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«ANSA Alternatives to Neo-liberalism in Southern Africa The search for Sustainable human development in Southern Africa Editors: Godfrey Kanyenze, ...»

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Although figure 1 shown on the next page, presents the dualistic economy of Zimbabwe (reflecting the gender disparities), this duality is inherent in almost all the Southern African countries’ conceptual economic frameworks. The informal economy exists or persists because economic growth or industrial development has failed to absorb those who work in the informal economy. In this dual structure, the informal economy is viewed as a separate marginal sector, not directly linked to the formal sector that provides income or a safety net for the poor and thus is treated as such. Predictably, such a perception of the linkages between the formal and informal economy will ultimately continue to marginalise the populations most dominant and weak in these sectors of the economy, hence the marginalisation of women.

Figure 1. The marginalisation of women in the Zimbabwean economy:

A framework reflecting women’s role in Southern Africa

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2. Labour market liberalisation and gender

2.1 Formal sector employment There are various avenues through which trade liberalisation affects labour demand. The standard model used for the analysis of trade and labour is the two- sector two-factor two-country Heckscher-OhlinSamuelson (HOS) model. From this model theoretically consistent relationships are drawn between product price movements and factor returns and between technological change and factor returns. A decline in the output price of the unskilled labour intensive sector relative to the skill intensive sector lowers the relative wage of unskilled labour relative to skilled labour. This arises because the price shock induces a shift in resources out of the unskilled labour intensive sectors towards the skill intensive sectors, which in turn reduces the relative demand for unskilled labour. Thus, the model predicts that trade liberalisation reduces wage inequality in developing economies as the relative price of unskilled labour intensive products rises.

This theory is far from the results coming from empirical investigations.

Wage differentials in the Southern African region continue to rise.

Liberalisation of the labour market has led to increases in retrenchments from previously protected sectors, the public sector and private sector firms that have failed to match competition brought on by globalisation.

Retrenchment has been mainly of workers in lower grades and unskilled labour. This category of workers that qualifies for retrenchment is female dominated. The African Labour Researchers Network research document on labour liberalisation and gender for five Southern African countries45 proves that women are predominantly employed in the lower paying sectors. Because women are considered to lack adequate educational and basic training, they are often classified as ill-equipped to hold superior or high skilled jobs, with other occupations classified as strictly suitable for men. Table 1 below presents the status of employment by gender for


Table 1. Status of employment by sex for Namibia

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Women in Namibia remain dominant in the exclusionary employment sectors, such as subsistence farming and unpaid family work. The only formal sector in the region that employs a greater percentage of total female employees as compared to males is the governments’ various departments and parastatals. Unfortunately, governments’ policy decision Namibia, Malawi. Zambia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. 2000– 2004 to reduce the wage bill has resulted in a decline in public sector employment. The relative effects of public sector employment decline on men and women are not very clear. However, because women tend to be concentrated in lower grade jobs, they are more vulnerable to retrenchment. In some Southern African countries such as Botswana, there has been a drastic increase in the number of women employed in the public sector, while in some, such as Zambia, actual dismissals in the public sector have been concentrated among temporary workers since these are less costly and difficult to make redundant (Baden 1993). While job losses may affect men and women, women may find it harder than men to regain employment or become self-employed due to the relative lack of education and skills, lifecycle issues (employers may favour younger women) and lack of independent access to capital. Poor women are more likely to have no other adult earners in the household and to have a higher dependency ratio and may be especially vulnerable to the removal of subsidies and increasing charges for services and rising prices, leaving them in deepening poverty.

2.2 Private sector

Women are deemed to be the winners of globalised production, services and trade because more women have been able to obtain employment in EPZs. However, this “feminisation of employment” pulls the vast majority

of women into three sectors of the labour market:

• The female labour-force has been the main comparative advantage of the new export-oriented economies in the region because it is cheap, flexible, and unorganised. Women are not only the trump-card in the ruthless competition in labour-intensive manufacturing, such as the textile industry, but increasingly in offshored services and office work such as data processing, tele-work and call-centre work.

• Women are pioneers in the new modes of labour, as temps, justin-time- and part-time employees, as piece-rate and home-based workers, as self-employed in the informal sector or as small-scale entrepreneurs assisted by a micro-credit. The deregulation of labour markets has resulted in a split up of formal employment into flexible jobs, which mostly do not yield enough income to secure a living, are usually unprotected by labour laws and are not covered by social insurance. Because women are the first to lose formal employment, they may be forced to take up an informal job to make both ends meet. Many of them do the same work they did before but as part-time employees and with only part of their former salary as the new wage. In future, this casualisation and informalisation of labour will affect men as well. In labour market liberalisation, women are instrumental to the reduction of labour-costs and the deregulation of labour markets. Their rights are curtailed even if they improve de jure.

