South African Women’s Minister Shabangu Tackles Labor Prejudice

Susan Shabangu, South Africa’s first women’s affairs minister, says there’s still a lot to do to improve the role of women in the economy two decades after the establishment of democracy.

Her ministry has to tackle a range of issues from trying to meet the government’s minimum target of 10 percent for women employed in mining companies by this year as well as ensuring that they receive equal pay as their male counterparts for the same work.

“A lot still needs to be done, not only in the mining industry but also in the automobile industry and other previously male-dominated industries,” Shabangu, 58, said yesterday in an interview in Pretoria, the capital. “It’s just unacceptable, 20 years into democracy to still see women getting lower salaries for the same jobs.”

Shabangu, a former labor unionist who served as mineral resources minister and is a member of the ruling African National Congress’s National Executive Committee, has faced seemingly intractable issues before. She was raised in Soweto, the cluster of townships southwest of Johannesburg.

Shabangu led government talks between mining companies and unions in 2012 and 2013 after violence flared. At least 44 people, including 34 miners killed by police in a single day, died during protests at Lonmin Plc’s Marikana operations in August 2012 following a wave of strikes.

Salary Gap

The Chamber of Mines says that the industry has made “commendable strides” in boosting the number of women in the workforce and management positions.

“Indeed, more can still be done and the sector believes that this should not be a superficial exercise but rather driven through skills development and skills transfer so that women ascend to these position with capacity to deliver,” chamber spokesman Zingaphi Matanzima said today in an e-mailed response to questions.

Women in South Africa earn about 50 percent less than their male counterparts doing the same work, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report in 2013. Africa’s second-biggest economy has an estimated earned-income female-to-male ratio of 0.52, ranking it 91 out of 134 countries in the world, it said.

“As members of Parliament we earn the same salaries as men, CEO’s of companies performing the same jobs as men must be paid the same,” Shabangu said.

Finance for women is another roadblock to increasing their participation in the economy, Shabangu said. She doesn’t advocate setting up special credit systems for women out of concern that could marginalize them in the financial industry.

Institutions such as the Industrial Development Corp. should stop creating special funds to help women finance their businesses, Shabangu said.

“The IDC must not separate funding for women, but rather the mechanisms in place must make sure that access to funding in the mainstream must be there,” she said. “There must be no glass ceiling for women to access finance.”

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