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Women in public finance – a South African snippet

Margott Terblanche delves into the socio-economic problems of women in South Africa, with a focus on female representation in the public sector.

In her recent (and highly enlightening) City Press article, Politicians, know this: Empower women and the entire nation will grow (8.3.2019), Dr Nthabiseng Moleko cited that the 2017 Stats South Africa Poverty Report observed that poverty levels have dropped from 66% to 55% between 2006 and 2015. Yet, we still have more than 30 million people living in poverty, with a high level of overall inequality (as measured by the Gini coefficient).

Although there is a much bigger conversation to be had around the aforementioned issue, what also transpires from the Stats SA report is that females have both higher levels of poverty and unemployment.They bear the biggest brunt of the jobless growth phenomena due to our country’s economic structure and the inability of existing incentives to absorb the marginalised in critical mass into the heartbeat of economic activity.

To add to this harsh economic reality, South Africa is currently facing a national crisis of rape, violence and femicide against women and children, globally surpassing all our counterparts. We have the highest level of incidence of femicide at 12.1 women murdered per 100,000, and the highest level of incidence of rape at 138 per 100,000. It is now, more than ever, time where we must realise that gender equality is as much a social justice issue, as it is an economic justice issue, as it is a democratic issue.

With women making up 51% of the South African population, not making a concerted effort to ensure that the women of our country become economically active agents of the economy, would amount to an injustice. With most of the poor of our country being female and rural, much needs to be done to empower women economically. There can be no real growth if this is not done. This would include focusing on factors such as the scale of state expenditure that is allocated towards women such as in women-owned businesses.

Gender budgeting

This brings me to the very important issue of ‘gender budgeting’.

A CIPFA publication, Gender budgeting for public finance states gender budgeting starts from the premise that the way in which resources are raised or allocated has implications as the policies or programmes which are funded, impact differently on women and men. However, gender inequalities are enmeshed in institutional practices, including budgetary processes. This is one of the main reasons to talk about gender diversity in public finance and public policy.

Gender budgeting is a question both of social and economic justice, and of more effective public resource management. By improving our understanding of the structures that contribute to different experiences for women and men, and the unequal social and economic outcomes that they create, policy making, and the allocation of public resources can be transformed to re-orientate outcomes more equally.

Taking account of the economic and social vulnerability of women, and listening to the recent budget speech delivered by our Finance Minister, Tito Mboweni, it is disappointing that we still do not have a budget that actually considers the identity of the majority of South Africans; and that South Africa is yet to make any real progress in ensuring that the budget is gender responsive.

How are women represented in the public sector?

Nomkhitha Gysman is a gender specialist who works as Gender Programme Manager for the Southern African Development Corporation (SADC) Parliamentary Forum. In an opinion she cited on the Mail and Guardian website on 9 July 2019, she slams the underrepresentation of women on the G20. As an organisation, the G20 represents two-thirds of the world’s population and 85% of the global economy. It is therefore disappointing that the percentage of women heads of state represented at the summit is still markedly disproportionate: 18 men to only two women (the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and outgoing British Prime Minister Theresa May).

Clearly the problem lies not in the G20 per se but in its member nations. In the whole continent of Africa, SADC countries included, there has only been one female head of state (Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s, Liberia President - 2006 to 2018).

According to Ms Gysman, any expectation of shifting gender balance in a top structure like the G20 without first addressing the matter within member countries is unrealistic.

In South Africa, subsequent to the elections in May of this year, President Cyril Ramaphosa has been hailed for the important milestone of appointing women to half the country’s cabinet posts for the first time.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women, posted a tweet congratulating Ramaphosa for South Africa becoming 'one of 11 countries in the world with gender equal cabinets'. He was also praised by other world leaders for taking this bold step.

Ramaphosa announced his new ministers on 29 May 2019. However, I question whether the cabinet really is one of 11 in the world that is gender equal? The country’s constitution says, “the cabinet consists of the President, as head of the cabinet, a deputy president and ministers”. If you include the two leadership roles of the President and the Deputy President, David Mabuza, this brings the size of the cabinet to 30, and the number of men in the cabinet to 16.

With 14 women, the new cabinet is currently just short of a 50/50 gender split. It is 47% female. Of course this is a step in the right direction, and one would hope that the female representation will have a positive impact on how women are viewed when the state allocates resources and develops policies.

In my own experience as a training facilitator in the South African public sector, my first 15-day session (in 2016) on the Standards of Generally Accepted Accounting Practice (GRAP), the South African equivalent of the International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS), had a representation of around 40% women in the class of mostly municipal finance staff. Fast forward to 2019, and the sessions currently have more women, with a representation of around 70%. Of course, without comprehensive research into these numbers and the positions these delegates held within their organisations, it is hard to make a call on whether women are starting to become more of a priority when local government entities make appointments. But it does seem to be moving in the right direction and there is more representation in key positions in local government.

There are many socio-economic issues facing South Africa but empowering women in public finance should be a first step to addressing these issues.

by Margott Terblanche, a chartered accountant with a diverse career in both South Africa and London, including qualifying with PwC,  and roles in the wool and mohair processing industry, and in the printing and reprographics industry.