The Uphill Battle for Rural Black Women

Despite all the good news for some South African women, however, many others face still face significant obstacles. On the whole, the general black population has not benefited from government and corporate policies. It’s all good to write about it on paper, but the reality is that few people have had the benefits that have occurred for a small percentage of women.20 The vast majority of women are still employed in semiskilled and unskilled


Women who live in urban areas and don’t work in the private sector are often doing clerical, menial, domestic, and cleaning work. In many households in rural areas, the men have left to work in the mines or industries located in cities, returning only once a year for holidays. That means that women are running the house and everything else, given South Africa’s patriarchal society, where the role of a woman has long been to be a housewife first. In terms of black culture, women were expected to be housewives and many had to work the land, which was not the case with the colored and the white culture. So, it is an uphill battle to get employment equality for these women.22 They are doing all the farming, mostly on a subsistence level, and selling whatever surplus they can produce. In essence, these women are earning money and finding their way to feed and clothe their children. They are engaged in the informal economy, chipping away every day, without options for changing their situation.23 Poor, uneducated, and living in the rural areas, they don’t even know that


opportunities exist.

Many rural black women have no access to any paid work at all and must rely on state grants. A woman who wished to enter the formal economy would have to go to an urban area and try to find domestic work, which pays little.25 As Harold Herman, emeritus professor of comparative and international education at the University of Western Cape, put it: “I think rural women have enormous challenges. First, they must get out of their traditional role, which is a subservient one, and second, they must bridge the gap, the rural-urban divide, that we have in our society.”26

Thus, despite all the efforts, including affirmation action, that the government and private sector have taken to engage more women in the formal economy, the situation is far from rosy for many women in South Africa when it comes to employment and economic advancement.

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