Education, Health, and Safety Issues

Apartheid policies also created a lack of urgency among government authorities for the training and education of African women. Since African women weren’t key drivers in the formal economy, and their unemployment rates were higher than male rates in all provinces, it was easier to ignore their education.

While 35 percent of the overall population of South Africa had an incomplete education or none at all, 53 percent of the rural poor had little or no education. And for women in the age group 25 years and above, the percentage that lacked education was higher (18 percent overall and 23 percent for blacks) than for men (12 percent overall and 16 percent for blacks).

Persistence was a problem as well: in 1993, girls accounted for 57 percent of matriculation candidates but represented only 45 percent of those who graduated from high school. Several reasons were identified for this problem, including sexual harassment and abuse, pregnancy, the inability to go to school at night due to concerns about violence, and the burden of domestic responsibilities.48

Women were the primary caregivers for the family and were responsible for tending the home. A 1993 assessment of living conditions for the poorest 40 percent of households in the country showed 35 percent living in shacks, 79 percent without access to electricity, and 72 percent without piped water in the home. Only 18 percent had a flush toilet, and as many as 47 percent relied on wood as the main fuel source for cooking.49 The lack of access to basic services meant that women and young children, most often girls, spent a considerable amount of time collecting water and firewood, and performing other tasks related to the care of the family and home.

Other issues of concern to women included the incidence of violence, rape, and HIV/AIDS. The lack of economic options for women, especially among the poor, made women especially vulnerable to these problems, as did the prevalence of patriarchal attitudes and norms. From 1990 to 1996, the rate of HIV infection increased at a higher rate for women than men. The prevalence of infection was 25 percent for a 20- year-old female versus an 8 percent infection rate for a 20-year-old male 50

As the end of apartheid approached, the government passed several laws that gave married women more rights and power. Before 1993, men had legal power and control over their wives and family, except in cases where an antenuptial contract (one that governs that status of assets and liabilities on death or divorce), had been signed. However, even with an antenuptial, the husband remained the legal guardian of the children unless a court order allowed for other arrangements. The Domicile Act of 1992 gave women for the first time the right to determine the jurisdiction of the court during divorce proceedings. That was followed by The General Law Fourth Amendment Act 132

of 1993, which abolished “all exclusively male marital power, although consent by both parties for important transactions was required.”51 Women also were entitled at the end of a marriage, whether due to divorce or death, to half of any assets they accrued during the marriage.

Unfortunately, however, despite these legislative advances, many black married women were still largely subject to the traditional authority of their husband’s family, the clan, and chiefs.52

 
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