With Women’s Day just around the corner, women around the country are wary about what tangible meaning this national public holiday actually holds beyond brands’ opportunistic pink marketing campaigns. Realistically speaking, there’s nothing we can do about the empty ‘womandla’ hype wave such brands ride (haters gonna hate, so capitalists gonna capital too); but what we can do is open a conversation about what Stats SA’s mid-year population estimate report means for us, seeing that a News24 headline concluded that ‘South Africa is young and female‘.

The future is female?

According to this report, women make up more than 51% of South Africa’s population of 57.7 million people. Great, so we outnumber men, now what? News24 adds that ‘women live, on average, six years longer than men, with a life expectancy of 67.3 years compared to 61.1 years for males.’ So in quite a literal sense, the future does appear to be, in fact, female (for lack of a better word) because chances are we will be around for longer by the assumption of ceteris paribus. We outnumber and outlive our male counterparts, in spite of the high rate of femicide in the country. This brings us to the real questions we need to be asking now that we have all this information at our disposal. This public holiday’s true narrative (which commemorates the 9 August 1956 women’s march led by the Federation of South African Women) has been eclipsed by faux pro-women campaigns and 20% discounts on manicures and spa treatments, which all trivialise what it really means to be a woman in South Africa today.

We’re young and we’re not having babies

The staggering number of South Africans who have more than one social media account should be a fair of indication of how youthful our population is (not negating the obvious fact that individuals over age 35 use social media too). The Stats SA mid-year report confirms that SA is indeed ‘young’, as young people between the ages of 15 to 34 years old make up 20.6 million people – 35.7% of the total population.

Because young women who live in urbanised provinces are now presumably more in charge of their bodies and decisions regarding their fertility, they are either choosing to have fewer children, have children later in life, or none at all. This is perhaps why the fertility rate in SA has declined from 2.68 children per woman in 2009 to 2.4 in 2018.

A decline in fertility rates is not so much a worrisome observation, but could be symptomatic of how women perhaps find this country an inhospitable one to bring new life into on financial, health, political and social grounds, which already make living here difficult for women, and especially those of colour.

Black women are the most, but get the least

Numbers don’t lie, especially Statistics South Africa reports. This time the ugly truth they’re revealing is that black South African women are the most prevalent demographic in our country (23 896 700 versus 2 614 800 coloured, 708 100 Indian/Asian and 2 325 900 white women), yet are the ones who bear the brunt of most of this country’s shortcomings.

As if it’s not bad enough that women in general earn 27% less than men, black women earn less than their non-black female colleagues. Their monthly median* earning is R2 500, where white women fall within a monthly median earning of R10 000 – literally quadruple the amount.

*monthly median – value where half of people’s income falls above it and the other half falls below. The median wage gap between men and women further varies – it is wider for both low and high earners and narrower at the middle.

In February this year, the Mail & Guardian cited data from Stats SA revealing that our unemployment rate had declined. However, ‘the unemployment rate for women is higher than that of men, and women are less likely to participate in the labour market’. Furthermore, ‘black women are the most vulnerable, sitting at 34.2%, followed by coloured women at 23.5%. Whites were the least affected at 6.7%,’ the article states.

When it comes to health, black women fall in the group with the highest HIV prevalence. Aside from black women, Health24 recently reported that HIV prevalence in women aged 15–24 is four times greater than men of the same age. This is due to the following:

  • Heterosexual intercourse carries a higher risk of infection for women.
  • Unequal power relations between men and women, particularly when negotiating sexual relations, increases women’s vulnerability.
  • Lack of economic power often results in women being dependent on their male partners for basic needs for themselves and their children, especially where state support is lacking.
  • South Africa has the highest rape statistics in the world, with an estimated 147 women raped every day.

Read the full report on Health24

Going forward then, in an attempt to pick up from where Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa, Sophia Williams-De Bruyn and Lilian Ngoyi left off in 1956, I think as we start conversations about Women’s Day/month, we need to ditch the fluff. It’s more important that we open (virtual) spaces where can have more conversations that address our reality discussed above as young South African women, because apparently we’re going to be here for a while. And we can start now… How can we reclaim the Women’s Day narrative in the most meaningful manner? Tell us on Twitter @marieclaire_sa or Facebook Marie Claire SA.