DA Women’s Day Debate

Safiyia Stanfley, MPL

DA Provincial Spokesperson on Education

We are currently in the last week of August, a month devoted solely to remembering the sacrifices and honouring the contribution of women to society. It reminds us that we cannot separate the women’s struggle from the achievement of democracy and equality.

However, in the past three weeks, we have seen that women are not always protected and that women’s rights are not always realised.

Gender-based violence remains endemic. Consider the fact that an average of three women die each day at the hands of their intimate partners. This means that 93 women will have died in Women’s Month alone. Legislation aimed at protecting women, such as existing laws against domestic violence and sexual abuse, are not implemented properly throughout the province. Women remain disempowered, with female-headed households still earning less and living in more poverty than their male counterparts.

And while female representation of parliamentarians has increased steadily since the 1994 democratic elections, the Twenty Year Review published earlier this year by the Presidency shows that only 38% of provincial senior managers are female.

What is clear from these facts is that we need to empower women. We must implement practical strategies and viable approaches to realising the rights of women on a daily basis. We must look to education, financial independence and social protection in society to ensure that women are truly empowered.

Education is the first step to the achievement of many goals. We must empower girls, through education, to become active participants in the South African economy. Not through a Pallo Jordan-type of education, but through the provision of quality education that makes it possible for any girl to enter the profession or trade of her choosing. South Africa’s latest Country Report on the Millennium Development Goals, published in 2013, show that access to education has already improved for our girls – as of 2011, 99.2% of girls have been enrolled in primary school education.

It is also welcoming to note that 96% of girls who start grade 1 reach the last grade of primary school and that 22% of girls go on to enrol themselves in tertiary education.

However, the Country Report on the Millennium Development Goals further show that only 72% of girls pass the Senior Certificate Examinations. What happens to the 28% who do not pass?  Having a matric certificate is a minimum requirement for the majority of jobs and opportunities available to our youth. We therefore need to focus on access to education of a high quality, so that our girls are empowered to take advantage of every opportunity.

The Country Report on the Millennium Development Goals show that, as of 2011, 25% of grade 9 girls are enrolled in Mathematics and 26% are enrolled in Science classes. While these figures are low, considering the current skills need of our economy, it is remarkable that we have more girls than boys taking Mathematics and Science. It is great that girls are empowering themselves by taking subjects that will allow them to be successful in fields where skills shortages are becoming critical.

Since our girls are interested in Mathematics and Science, let us ensure that the quality of education offered does not let them down.

The Trends in Mathematics and Science Study, an international benchmarking project, consistently places South Africa in the lowest possible percentile where the quality of mathematics and science education is concerned.

We also need to look at the drop-out and repetition rates, which are alarmingly high. Our completion rates do not measure up with our enrolment rates. As of 2012, for instance, 7% of students repeat a grade in their primary school education. The situation is worse in the secondary school sector, where the repetition rates for grades 10 and

11 are 21% and 18% respectively. These facts hardly indicate that our girls are being empowered with a quality education.

We can improve the quality of education offered to our girls by:

  • Firstly, ensuring that teacher qualifications are up to scratch. According to the Country Report on the Millennium Development Goals, approximately 97% of South African teachers are qualified to teach. We need to address the remaining 3%. We also need to look to the qualifications of all newly qualified teachers to ensure that they can provide proper education to our children.
  • Secondly, we need to reduce the learner-to-educator ratio. While the national norm is a learner-to-educator ratio of 31:1, this norm can vary greatly at district level. We need to adopt a policy approach that can address regional variations.
  • Thirdly, schools must be provided with the necessary infrastructure.

In this regard, it is welcoming that the provincial Department of Education is continuously embarking on infrastructure projects. The DA as the official opposition will be monitoring the progress of these projects to ensure that they are delivered on time, according to specifications and within the stipulated budget.

An overall improvement in the quality of our education system can only benefit our girls, who will grow up to become active participants in the knowledge-based economy envisioned by the provincial government.

And this brings me to my second point – we need to empower women to be financially independent. If we start to get it right at schools’

level, our girls will be able to follow their hearts into any profession or trade. They will be able to provide for themselves and their families. For now, however, too many of their mothers still need to be financially empowered. As it is, more than 20% of South African women earn less than R1000 a month. This is in comparison to the less than 10% of men who earn the same.

In the Northern Cape, we have a number of empowerment vehicles, such as the Mme Re Ka Thusa trust, which aim to improve the economic situations of women. In the recently tabled budget presentations from the departments, it was clear that provincial job creation projects had a clear focus on involving women.

Yet it is not clear that women are indeed benefitting from these opportunities – according to the 2014 Poverty Trends Report, the levels of poverty remain higher for households headed by women. The Report indicates that the poverty gap for female-headed households remains double as high as for male-headed households. The Presidency’s Twenty Year Review further shows that, as of 2014, female-headed households still earn less than 50% of male-headed households.

The status quo is one of female disempowerment. Clearly, this situation needs to be eradicated through the creation of dignified jobs at a living wage. We must see to it that the principle of equal pay for equal work is strictly adhered to and that women are giving equal access to senior management posts.

Aside from education and economic empowerment, we must also look to the social protection of women. The DA welcomes the draft bill from the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development through which credit bureaus will be required to track down child maintenance defaulters. It is indeed a welcome move to reduce the financial stress on single mothers.

Legislation aimed at protecting women must be implemented fully and efficiently. The delivery of justice through courts must be enhanced.

To ensure that our women can walk the streets, safe from fear or violence, the DA can suggest a few practical solutions:

  • The number of operational police officers must be increased to 250 000, with an emphasis on the recruitment of properly trained new members who are committed to serving their communities. The number of detectives must be increased to 31 500.
  • Sexual crimes must be combatted through a dedicated unit.
  • SAPS officers must be given training on the implementation of the Sexual Offences Act, the Domestic Violence Act and the Children’s Act.
  • A round-the-clock VictimLink service must be established. By calling a specific number, women who have been raped or assaulted would get immediate crisis support and police assistance.
  • Rape kits must be available at all police stations.

I want to remind the House in closing that the true empowerment of women still remains a goal to be achieved in our democracy. For as much work has been done to empower women, more work still remains.

I thank you.