Government's 2013 announcement of a bill that would force companies and the public sector to have women in 50% of their decision-making positions has been met with much criticism and debate.
The news of this bill was not well received by the business sector. Arguments were made that it was unnecessary as the government had already implemented a number of policies to address the issue of inequality in the work place. The 2013 Women Empowerment and Gender Equality bill was one such policy named as an example. It was also widely claimed that reaching this target would be impossible.
Last week the Ministry of Women, Children and People with Disabilities rejected requests from Business Unity South Africa (Busa) to amend the bill, Business Day reports. Busa stated that the 50% figure was unattainable and the fact that companies that were unable to reach the target would be prosecuted was extremely problematic.
Busa's Executive Director for Social and Transformation Policies Vanessa Phala said the bill would make local and international investors wary of doing business in South Africa, as there were already a prohibitive number of regulation policies in the labour market.
Phala told DESTINY that the bill was "ambiguous and vague".
"The bill assumes that there are qualified women available to fill these positions in the engineering, actuary, analytical science and mining [sectors]. You assume the women are there and if [they're] not the companies will be penalised," she says.
But what would be the solution?
"We [Busa] support women empowerment and are running a dedicated programme to empower women," says Phala.
She says there should be collaboration between businesses and institutions of higher education to build a 'pipeline' to bring women into the labour market.
Phala says Busa is in partnership with the Institute of Directors and they run a joint programme to equip women with the skills they need to take up executive positions on company boards.
The Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities Lulu Xingwana strenuously disagrees with Busa's assertions.
She says that the bill is essential, as previous laws have failed to empower women. Research done in 2012 by the Business Women Association (BWA) on JSE-listed companies showed that out of the 52% of women in the country, only 44% of them were working. Out of those who were working only 21% held executive managerial positions and only 17% were directors, with only 9% of women being CEOs and Chairpersons.
South Africa may still be trailing behind countries such as Iceland, which was rated as one of the best when it comes to gender equality by the World Economic Forum (WEF) but there has been progress.
This country may not hold the record for its attempts to bridge income gaps between male and female employees but it is still better than countries such as Yemen, the Ivory Coast, Pakistan, Chad and Syria which were named among some of the worst nations for women to live and work in by the WEF.