a man retires at age 60, a woman would have to work 10 more years, to age 70, to make up the difference and close this lifetime wage gap. For black women, the lifetime wage gap over a 40-year career totals R10-million. As a result, black women would have to work to age 83 to equal the pay of their male counterparts.’

Women make up the bulk of the informal economy. An estimated two-thirds of jobs that pay less than R150 an hour are occupied by women. Minister for Water and Sanitation Nomvula Mokonyane wrote that this is connected with women’s perceived worth and gender inequality.

South Africa is ranked 19 in a new global index report on gender inequality released by the World Economic Forum (WEF). The report finds that while South Africa has improved its share of women legislators, senior officials and managers, the gender wage gap has increased – this is bad news.

‘Men, women, different race groups and those with disabilities should not be earning differently for the same work’

The NBER research also found that progress in pay parity has been slower among women in highly skilled professions than those in professions that don’t require a college or graduate degree. The paper notes this may be because women in high-paying, demanding jobs are more harshly penalised for time spent away from the office and clients – which makes being a working mom even more challenging.

‘South Africa will continue to pay the economic price for gender inequality if nothing is done to resolve this issue,’ says International Labour Organisation senior gender specialist Mwila Chigaga.

‘For every R1 150 a woman earns, a man earns R2 280’

In South Africa, the Employment Equity Act sets out non-discrimination legislation, the principle of equal pay for equal value. Men, women, different race groups and those with disabilities should not be earning differently for the same work.

Christelle Colman, CEO of Europ Assistance South Africa, reported on the lack of female CEOs in South Africa. Based on a 2016 Accenture study, she reported that for every R1 150 a woman earns, a man earns R2 280. Colman points out that it starts from the top down if we want to see a difference, but that ‘it certainly seems like they are simply not doing it’.

The benefit of having gender equality in the workplace? The more gender diverse a company is, the better it performs. According to a 2015 McKinsey & Company Report, ‘Why Diversity Matters’, a gender-diverse company performs about 15% better than companies that aren’t as diverse.

What we want to hear from the President

We want to know what the penalties are for companies not paying women fairly, and we want to see these penalties being enforced. We also want to see sexual-assault and harassment cases in the workplace taken more seriously – and the government getting involved in prioritising this. That starts by looking inward, and rooting out the MPs and ministers who themselves have been accused of sexual assault, harassment and gender-based discrimination.

‘We want to hear how government plans to create economic opportunities for women’

Elsabe Ntlangwini of the EFF says that if previous years are anything to go by, the President needs to make more of an effort to focus on addressing issues affecting women – the gender pay gap included.

‘There should be a women’s desk in every department’ – Honourable Ntlangwini

‘In previous years, whether it be the Budget Speech or SONA, most don’t address women’s issues head-on. What we should expect and what we want to hear is how Government plans to create economic opportunities for women. Women can open more market opportunities for the economy but Government isn’t focusing on that. For instance, the Department of Women needs to be aligned to all departments. There should be a women’s desk in every department. What we’ve seen in the Ministry of Women is that they don’t address any issues; we haven’t seen them actively on the ground in all spheres of Government,’ says Honourable Ntlangwini.

‘A study found that women are at a high risk of rape for 15 minutes as they walk to and from toilets’

4 Water and sanitation

In South Africa alone, women collectively walk the equivalent distance of 16 times to the moon and back every day just to collect and transport the water their families and communities need to survive.

An earlier study by Yale University found that women in informal settlements around Khayelitsha are at high risk of rape for 15 minutes of every single day of their lives as they walk to and from toilets.

The study also found that the cost associated with these ‘toilet travel’ sexual assaults in Khayelitsha was about R459-million a year, including medical expenses‚ lost earnings‚ legal proceedings and other factors. That’s to say nothing of the psychological and emotional cost to a victim.

‘Unequal power relations relegate women and girls to being the “bearers of water”,’ said Pregs Govender – the South African Human Rights Commission Deputy Chairperson – in the SAHRC water and sanitation report.

‘Water is deeply tied to the patriarchy’

Talking about the humiliation many women experience when having to use low drops due to a lack of private toilets, Govender wrote that policy reflects who has the privilege in society: ‘Who is valued and who is not is reflected in decisions by both DA and ANC municipalities to build unenclosed toilets in open public spaces.’ And as the South African Human Rights Commission wrote in their 2014 report on gender equality and access to water, water is deeply tied to the patriarchy.

The General Household Survey 2015 found that 40% of respondents in the Western Cape felt at risk of assault when visiting the toilet and that 37% felt their health was at risk. This was brought into focus with the gruesome murder of 19-year-old Sinoxolo Mafevuka in a communal toilet in Khayelitsha, which resulted in the City of Cape Town being taken to court by The Social Justice Coalition for failing to respect ‘the right of access to sanitation of poor, black and marginalised residents of informal settlements’.

Nationally, about one-quarter of households said the toilets had poor lighting and inadequate hygiene, while 18,2% felt their physical safety was threatened when using the toilet in shared facilities.

What we want to hear from the President

In last year’s SONA address, Zuma made a brief mention on water and sanitation, and how the government plans on increasing water access: ‘Government is working hard to ensure reliable bulk water supply in the various areas of the country to support economic growth while increasing access to vulnerable and rural municipalities… We call upon municipalities to support the War on Leaks programme,’ said Zuma in his address.

‘We want to know the progress on the Women in Water Mentorship Programme’

What he didn’t mention is how Government plans on addressing gender inequality when it comes to dynamics involving water and safe sanitation facilities. And we certainly haven’t seen enough change across the country since the last SONA.

We want to know the progress on the Women in Water Mentorship Programme (established by Government in 2016 to help combat some of these issues), and what Government plans to do to empower women after the programme has run its course next year.

Stay tuned to see if your issues are being heard this SONA.

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