Today, I want to briefly talk to you about my sisters here in South Africa, their vulnerabilities, and what strategies can be used to address their inequity.
-Socio-economic status and Education-
It is no secret that the relationship between education and socio-economic status is circular. Though apartheid has now been abolished for 20+ years, it is plain to see that South Africa is struggling to correct the severe inequalities in education created by decades of socio-economic divide between race groups. Though there is “equal opportunity for all” under the nation’s new constitution, the geographic location of a child’s birthplace largely determines their educational advantage or disadvantage.
This is especially apparent in our drive into Slangspruit Primary School everyday. We pass suburban private schools with olympic sized swimming pools, then we make our way through litter free neighbourhoods with children walking in every direction in their smart uniforms carefully ironed and tucked in, headed to their urban schools with paved playgrounds and projectors in every classroom, until finally… we weave our way through the townships and end up in the muddy earthed, broken windowed, outdated structure that is Slangspruit Primary. Under apartheid, the school a learner attended was determined by race. Today, it is determined by what a family can afford, meaning not much has changed 20+ years after apartheid for the poor of South Africa.
-Who does this affect most?-
This disadvantage is more apparent among girls and women, who are vulnerable members of the Slangspruit community. The women and girls are considered vulnerable because of the high rates of HIV infection, sexual abuse, and domestic violence in the area. In South Africa, one’s socio-economic status [to a large extent] also determines educational outcomes. What Ukulapha (my host organization) does is implement programs and projects that aim to end the intergenerational transmission of “poor” status when it comes to education, beginning with restoring the school’s basic resources and infrastructure. The organization uses Slangspruit Primary School as an instrument of transformation in the community.
-Let’s talk about girls-
When addressing issues like the standard of education in townships and rural communities in SA, it is important to focus on gender equality as a cross cutting issue. Because I work in a school setting, I see education as a sure gateway to achieving gender equality among women and girls in this country, especially since Ukulapha has run workshops and implemented women-specific programs with great success in the past. But Slangspruit is one Township in a country with hundreds of Townships. Slang also has a non-profit (Ukulapha) on site that supports progress efforts through education and community development. Therefore the question arises… How can South Africa address the issues around gender inequality when the most obvious entry point (education) is underfunded to the point where outside organizations need to intervene to accomplish anything?
One of the greatest achievements since democracy in South Africa has been the school enrolment of girls, and since, the South African Government has committed itself to transforming gender relations, achieving gender equality, and promoting women’s empowerment. But it is important to ask what measures will be taken in achieving this goal. Is it enough to have a progressive constitution that guarantees the equality for both males and females? I say it isn’t. Addressing gender equality as a crosscutting goal requires that women’s views, interests and needs shape the education agenda as much as men’s, and that the education agenda supports progress toward more equal relations between women and men. This means that the department of education must recognize that every policy, program and project affects girls and boys differently.
I see education as the greatest entry point to addressing gender equality in South Africa. It is also important to understand that the socio-economic landscape left behind by apartheid has made this entry point quite difficult for poorer schools. From mud structures to the private schools in the suburbs, the promise of equal opportunities in education is insufficient as a huge spectrum of inequalities still exists from the apartheid era. Until the South African government can address the gross inequity in the quality of education between the rich, middle class and the poor, it is up to outside organizations like Ukulapha to facilitate programs that address gender equality and the empowerment of girls and women. So to answer the question proposed in the title of this post, women do stand a chance in having equal opportunities to their male counterparts, but unfortunately, [right now] this depends on the accessibility of projects and programs implemented by outside organizations, not the South African government.
A prime example of what was discussed above… this photo was taken at the 2016 Generation of Leaders Summit hosted by Ukulapha for the women in the Slangspruit community. The summit focused on the realization of the human rights of girls and women, self love, and developing self-reliance.