Economic empowerment of women key to fighting GBVF
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By Phumla Williams
South Africa continues to intensify the fight against gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF), which President Cyril Ramaphosa once aptly described as the “second pandemic” after the equally devastating coronavirus.
However, despite having a world-acclaimed Constitution that affirms the right to safety for all people, the country still experiences horrendous crimes perpetrated against women and children.
The majority of the perpetrators are known by the victims. The 2021/22 second quarter crime statistics recently released by the Ministry of Police painted a gloomy picture, with almost 10 000 sexual violation crimes reported during that period. This is a 7% increase when compared with the same period in 2020/21. Women continue to have their right to life and safety violated.
South Africa again joined the rest of the world in November to mark the annual 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children campaign. For the past 23 years, the country has been taking part in this campaign to raise awareness against the violation of women and children.
As part of the 365 Days of Activism programme, the theme for this year’s 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children campaign appropriately moves us from just advocating awareness to getting all of us to be accountable. It enjoins us to personally participate in efforts to defeat the “second pandemic” that has the potential to tarnish our basic human rights track record.
One of the six pillars of the National Strategic Plan (NSP) on GBVF, which is premised on the equality of all gender groupings – including the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual community – focuses on prevention and rebuilding social cohesion. Studies that have been made tells us that a number of women stay in abusive relationships because of lack of financial independence.
The Health and Welfare Sector Education and Training Authority (HWSETA) has embarked on a project to provide economic support to women in rural areas. One of the beneficiaries is Ms Lelly Mntungwa, who was nominated in 2012 to drive a mentorship programme in Msinga in KwaZulu-Natal. This motivated her to start her own company using her own funds.
Her initial objective was to provide technical training to youth and women in the area who were involved in sewing businesses. In 2019, government – through the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs – donated 30 sewing machines to support Ms Mntungwa’s project to empower women economically.
The outcome of that was the establishment of the Msinga Clothing Factory. It has become one of the fastest growing factories within the Umzinyathi District in KwaZulu-Natal and currently employs 100 women.
Today the factory supplies the Exact clothing stores, Power Fashion stores, the District Department of Education, Inyathi Textile and Absa Group. Mr Price has also commissioned them to sew shirts, dresses and skirts. They have an indefinite contract to supply The Foschini Group.
Ms Mntungwa turned her dream of becoming financially independent into success, and used her skills and expertise to empower other women in the area.
The HWSETA currently supports about 19 co-operatives projects in rural areas across South Africa to enhance the skills of over 800 youth and women to be able to manufacture clothing and textiles for retail stores.
The Retail-Clothing, Textile, Footwear and Leather Master Plan focuses on growing the sector to create meaningful employment and promote socio-economic development. As part of this Master Plan, various retailers have committed to buying locally manufacturing goods to support small businesses and sustain employment.
While stakeholders in the sector have also committed to growing the market for local producers, government has since directed that a certain percentage of procurement for major infrastructure projects should be allocated to businesses owned by women and youth.
Another project that has benefited women-owned companies is the R640-million Musina Ring Road project in Limpopo.
One may not have the full figures of the whole of government, but I can confirm that in the last six months R51m of GCIS expenditure went to women-owned businesses.
Sanral, as the lead department in the Musina Ring Road project, indicated that about R64m of that project was allocated to women-owned businesses.
The Msinga Clothing Factory is undoubtedly contributing immensely in creating financial independence for the women. However, the economic empowerment of women can only yield success if all parties join hands in supporting women-owned companies. It is about both government and the private sector deliberately sourcing business from women-owned companies.
Government through the SETAs training and financial support projects like those of Ms Mntungwa, become a success only when private sector equally reciprocate in their resolve to support women-led businesses and consumers supporting these businesses.
We should commend companies that continue to support women-owned companies such as the Msinga Clothing Factory. As we reflect on our accountability in the fight against GBVF, we should remind ourselves that a financially independent woman is unlikely to stay in an abusive relationship. She will have the financial means to support herself without depending on the abuser.
Meanwhile, another intervention to tackle GBVF is to do the right thing by teaching our boy children at home that girls too have equal rights as them, and therefore should be treated with respect and dignity. Charity begins at home by inculcating the sense of accountability in our sons to prepare them to grow into responsible adults who will not abuse women and children.
It is also about employers seeing women power within their workforce as a critical resource to be recognised and allowed to thrive within the company. Such interventions, would surely begin to make a dent in our resolve to make South Africa safe for women and children.
Support to women-owned businesses contributes towards growing the economy and creates more employment opportunities.
* Williams is GCIS Director-General and Government Spokesperson
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.