Don’t forget the woman worker this August

Op-Ed: Don’t forget the woman worker this August

    17 AUG 2017 11:45 (SOUTH AFRICA)

Photo: Informal traders with no water or electricity sell food cooked over open fires in a shack at the entrance to the construction site of Soccer City, the venue for the final of the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup in Soweto, South Africa, 16 January 2008. Photo:  EPA/JON HRUSA

This August the media will focus on women as consumers, as beneficiaries of state services, and as victims, in a much needed effort to bring attention to gender-based violence, but it is important that we don’t forget women as workers, because it’s precisely the invisibility and undervaluing of women’s labour that plays a key role in reinforcing gender inequality. By ANNIE DEVENISH

Xolisile Mhlongo is already setting up stall by the time Durban’s mynah birds begin chirping on a weekday summer morning. She arrives at Warwick Junction, a busy transport hub near Durban inner city, at 4.30am every day to prepare the meat and dumplings she sells to passing customers.

Across South Africa, in urban and rural centres, at taxi ranks and pedestrian thoroughfares, traders like Mhlongo are setting up shop for the day ahead. They are part of the more than 530,000 street traders recorded by the South African Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS), 70% of whom are women.

Mhlongo works six days a week, commuting from her family home in KwaMashu, a township about 20kms from the city centre. Working long hours, often without adequate toilets and storage facilities, and sometimes in hostile environments facing theft or police harassment, these women generate vital income to support their families and their children’s education.

This August the media will focus on women as consumers, as beneficiaries of state services, and as victims, in a much needed effort to bring attention to gender-based violence, but it is important that we don’t forget women as workers, because it’s precisely the invisibility and undervaluing of women’s labour that plays a key role in reinforcing gender inequality.

According to Stats SA there are 9,438,000 economically active women in the labour force as of 2015, which means that they constitute almost 50% of the nearly 21 million economically active South Africans. The term economically active includes both people who are working, and those who want to work, but are unemployed.

Like Mhlongo, more than a third – 39 % in fact – of employed women work in the informal sector, compared to 29% of employed men. Statistics South Africa’s definition of informal employment includes all workers in the informal sector. Employers, own-account workers and unpaid family workers are defined as being in the informal sector if the business for which they work is not registered for VAT or income tax. Employees are defined as being in the informal sector if their employer does not deduct income tax from their pay and if the business in which they work has fewer than five employees. Informal employment also includes employees in the formal sector and private households whose employers do not contribute to their pension or medical insurance, and who do not have a written contract.

Those who are defined as working in the informal economy might be street traders, recyclers, or domestic workers. They could be home-based workers, involved in the production of clothing, catering or child care. Alternatively they could be day or seasonal workers in construction or agriculture.

What is certain regardless of industry is that workers in the informal sector are more vulnerable to risk and uncertainty because they do not have any form of social security or worker benefits, such as sick leave, holiday pay, proper pension schemes, medical aid and unemployment insurance.

And because employed women are more likely to work in the informal sector compared to their male counterparts, they face a disproportionate amount of this risk. Women workers also lack maternity benefits which puts them at a particular disadvantage, because it means that they have no job security when they take time off work to have children, and when they do, they will not receive any income support. Without access to benefits and the buffer of social security, an accident, unexpected illness, confiscation or destruction of stock, or eviction from the work space could spell disaster for such workers, placing their livelihoods at serious risk, and propelling them into a cycle of poverty.

A severe burn accident in 2010 brought this reality home to Mhlongo. She works in the Bovine head section of Warwick market where there is no electricity or running water. Cooking is done with a Primus stove using paraffin. One morning while trying to get a flame going, the lid of the stove came off, dousing her with paraffin and setting her alight.Mhlongo was badly burnt on her shoulders, chest, upper arms and face. Even her eyelids and the inside of her mouth were scorched. She needed specialist care, and was transferred to Addington hospital, a government-run facility on the Durban beach front where she spent three months recovering. During this time she could not work, and would have received no income at all had it not been for a family member who ran her stall for her.

But it’s not just women in the informal sector who face discrimination; in the formal sector too, despite the gains made in educational attainment, women are pigeon-holed into less valued, lower skilled and lower paying industries. And when they do perform the same work as their male counterparts, they are often paid less. This is clearly illustrated by the distribution of female employment across industry sectors, and the pay scales of male versus female workers.

Stats SA figures quoted in South Africa’s Report on the Status of the Women in the Economy (2015), show, that with the exception of women in professional occupations, women are more likely to be employed in low-skilled occupations at 36.2%, compared with 24.8% of men. At the top end of the scale, only 11.7% of employed women are in high-skilled occupations, compared with 14.4% of men.

As the report notes these differences are partly the result of the relatively large proportion of women employed as domestic workers. Just under a million women work as domestics in private households in South Africa, making up 14% of all working women in the country, and playing a vital role in enabling their employers to go out to work.

At the top of the employment ladder this imbalance is even worse. Figures show that between 2000 and 2014 only 20.4% of top managers were female, according to the Commission for Employment Equity Annual Report (2014-2015).

Figures from the 2013 SA Labour Market Dynamics Survey reveal that the median wage of all women in South Africa is less than that of their male counterparts of the same race. There are however important differences among women across race groups where gender and race intersect to create a more complex hierarchies. For example, the median wage for white women in South Africa was a staggering five times the median wage for African women, indicating the depth of inequality amongst this group as a whole.

