Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Separate Space: An Approach to Addressing Gender Inequality in the Workplace

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Separate Space: An Approach to Addressing Gender Inequality in the Workplace

Article excerpt


Sex is a biological construction but gender roles are a social construct where men predominately benefit at the expense of women. In South African society, patriarchy still has an influence on how different sexes relate to one another, resulting in women experiencing inequality in various spheres of society. Gender inequality in the workplace still persists. The recent Employment Equity Report of South Africa (which looks at the economically active labour force in the private and public sector) showed that 79.4% of senior management is occupied by men and women only occupy 18% (Employment Equity Report 2013-2014). This huge gap occurs even though 43% of females are professionally qualified and technically skilled as their male counterparts in their respective fields. (Employment Equity Report 2013-2014). For those women who are in senior management, only 6.1% of them are African women, while White women occupy 18.6% of senior management positions. When looking at leadership in trade unions the picture is gloomy. In the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) women make up 48% of members but leadership structures are predominantly occupied by men. In branch and regional secretaries' positions, men occupy 89% while women occupy 11%. In all of the unions of the federation, 100% of the general secretaries are men. The only position for which the number of women surpasses men is the administration position where women occupy 92% (COSATU, 2013).

Women within COSATU have argued for gender structures to be established within the unions so that their demands and issues can be discussed and a gender agenda can be a part of the union (Tshoaedi, 2013). One of COSATU's members is the South African Commercial Catering and Allied Workers Union. In SACCAWU, 70% of its members are women but the General Secretary, the President and most leadership positions within the union are occupied by men. The research looked at what measures have been put in place to address the gender inequality in SACCAWU and have they been successful and what lessons can be learnt.


The research used qualitative methods to gather evidence. This included semi-structured interviews with 22 SACCAWU men and women members as well as participant observation at the National Congress of SACCAWU and various gender training programmes that occurred during the research. An analysis of the SACCAWU Gender Policy was done to observe how it has been implemented in the union. A thematic analysis of the data was done.

Previous Attempts to Address Gender Inequality by SACCAWU

SACCAWU has been organized in the service, commercial and catering industries since its inception (SACCAWU, 2010). It is mainly women who are engaged in work in these industries and this means that addressing gender issues in the workplace is of importance to the union. In her book 'Asijiki', Kally Forrest (2005) looks at one of the first campaigns that the union had in recognition of gender inequality. The 'Oppression of Women' campaign believed that women's oppression, which is when women experience unjust law or authority over them, was part of gender oppression because what affects women affects men. If women were, for example, in dangerous working conditions and were exposed to dangerous chemicals or machinery, this affected their ability to perform responsibilities and duties in the workplace, which affects their fellow male colleague's roles and responsibilities because they will be forced to take on the extra load of work (Forrest, 2005). The campaign also believed that household duties should be shared and that women workers should not have to do a 'double shift' of work (being an economic labourer and then a domestic labourer in the home).

This campaign is important as it highlights one of the first attempts of the union to address gender inequality by involving both men and women in the discussion.

Parental and maternity rights for both men and women have been an issue which the union has fought for since the 1980's. …

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