As we reflect on Women’s Day, it is essential to acknowledge women’s contribution to society, the economy and unpaid care work – raising children, families and communities. Najwa Allie-Edries, who heads up the programme management office at the Jobs Fund, weighs in on the matter.
Despite their massive contribution honoured on this Women’s Day, women continue to face considerable challenges. They are still considered a vulnerable group due to gender discrimination in the workplace, violence against them, and lack of access to education.
The National Development Plan states, “Despite significant progress, our country remains divided, with opportunity still shaped by the legacy of apartheid. In particular, young people and women are denied the opportunities to lead the lives that they desire. Our Constitution requires of us to tackle these challenges.”
In particular, one of the more significant challenges is the lack of meaningful employment opportunities and the ability to earn a decent income.
Through the National Treasury, the Jobs Fund helps tackle the country’s unemployment crisis by leveraging public-private partnerships to create sustainable jobs.
At 32.6%, South Africa has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world. Amongst women, this rate increases to 34%. This is why the Jobs Fund focuses on women and youth in particular, with these groups making up the majority of project beneficiaries. To date, the fund has contracted 146 projects that have created more than 280 000 jobs, 58% of which are filled by women.
Who really calls the shots on Women’s Day?
The impact of inequality in access to resources is not just a South African or African challenge but a global one with implications at an individual, family, community, national and international level.
Evidence from various studies testify to the range of economic and positive social impact generated by improvements in women’s access to and control over resources and increased opportunities.
Despite this, women remain absent from crucial decision-making forums that shape the allocation of economic and financial resources and opportunities, further perpetuating gender inequality. Having more women in decision-making positions can contribute to more inclusive workplace cultures.
Including more women at all levels of the labour market is an economic and social imperative. Entrepreneurship is recognised as an essential driver of economic development and growth and a potential vehicle for women empowerment. Yet again, women remain under-represented as entrepreneurs.
The Jobs Fund is actively involved in empowering women with the skills they need to enter the labour force or grow their businesses. This has resulted in job creation, poverty reduction, healthier families, more stable communities and a significantly increased GDP per capita.
An example of this is the Jobs Fund and SaveAct Trust partnership. Through this partnership, women in rural KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Free State and the Northern Cape leverage their stokvel savings to establish farming enterprises.
A digital ecosystem assisting 10 000 stokvel members in managing, monitoring, and effectively deploying their savings, preferably investing in new enterprise activity, is being developed.
Nearly 200 participants will be chosen to become part of the contract grower programme, supported by signed third-party contracts to farm and sell their produce.
Although farming activity was largely unaffected by the various lockdown levels brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, recruitment and training were adversely impacted. While the world embraced the digital wave that has made learning and working remotely the norm, access to technology for these women living in rural communities is still challenging.
Another Jobs Fund-supported initiative that focuses on women is the SmartStart Early Learning Programme. This partnership is a powerful catalyst for change in South Africa’s Early Childhood Development (ECD) sector.
It is estimated that only 40% of children in South Africa have access to ECD, yet it has been shown as one of the most powerful investments in human development that a government and society can make.
The Jobs Fund-SmartStart initiative recruits and supports women and youth to establish and operate early childhood development microenterprises; it is envisaged that more than 3 500 enterprises will be established over the next few years.
The women are provided with training, operating licenses, ECD material and mentorship to support the establishment of the early childhood development sites.
Harsher lockdown restrictions, which resulted in school closures, had left these microenterprises unable to admit children and generate revenue for a period of time. Recognising the need to assist its projects to absorb the economic shock of the pandemic, the Jobs Fund approved over R200 million in funding for Covid-19 support to help more than 20 projects, one of which was the SmartStart Early Learning Franchisee Development project.
The qualifying SmartStart ECD centre owners were provided with relief vouchers to secure essentials during this challenging period.
ECD centres to the rescue
Looking forward at our post-Covid society, the services of the ECD centres will become even more critical in the underserved communities in which they operate.
The reality is that the pandemic has negatively impacted families’ ability to enrol their children in the centres since they have either lost their incomes in full or partially, leaving them unable to afford fees.
As part of the Jobs Fund- SmartStart programme, ECD centres that meet the selection criteria are eligible to receive additional working capital for operating costs through stipends over nine months.
With this stipend, the ECD centres can admit children whose parents face financial difficulty and cannot pay the full centre fees, enabling them to continue to access these quality early learning interventions that provide them with the learning foundations for their future development.
Women are catalysts of positive change in society; they are a force for social stability and inclusive development. When women do better, economies do better.
- Najwah Allie-Edries heads up the programme management office of the National Treasury’s R9-billion Jobs Fund. Her thought leader piece is part of Food For Mzansi’s special Women’s Day coverage.