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Key findings
  • In South Africa, women are just as likely as men to have post-secondary education (30% vs. 29%).
  • Gender gaps persist in ownership of some key assets, including a computer (31% vs. 38%) and a motor vehicle (26% vs. 37%).
  • Women (45%) are slightly less likely than men (52%) to say they make decisions themselves about how household money is spent.
  • Large majorities support gender equality in hiring (75%) and land ownership and inheritance (82%).
  • Most citizens (81%) say women should have the same chance as men to be elected to political office. o However, six in 10 (59%) consider it likely that a woman running for public office will be criticised, called names, or harassed by others in the community.
  • Fewer than half (43%) of South Africans say their government is doing a good job of promoting gender equality. o Nearly six in 10 citizens (58%) say the government needs to do more to promote equal rights and opportunities for women.

In August, South Africa celebrated its annual Women’s Day and Women’s Month under the theme “Women’s socio-economic rights and empowerment: Building back better for women’s improved resilience” (South African Government, 2023). Meeting this goal will require a holistic approach anchored in the economic, social, and political empowerment of women (Statistics South Africa, 2022).  

In South Africa, the gender gap is steadily narrowing, especially in education, where female students outperform their male counterparts (Ramaphosa, 2023). But despite marked improvement, women’s labour force participation rates lag behind men’s. The Quarterly Labour Force Survey shows that in the second quarter of 2023, women’s participation rate stood at 54.3% compared to 64.9% for men, representing a 10.6-percentage-point gap (Statistics South Africa, 2023). When employed, women are overwhelmingly engaged in precarious forms of work characterised by low pay and difficult work conditions (Teuteberg & Benjamin, 2023).  

Significant progress has been made in political representation, with 42% of seats in Parliament now held by women (Brothers, 2023).  

But girls and women continue to bear the brunt of violence, abuse, harassment, and discrimination. The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development reports that it handles more than 50,000 cases of domestic violence and femicide annually (Maine, 2023), while many other cases of gender-based violence go unreported. In an attempt to deal with the scourge of violence against women, the government last year passed the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act Amendment Bill, the Criminal and Related Matters Amendment Bill, and the Domestic Violence Amendment Bill (South African Government, 2022; Vallabh, 2022).  

This dispatch reports on a special survey module included in the Afrobarometer Round 9 questionnaire to explore Africans’ experiences and perceptions of gender equality in control  over assets, hiring, land ownership, and political leadership. (For findings on gender-based  violence, see Mpako & Ndoma, 2023). 

In South Africa, findings show close to gender-equal educational attainment, but women trail  men slightly in control over certain assets and household financial decisions. Large majorities  express support for gender equality in hiring, land ownership, and political leadership, but many also consider it likely that a woman will suffer criticism and harassment from the  community if she runs for elective office. 

Overall, South Africans say the government should do more to promote equal rights and  opportunities for women, ranking gender-based violence and women’s under-representation  in positions of power as the most important women’s-rights issues that their government and  society must address.

Asafika Mpako

Asafika is the communications coordinator for Southern Africa

Stephen Ndoma

Stephen is the assistant project manager for Southern Africa