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Dear reader,

Welcome to the August special edition of the Tutwa Briefs Newsletter wherein we look back over the 64 years since women activists marched on the Union Buildings in Pretoria to petition against the country's pass laws being extended to women. According to the Pass Laws Act, blacks over 16 years old were forced to carry identifying books everywhere, and at all times.

Since South Africa’s transition to democracy in the 1990s, strides have been made to remove discriminatory laws and policies on the basis of race. Notwithstanding these efforts, poverty, inequality and unemployment are the triple threats that still impact the black population exponentially greater than any other group. Within this group, black women remain most marginalised – with many women having restricted access to education, employment, as well as land, property and finance in business. As primary carers of their own children, to extended family members, women are not allowed access into formal or even informal economic activity.

The Covid-19 crisis has spotlighted the plight of women in taking care of families despite no access to even the most basic water and sanitation services, identified as the most important method to fight the infection caused by the pandemic. Forced to use public taxi services to carry them between work and home, women invariably face threats against their safety getting home on almost non-existent roads leading into their townships; no electricity lighting their way to their doors. A resistance to gender-based violence is in no way supported by the lack of infrastructure in townships and informal settlements. This is exacerbated by the lack of service delivery, including a more robust criminal justice system where a much more specialised focus on the dynamics of familial relationships where power imbalances are perpetuated.

We also need to consider how Covid-19 has affected working life right now. Most working women are coming to terms with the new normal associated with working more from home. The Covid-19 related lockdown has created an acceptable transition where women ‘are allowed’ to be mothers, relatively full-time caregivers as well as productive economic players at work. In many traditional families, there is even the splitting of family responsibilities and men are seen to be doing their part. From working from home to living at work, we have seen virtual work meetings interrupted as the juggle between work and family is highlighted in this new world of work.

According to recent estimates, nearly 40% of South African families are led by women. The closing down of many industries after the hard lockdown has led to many women breadwinners losing their livelihoods. In cases where women are taking care of extended family members, the smallest salary cut becomes a financial catastrophe for many individuals. We salute those organisations that are doing the best they can for their employees, despite the change in economic conditions for all of us.

Women entrepreneurs are key in achieving economic growth and will be glad to know about the launch of #SheTrades. This is an initiative by The International Trade Centre (ITC). The initiative takes digital transformation to a higher level aiming to connect three million women entrepreneurs to market by 2021!

The empowerment of women does not rely on the hand of government and private sector alone. It needs an engaged civil society supporting all communities, and never lacking in zeal to support women-led initiatives. On the trade front, the platforms are being established, women have a responsibility to participate, engage and maximise every opportunity. Two articles below consider different aspects of women’s economic empowerment.

Women, unmute yourselves - How gender issues play out in the Zoom era

Authors: Catherine Grant and Anna Ngarachu
If you’re a bit like most people, Zoom and digital platforms, have become your go-to meeting point; despite being a learning curve initially. Not only in the professional space but for social get-togethers. This trend will likely continue to be the modus operandi even after lockdown because digital platforms have proved to be so …
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Lack of political will and cultural norms throttle women economic empowerment

Author: Matlala Setlhalogile
South Africa’s ability to realise gender parity hinges on advancing women’s socio-economic empowerment. The empowerment of women is of essence as it presents women with opportunities to realise their full potential and in turn enable them to contribute meaningfully to their families, communities and society at large. Women empowerment is a key aspect in advancing equitable development. While …
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Digital Transformation and Women’s Participation in Trade

Author: Thabelo Muleya
As digitalisation helps in reducing the costs of participating in trade, it is also be opening new opportunities for women to participate in trade. Digital transformation can serve as a tool for inclusive trade-led industrialisation. However, research from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows that despite statistics indicating that more women than men are tertiary …
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