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Women Empowerment – Consistency, Impact, and Measure are key

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Thought Leadership, by Charmaine Mabuza, CEO ITHUBA

The Nation has recently celebrated Women’s month, a custom in South Africa since more than 20 000 incredible women made history in 1956.

The annual national women’s month propels the nation to revisit abandoned conversations relating to the advancement and the protection of women. However, for the women themselves, the battle of fighting for their rightful position in the economy is persistent throughout the year.

There is a great need to examine initiatives and policies that have been introduced in the name of supporting women. While it is necessary to hold government accountable, corporate citizens must interrogate their motive behind women empowerment initiatives. Are we looking beyond compliance and focusing on impact and sustainability?

As an organisation, we have had to ask ourselves such questions. The answer, which advises our approach, lies in the scientific facts regarding the progression of women in our country, and on our core values as a business.

The Employment Equity Act, No 55 of 1998 was introduced as the law that promotes equity in the workplace, the law that protects from unfair treatment and any form of discrimination. Yet, despite the general appearance of compliance backed by several policies that appear to advocate for gender parity, a deeper dive into the outcomes of these programmes, reveal a reality of continued disregard of gender equity as a basic human right and a legislative obligation. This is evident in the following facts:

  • Women make up 51% of the South African population but only 21% of the directors on the JSE-listed companies.
  • On average, women in South Africa earn 25% less than men.
  • Furthermore, 37.9% of households in South Africa are headed by women and according to StatsSA, 30% of women in South Africa are unemployed. 
  • There is currently no grant relief measures in place to help sustain unemployed women – there has been no specific amount set aside to relieve women from financial strains even during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite evidence that women were the most vulnerable group. According to www.theconversation.com, 33.1% of informal female workers were unable to work in April 2020, compared to 29.3% of their male counterparts.

These alarming statistics and unfavourable gender-equity landscape are exactly why ITHUBA Holdings has been deliberate in implementing women empowerment programmes that are impactful and measurable. In my view, and I am pleased that the position shared by the board of directors of ITHUBA, is that economically active women must be a strategic focus for our country to make sustainable socio-economic progress. If this is our ethical stand, we must lead by example and put our money where our mouth is. At ITHUBA, 60% of our Executive team are women. Women empowerment is an integral part of our business and we are very clear that we cannot have a sustainable economy if women are still on the fringes.

Over the years, I have strived to pull women off the sidelines and ensure that they are fully integrated into decision making positions. This is important to me as a black female leader who is not immune to both racial and gender discrimination. I have ensured that our Corporate Social Investment (CSI) projects are aimed at giving women and girls long-term sustainability. 

Such initiatives can be seen in the Female Retailer Development Programme we launched in 2015. ITHUBA has assisted over 100 women to acquire business acumen and skills through the ITHUBA Female Retailer Development Programme. The beneficiaries are women who own spaza shops and supermarkets in townships and rural areas where they also sell National Lottery products.

Through partnerships with reputable institutions such as Regenesys and the University of Johannesburg, we provided them with an opportunity to acquire business qualifications. In October 2019, a group of 14 women graduated at the University of Johannesburg’s Kingsway Campus, each awarded a qualification in Advanced Social Entrepreneurship and Social Innovation.

No doubt that the skills that these women acquired, together with our ongoing support, are proving to be instrumental in their economic survival as they navigate unchartered waters. Programmes such as the ITHUBA Female Retailer Development are critical in inspiring the economic participation of previously marginalized communities, especially women entrepreneurs. A lot of these women started their businesses not out of passion, but out of a need to survive in a country where the rate of female unemployment is high. Because 70% of entrepreneurs have no formal business qualification and very often no business acumen or exposure to help them grow their businesses, it is up to us as Corporate South Africa to help bridge such gaps, to afford women a stronger footing in an unfavourable business environment.

It is for this reason that ITHUBA has committed to programmes like the female retailer development programme, that we support women across the country through, entrepreneurship, fitting employment opportunities and education. We cannot ignore the importance of tackling gender inequality at grass-root level by empowering girls at an early stage. Through the Eric and Charmaine Mabuza Scholarship Foundation, we have ensured that we offer an opportunity to study at tertiary level to as many girls as possible.

In 2018, we launched the ITHUBA Graduate Programme, aimed at empowering the youth through skills development and hands-on experience, with a large focus on young women development. In our current 2020 intake, 83% of the graduates on the Programme are female. We believe that early exposure to business equips women for leadership roles, and instrumental in bridging gender gaps in the workplace.

We aim to sustain this momentum of empowering women across our footprint consistently. Presently, ITHUBA has 9000National Lottery retail terminals across the country and over 180 000 handheld devices. Our value to advance and empower women continues to propel ITHUBA forward, especially in a time of persistent income inequality. 

As a female-led organisation, we appreciate the pivotal role to contribute to the prosperity and gender parity of our country. More importantly, we believe that the policies that have been developed to empower women should be accompanied by a consistent impact measure that stretches beyond the women’s month campaigns.

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