by Piet Coetzer

A proud record with some way to go

Women’s Month celebrations

Lulu Xingwana
The highlight of Women’s Month celebrations will be National Women’s Day on 9 August when one of the biggest protest marches in the country's history, staged by more than 20 000 women on that day in 1956, will be commemorated. On some fronts the country is in the top league and has a proud history in matters affecting women, although on others there is some way to go. 
The public holiday commemorates the march of more than 20 000 women to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest against the extension of the infamous Pass Laws to black women.
On the broader front, South Africa can be proud of the fact that in May 1930 it became one of the first countries to grant full voting rights to (white) women, well ahead of  France (1944), Canada (1960), Switzerland (1971) and Portugal (1976).
The country is also presently among the top 10 in terms of the percentage of women as members of parliament. Globally South Africa is in 7th position on 42,3%, well ahead of the United Kingdom in 56th position on 22,3% and the United States on 16,9% in the 79th position.
The top position, interestingly, is occupied by Rwanda with 56,3% women representatives in parliament. It is also the only country in the world where women are the majority in its legislature.
Business world
In the business world there is clearly still some way to go in improving the position of women.
The proportion of women in executive management positions in South Africa has increased marginally, according to a women in leadership census conducted by the Businesswomen's Association of South Africa and released in June this year.
It found women occupied 3.6% of chief executive officer (CEO) positions, 5.5% of chairperson posts, 17% of directorships and 21.4% of executive management positions.
Comparatively South Africa is, however, not doing too badly. According to a recent report by the United Nations Development Fund for Women(UNDFW): 
•    Only 10% of directors of the UK’s FTSE 100 companies are women; 
•     Women account for less than 1% of directors on corporate boards in Japan; 
•    Of the top 10 Asian companies, only one woman sits on an executive committee of these major global enterprises; 
•    According to the 10th Cranfield Female FTSE Report, women's share on FTSE 100 corporate boards rose by only five percentage points in the 10 years since the first report; and 
•    The number of women on FTSE 100 corporate boards is 131, or 12% of the total, up from 79, or 7% in 2008. And 22 FTSE 100 companies still do not have a  woman on their boards.
Rural women, hunger and disabilities
South Africa’s Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities, Lulu Xingwana, says this year's National Women's Month will specifically focus on rural women and the challenges they face.
The initiative will look at ways to fight hunger and poverty as well as ensuring food security. Xingwana says a series of workshops aimed at empowering rural women and emerging business women has been planned. The workshops will be held on 7-8 August and will focus on economic empowerment of women.
How much ground there is still to cover globally on this front is well illustrated by some other statistics from the UNDFW report:
•    The World Food Programme reports that 7 out of 10 of the world’s hungry are women and girls; 
•    According to US Government-sponsored research completed in 2006, approximately 800,000 people are trafficked across national borders annually. In addition, millions of victims are trafficked within their own national borders. Approximately 80% of transnational trafficking victims are women and girls and up to 50 percent are minors; 
•     An estimated 72% of the world's 33 million refugees are women and children; 
•    According to Habitat for Humanity, women own less than 15% of property worldwide; 
•    The International Fund for Agriculture and Development (IFAD) reports that in the developing world, the percentage of land owned by women is less than 2%; and
•    Rural women are particularly vulnerable to poverty. In some regions, especially sub-Saharan Africa, women provide 70% of agricultural labour and produce over 90% of the food.
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