CSI & Philanthropy News South Africa

Women, especially over 35, are blocked from accessing the economy

This Mother’s Day, Taking Care of Business (TCB) implores public and private businesses to consider mothers over 35 for employment opportunities. These women form the segment of our population suffering the “double disadvantage” of being both older women and mothers, making them the worst affected by unemployment rates. Due to structural, political and socio-economic limitations, this portion of our working-age population struggles to access meaningful work.
Women, especially over 35, are blocked from accessing the economy

Last year (2023), TCB supported 1 078 South Africans to become self-employed, 95% were women between 34 to 44 years old. The environmental reality for these women on entering the TCB programme was that they had an average of 4,5 dependents each (not always biological), only 30% were earning above the poverty line and only 13% had any family savings.

Biased gender norms put women under pressure

Women's economic empowerment is essential to achieving women's rights and gender equality. It means ensuring women can equally participate in and benefit from decent work and social protection, access markets, and have control over resources, their own time, lives, and bodies. Increased voice, agency, and meaningful participation in economic decision-making at all levels, from the household to international institutions, are essential components of women's economic empowerment.

Tracey Chambers, CEO of TCB, says, “Being older and female means many mothers are doubly disadvantaged and less likely than any other segment of the population to ever access the economy and find meaningful work opportunities,” she says. “Women are disadvantaged in the sense that social norms see them as fulfilling only caregiving or service roles. These gender norms put women under immense pressure to care for families and dependents, but financial realities also place pressure on women to support the household income.”

According to recent statistics, in 2022, 47.0% of South African women were economically inactive, compared to 35.6% of their male counterparts. This disparity underscores the urgent need to address systemic challenges that hinder women's participation in the labor force. The unemployment rate for women in South Africa stands at 35.5%, higher than the rate for men at 32.6%, indicating the persistent gender gap in employment opportunities.

Women, especially over 35, are blocked from accessing the economy

Mothers caring for multiple dependants

Chambers says, “This Mother’s Day we challenge businesses to consider mothers. These are women who care for their own children, non-biological children as well as older dependants. The traditional nuclear family is no longer the norm, rather we are seeing households with multiple dependants and women providing all the care services. This means that women are often stuck at home and can’t access business nodes,” she says.

SA is obsessed with youth unemployment

“South Africa is obsessed with youth unemployment, which caters to the 18- to 35-year-olds. The government and civil society are focused on stimulating employment for this age group, resulting in fewer opportunities for people over 35, especially women. While youth are an important age group, we cannot create systems that benefit this segment artificially at the cost of 35+ mothers.”

Women who do find work are usually employed in vulnerable employment, characterized by inadequate earnings, low productivity, and difficult work conditions, compared to men. Discrimination against women in the labor market persists, making it harder for them to find work compared to men. Globally, and in South Africa, women are often employed in low-paying jobs, with limited prospects for advancement.

Women, especially over 35, are blocked from accessing the economy

TCB’s offers mothers flexible self-employment opportunities

TCB challenges businesses and policymakers to recognise the invaluable contributions of mothers over 35 and create inclusive employment opportunities that enable them to balance caregiving responsibilities with economic participation.

TCB offers work opportunities to doubly disadvantaged older women through their remake, repair and resell programmes. “We empower women to become self-employed through our two-year training programmes. We find that single mothers who go through our programmes are able to become successfully self-employed and make enough money to care for their families. Self-employment gives women flexibility, as they can sell their clothes from wherever they are and at any time of the day. Flexibility also helps mothers to manage their care-giving responsibilities and balance their business and family demands.

Continued access to stock

"Even after graduating from TCB, participants can continue to buy discounted stock from TCB warehouses. The peer support network also provides meaningful support to ensure women remain on track with self-employment and continue to balance their personal and business demands,” she says.

“We have had great success empowering women over 35 years old. We have found our participants to be hard-working and committed to learning and growing both in their personal capacities and business skills. By providing mothers with gainful, meaningful and dignified employment opportunities, we are doubly advantaged as they are also teaching and taking care of our next generation,” says Chambers.

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