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AD324: Despite progressive laws, barriers to full gender equality persist in South Africa

Dominique Dryding 18 Oct 2019 South Africa
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Key findings
  • Large majorities of South Africans say that boys and girls have an equal chance at getting an education (83%) and that women and men have an equal chance to earn an income (77%) and to own or inherit land (76%). Men and women differ little in their assessments of these opportunities
  • About one in eight South Africans (12%) say they experienced discrimination based on their gender during the year preceding the survey. Men and women are about equally likely to report discrimination.
  • Four in five South Africans (81%) say it is never justified for a man to beat his wife. But the youngest respondents (aged 18-35 years) are least likely to categorically reject domestic violence.
  • Fewer than half of South Africans think that equal opportunities and treatment for women have improved in recent years (46%) and that the government is doing a good job of promoting gender equality (46%).
  • Three-fourths of South Africans say women should have the same chance as men to be elected to political office (76%) and the same right to own or inherit land (76%). Support for equal opportunity in the job market is considerably weaker (57%), especially among men (49%).

Since May, for the first time in its history, half of South Africa’s Cabinet ministers are women (World Economic Forum, 2019). And assessing women’s economic participation, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment, the Global Gender Gap Index ranks South Africa 19th out of 149 countries (World Economic Forum, 2018).

But while these may be important markers on the path toward gender equality enshrined in the Constitution (Republic of South Africa, 1996), activists say they hardly ensure systematic progress or tangible benefits for most women (Patel, 2019). Their point is backed by the country’s high rates of gender-based violence (GBV), disproportionately high HIV prevalence among women, higher female unemployment, and a lack of representation of women in top management positions (Commission for Gender Equality, 2015).

In this dispatch, we use Afrobarometer data to explore South Africans’ perceptions of the state of gender equality. Findings suggest that a majority of both men and women think equality is already a reality when it comes to education, earning a living, and owning or inheriting land. But fewer than half think equal opportunities and treatment for women have improved in recent years. And only half of men endorse gender equality when it comes to getting a job.

Dominique Dryding

Dominique is the capacity building manager (basic track)