The Regional Women Parliamentary Caucus of the Southern African Development Community-Parliamentary Forum (Sadc-PF) met yesterday to consider what women of the region could gain from the proposed Sadc Integrated Industrial Initiative.

This is an undertaking that is long-overdue, according to Vice-Chairperson Ms Shally Raymond, a Member of Tanzania Parliament. In her opening address on the theme: Empowering women in a sustainable, industry-focused workforce in Sadc: a focus on social protection, she lamented the slow pace of gender reform, which she blamed on the lack of a legislative framework to enable women’s economic emancipation in the region.

The new regional economic strategy based on the industrial initiative will, however, undo the low level of women’s absorption into the mainstream economies. It’s hoped that “the integrated industrial strategy of the region will ensure that women take advantage of the economic value chain that it will bring to bear,” Ms Raymond said.

 Nonetheless, for this strategy to be effected, “there is a need to effect laws that will bring about socio-economic policies that will create equal economic opportunities for women in the mainstream economies of the region.”

Ms Raymond was optimistic that this meeting will have ideas for a legislative framework to assist the Sadc-PF to capacitate women to become equal partners in regional economic integration. They will then be able to benefit from its value chain and become a central part of its labour market without compromising their reproductive and sexual rights.

 The International Labour Organisation (ILO) also attended the meeting to share research-based trends on women’s social protections around the world. The ILO’s Social Protection Legal and Standards Officer, Ms Maya Stern Plaza, gave a broad overview of the subject. In her address, she stated that women still experience low access to decent work and lower social protection, “which lead to multiple discrimination, such as lower labour force participation, gender pay gaps, higher levels of informal employment”.

However, there are good country practices, such as in South Africa and Kenyan to name but two, whose social policies underpin gender-responsive pension systems. “That guarantees minimum pension for women as an income security and a reward for period spent caring for children.”

This is supported by their maternity leave benefits and childcare policies. In some countries, Ms Stern Plaza continued, “there are childcare services that take care of the needs of working parents to ease the child-bearing burden, often shouldered by women.” Critical in protecting women’s reproductive rights is social health protection provisions that “afford women quality prenatal and postnatal care”, she said.

“Gender coverage gaps suffered by women due to the burden of unpaid care work has resulted in lesser participation of women in paid work. This can be mitigated by responsive social protection policies aimed at addressing this anomaly.”

Speaking on the impact of Covid-19 on women’s social protection, Ms Stern Plaza noted “the declining employment opportunities caused by harsh lockdown of sectors such as tourism and seasonal employment in the agricultural sector, which employ mainly women.” In her view, Covid-19 has reversed the hard-earned gains of women’s social security protection, won through international conventions and protocols that were in place before the advent of Covid-19.     

This has been exacerbated by the disproportional and possibly gender-insensitive allocation of fiscal relief measures and stimulus packages, skewed towards male-dominated economic activities.

 Abel Mputing
20 October 2021