Neglecting the 'Majority': An Overview of the Economic Plight of Young Females in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

By Isike, Christopher | Gender & Behaviour, October 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Neglecting the 'Majority': An Overview of the Economic Plight of Young Females in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa


Isike, Christopher, Gender & Behaviour


Globally, women continue to be vulnerable to all kinds of structural and social marginalization, oppression and violence perpetuated by both men and women alike (Molyneux, 1985; Rehn and Johnson Sirleaf, 2001). Although the marginalization and abuse of women as a broad group cut across all spheres of society including the economic, social, and political1, the plight of girls and young women is often neglected in research and policy. Therefore, in spite of advances made since Beijing 19951, there has been a tendency to treat women as a homogenous group and thus ignoring the nuances within. In this way, the specific voices and needs of sub-groups such as adolescent girls and young women under 35 years have not been heard or aggregated well enough. This paper seeks to fill this knowledge gap in the case of KwaZulu-Natal with a view to also making a policy contribution aimed at curbing the economic neglect of female teenagers and youths (09 - 35 years)1 who constitute the majority within the entire youth population across South Africa.

Indeed, studies show that since the UN Beijing Conference of 1995, there has been a positive turn in the tide of women's formal status globally. Some of the achievements include an increase in the number of women in political decision-making positions (Sawer, 2013; Stockemer, 2015), increase in women's participation in the economy and private sector (OECD, 2012; IMF, 2013; ILO, 2013), increase in the number of girls and young women attending school and getting educated (UN Statistics, 2010), increase in international, regional and national laws and protocols which protect women's rights, dignity and wellbeing (UNHR, 2014). Africa has also made progress in implementing resolutions of the United Nations that seek to mainstream a minimum of 30% of women into all decision making structures of society at all levels. For example, Rwanda tops the world in terms of women's political representation in national parliament at 56% while Seychelles, Senegal and South Africa all have above 40% of women in national parliament. Seven other African countries have surpassed the 30% critical mass requirement: Algeria, Angola, Burundi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe. Also, a number of these countries and others have constitutional provisions for gender equality and explicit ones for the protection of women. The good practice cases include South Africa, Malawi, Zambia and Namibia, each of which now has explicit provisions for up to 50% women in political positions at local levels of governance.

However, huge challenges persist at different levels. Economically, some of these include the feminization of poverty as meaningful economic participation remains weak for women; feminization of disease as women remain the face of terminal diseases such as HIV and AIDS1; increasing male violence against women and the persistence of harmful traditional practices which inhibit women's potentials and agency (Rehn and Johnson Sirleaf, 2002). Other challenges documented by Morna and Nyakujarah (2010:11 - 12) show that generally women still struggle to access credit; dominate the informal sector and there are huge gaps in per capita income of women compared to men. These are very worrying concerns for a region that leads the rest of Africa in terms of mainstreaming women into the public space.

A more worrying concern for research and policy is to continue viewing and responding to women as a homogenous group. This is because within the broad gender based challenges women all over the world face, girls aged 9 - 17 and young women of 18 - 34 age bracket1 are often more vulnerable, and face particular challenges that are associated with their age cohorts. There are 1.8 billion young people in the world (approximately a third of the world population) and just over half of this number is adolescent girls and young women (World Population Council, 2011). In spite of their population stake and potentials for the future1, the voices and concerns of girls and young women are often unheard, and do not make their way into the economic policy agenda. …

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