It is evident that neo-liberal globalisation is neither a gender-neutral process nor a win-win situation as its proponents claim it to be. It has strong unequalising tendencies, both between and within the region, between gender and between women. This results in a polarisation of the labour market and the social fabric of society. The composition of new classes emerges: the ‘owners’ of a permanent job yielding an income which renders possible a high standard of living and social security and at t

The case of women workers in EPZs, Mauritius

During the establishment of EPZs in Mauritius in 1984 and in 1992, EPZs were employing over 90,000 employees of which 63,400 were women workers and 26,600 were men. EPZs alone managed to increase women’s labour participation rates in Mauritius from 18% in 1962, to over 42% by the end of

19881. However, this increase in employment in women within EPZs also introduced new dimensions in the Mauritian society. A.G. Mitchel summarises

the socio-economic problems that come with EPZs as follows:

• The success of EPZs is based on the exploitation of women workers as they provide the competitive advantage of a low-wage and a well-educated labour force. In this regard, women also become the primary subject of industrialisation’s impact.

• Industrialisation has brought with it new forms of work that require new forms of organisation. The traditional Mauritian society had not adapted to the change in work brought on by industrialisation, since the process of social change takes much longer compared to economic change.

• The question of hours worked in EPZs remains problematic, thus having adverse effects on women workers, creating continued stress and adversely affecting their health, nutrition, family welfare and productivity.

• Industrialisation brought adverse effects and more focus on the social dimensions of development. The Mauritian society experienced a breakdown in the traditional social fabric, extended family systems collapsed, child abuse increased, divorce rates increased and so did nutritional deficiencies. Despite the increase in the formal employment of women, women remain responsible for household tasks and households are reluctant to change this traditional set up.

These problems faced by women workers in EPZs are also acerbated by the fact that women workers remain highly un-unionised as compared to other female workers in other sectors of the Mauritian economy. Of the 90,000 workers recorded in 1992, only 10,943 workers were unionised. With women only forming a small proportion of these unionised workers, despite the fact that they formed the majority of workers. The reasons for the lack of women’ participation included the misconception of the role and importance of women in trade unions, the reluctance of EPZs to deal with trade unions and the cultural influences that bar women’s participation in the labour movement.

the lower end, the casual employees in the lower grades with no income and employment security. At the top end of this segment of the labour market, over valorised professions develop in the fields of new technology, information, finances and top management. Only very few women manage to crash the class ceiling en to enter this elite segment although their qualifications often exceed those of male competitors.

Table 2 below provides a good case for the Southern African region. It presents a 2002 survey conducted in South Africa to analyse the proportion of senior occupation posts held by women and Africans.

Table 2. Employment equity trends.

Proportion of women and blacks (%)

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While men hold 88% of top management posts in South Africa, women hold slightly over 10% of the top managerial positions. A breakdown of the racial composition of the 25% top management posts held by blacks in the year 2002 reveals that only 1% of the top management positions were held by black women. Women remain in the lower grades and hence suffer the double-edged sword to adjustment in the formal employment sector. The fact that very few of these women are unionised has not helped their predicament.

Although statistics are either unavailable or not up to date, few women are visible in trade union activities, membership and leadership. The fewer numbers of female members in the trade union can be significantly attributed to the fact that women form a small proportion of the formal labour force and a larger proportion in the informal economy, which is generally not unionised. Table 3A and 3B present the unionisation densities by gender for Namibia’s and South Africa selected economic sectors46 respectively.

Economic sectors have been selected based on the proportion they contribute to the overall employment of Namibia, i.e. the greater contributors of employment creation.

Table 3A. Unionisation densities for Namibia

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In virtually all selected sectors in Namibia and South Africa, more male workers tend to be unionised as compared to female workers. This could also be because there are more males in the formal sector as compared to women. Nonetheless, protecting the rights of female employees effectively would require that trade unions have a fair representation of women workers within the leadership hierarchy.

The table below shows the percentages of female trade unionists that are part of the trade union leadership in selected Southern African Countries.

Table 4. National executive council members of federations in selected Southern African countries.


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Of the seven countries selected from the Southern African region, only two of them had at least 50% female representation in the national executive council (i.e. Madagascar and Lesotho), while one SADC country had as low as 4% female representation in its general leadership, (i.e.

Swaziland). Despite these discouraging statistics, it is worth noting that some trade unions in the region have begun to move towards achieving fair representation. Good examples include the appointment of a female president for SATUCC in 2004; in 2005, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Union’s Executive Committee had women occupying the positions of first Vice President, first Vice-Secretary and Treasurer.

There are many reasons why women fail to actively participate in trade union activities. Time is one of the greatest constraints. Trade union activities tend to be held after hours or may include workshops and/or seminars away from home. Women already have a heavy burden of social responsibilities and may not find extra time to take part in trade union activities. Other barriers to women’s participation include practical issues such as the language and style of trade union meetings. Male dominated meetings can be hostile and threatening. Sexist language is often used in trade unions forums and may end up discouraging women’s participation.

In addition, issues on the agenda for discussion may unintentionally exclude women. Issues often tabled do not focus on maternity protection, childcare or gender equality and this tends to discourage women’s participation as they may feel that their issues are irrelevant or insignificant.

It is imperative that trade unions encourage women participation in the labour movement. This could be done through the proactive implementation of affirmative action initiatives to increase the number of female trade union leaders. Adequate and equitable representation of women in trade unions enhances their chances to participate in collective bargaining and social dialogue processes at sectoral, regional and international levels. Their representation ensures protection and promotion of gender equality and equity in the labour market. Perhaps the biggest challenge that Southern African trade unions face today in is the unionisation of workers within the informal economy, which is dominated by female workers.

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