- The women of South Africa during the last decade have followed their sisters on other continents, leaving behind the title of housewife and entering the labour market. Other than their sisters, however, a very large part of South African women went directly into unemployment, a new study shows.
- The feminisation of the labour force been associated largely with an in crease in unemployment among women in South Africa, concludes Daniela Casale of the University of KwaZulu-Natal in a working paper published by the South African Development Policy Research Unit today. And even worse, "those women who did find work over the period, this employment does not seem to have 'bought' them very much."
Ms Casale has studied the trends of the South African labour market during 1995-2001, the first six years after apartheid. There is no question that a "feminisation of the labour market" has occurred during the last decade, she finds, but she asks the question whether this "feminisation" had improved the economic situation of South African women.
There has been a dramatic increase in the labour force participation of women in South Africa since the mid-1990s. "Male participation has also been increasing but at a substantially slower rate, such that a feminisation of the labour force has occurred, mirroring a more general global trend that has been occurring since World War Two," says Ms Casale.
- Unlike the experience in many other countries, however, the rise in the labour force participation of women in South Africa has translated mainly into an increase in unemployment, she says. In most other countries around the world, the rise in female labour force participation had been driven largely by an increase in the demand for female labour, pulling women into the labour market. In South Africa, on the other hand, women are being "pushed into the labour market out of economic need."
Thus, some 38 percent of all women of working age were economically active in 1995, while nearly 51 percent were active in 2001. A large addition of women desired to be economically active but had given up finding employment - thus being within the so-called "broad definition" of the labour market. Going by the broad definition, in 1995 approximately 44 percent of South Africa's labour force consisted of women, while by 2001, half of all those recorded as working or willing to work were women.
Nonetheless, there had also been some increase in employment among women over the same period. Household survey data had shown that those South African women employed on average continue to be "crowded into specific, generally low-paying, categories of employment and occupation, and that women also still earn significantly lower returns to their work than men in the same categories of formal education, employment and occupation," Ms Casale says.
While the "feminisation" of the South African labour market was atypical for historic trends in Europe and the Americas, the study refers to some similar trends in more current "feminisations" of the labour market, mostly experienced in developing countries. Here, the rise in female labour force participation has been "driven to a large extent by women being pulled into the labour market as low-paid workers, often in more irregular and insecure forms of employment."
It was therefore not unexpected that the "feminisation" of the labour market not had 'bought' women much in South Africa and other developing nations. This, according to Ms Casale, had "implications not only for women themselves, but also for the welfare of their households."
- This is of additional concern as traditional nuclear families fragment and households become more reliant on female earnings in South Africa, warned the researcher. It could mean that South Africa was "reversing the increased insecurity and inequality associated with this trend," she added.
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