Not only do women experience a higher rate of unemployment compared to men, but women also make up about two of every three discouraged work seekers. The recent economic crisis has also disproportionately affected women, with the number of females who are no longer economically active rising sharply between 2008 and 2009.
South Africa’s long running problem of structural unemployment affects African women in particular. While there are no current composite statistics showing unemployment by race and gender, official data published two years ago indicated that by September 2007, the rate of unemployment among black African women was 31 per cent, while for those classified as coloureds, Indians and whites, it was respectively 21 per cent, 11 per cent, and 4.5 per cent. This means that for every one white woman without a job in South Africa, there were at least seven unemployed black African women.
While historically, the South African labour market excluded women from almost completely from participating in the economy, since 1995, slightly over two million women have found employment. A report published by the Department of Labour (DOL) a few years ago showed that the rate of women’s participation in the labour market has been significantly higher when compared with that of men
However, these statistics can be misleading because most women workers have been absorbed in the fast growing services sector, informal work and private households. To illustrate the point, between 2004 and 2007 when the South African economy was again growing at its fastest pace since the 1970s, the number of women working in the informal sector rose by a dramatic 105,000 to 1.1 million. On the other hand, the number of men working in this sector rose by only 15,000 to 1.3 million.
Despite growing numbers of women working, gender equality is still far from being realised in the workplace. Twelve years since the passing of employment equity legislation and affirmative action measures, women continue to be seriously under-represented in the management and skilled trade categories. Women make up only 23 per cent of all employers and a mere 30 per cent of all managers in the workplace. On the other hand, almost 97 per cent of all domestic workers in South Africa are women.