All women are workers, even if they are not in the marketplace. This is because they perform the bulk of the productive and reproductive labour of the household, such as cooking, cleaning and gardening, caring for children, the sick and elderly, and providing emotional care and social support to the broader community. This unpaid care work contributes directly to our country’s economic and social development.

A Time Use Survey conducted by Stats SA in 2010 found that women spent nearly four hours per day doing housework and caring for their families and community. This was more than twice the amount of time spent by their male counterparts. The magnitude of this becomes clearer when we put a monetary value on this time and labour. A calculation of the estimated value of this unpaid care work by Debbie Budlender (2008) concluded that of the proportion of women’s unpaid care work as a percentage of South Africa’s GDP ranged between 11% and 30% depending on what type of measure was used. The words of activist George Monbiot certainly do seem to ring true here, that “If wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire”.

The irony of course is that social welfare policies and practices are often dependent on women’s unpaid care work. At the height of the HIV/Aids pandemic in South Africa, community NGOs and government clinics across the country relied on volunteer workers to provide home-based palliative care to the sick and dying. The majority of these care workers were women who received no compensation, except for a stipend to cover transport and food expenses. By providing a constitutionally obligated service to the populace, these women’s unpaid care work was in fact subsidising the state, assuming the state’s responsibility for health care.

Ensuring an effective health care system is therefore a way of acknowledging and alleviating the burden of the unpaid care work of nursing the sick. Governments and business can also acknowledge the contribution of this invisible care work in relation to childcare, by providing affordable quality child care to enable greater participation of women in the labour market.

Challenging gendered perceptions of care work as women’s work is equally important in order to encourage a more equal distribution of household chores and child care, an approach advocated by the Sonke Gender Justice network. And government policies, such as improved paternity leave, are also needed to reinforce such social interventions.

But change is needed not only at the national level of policy making, but also at a local level, when it comes to infrastructure provision and urban planning. As Francie Lund, former Director of the Social Protection Programme at Women in the Informal Economy (WIEGO) explains, the work environment for traders like Mhlongo at Warwick Junction is defined by municipal rather than national policy. It is therefore the municipal provision of infrastructure in the form of toilets, shelters for traders, improved security, and access to reliable electricity and running water that will make tangible difference to their conditions of work.

August is woman’s month in South Africa, commemorating the 20’000 plus women who marched to the Union buildings on 9 August 1956 to protest the extension of the discriminatory apartheid-era pass laws to them.

Today women like Mhlongo and her colleagues continue to organise as part of the South African Informal Workers Association (SAIWA) to ensure greater recognition of their rights as workers and greater visibility in the workplace. Local and national unions, like SAIWA in turn are tied into global networks such as WIEGO, HomeNet, StreetNet and the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF) whose research and advocacy for national and international policy change, and empowerment of local member organisations, seek to make such workers more visible in policy and praxis. Their advocacy is a reminder that the solidarity and power of collective action witnessed by the Women’s March remains as relevant and necessary as ever, and that the struggle for gender justice is far from over. A luta continuaDM

Photo: Informal traders with no water or electricity sell food cooked over open fires in a shack at the entrance to the construction site of Soccer City, the venue for the final of the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup in Soweto, South Africa, 16 January 2008. Photo: EPA/JON HRUSA


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Cambodia: CHILDREN OF THE DUMP – YouTube


via Cambodia: CHILDREN OF THE DUMP – YouTube.

Uploaded on Jul 18, 2008

In countries around the world, hundreds of thousands of poor people face daily hazards to earn meager livings by scavenging for recyclable goods. In Cambodia, hundreds of scavenger families find their lives changing – they will lose their homes and livelihoods when the government closes the dump where they work. Rory Byrne has this report from Phnom Penh. Officially, it is the Steung Meanchey landfill site, but those who live here call it Smokey Mountain. Steung Meanchey dump is a seven-hectare mountain of smoking garbage on the outskirts of the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh. Here some 2,000 workers, including about 600 children, sift through 700 tons of garbage a day.

In developing countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, garbage scavengers are among the poorest workers. In Cambodia, they typically earn about one dollar a day. Ten-year-old Ya has been recycling bottles and cans at the dump for three years. He says the situation here is terrible. He has to get up very early to work and finishes late in the evening. Ya says his life is very difficult. Collecting garbage brings him less than $1 a day which is not nearly enough to cover his expenses. Most of the scavengers live in wooden shacks around the dump. There is no access to clean water or sanitation and epidemics are commonplace.

The risks here are high. Sharp-edged metals and broken glass leave nasty wounds. And garbage scavengers suffer high rates of serious diseases, such as hepatitis, tuberculosis and even AIDS. A number of scavengers have been killed or seriously injured when they were run over by garbage trucks. She says it is very dangerous to work here – people can step on metal shards or nails for example or get hit and crushed by the dump trucks. She says she has injured herself with many things, like old needles.

Annette Jensen is the director of A New Day, a charity that provides free food, shelter and schooling to more than 100 children from Steung Meanchey dump.

"To see the children miserable, dirty, sad looking at the garbage dump and then have them arrive with their little plastic bag with all their belongings and move into the center. And to see their excitement about taking a shower. To see their excitement about getting their little bag of shampoo. And to see them clean, putting on their school uniform and going to school has just been amazing," says Jensen. But most of those working on Cambodia's landfills are not so lucky, and for children like Ya, going to school remains a distant dream,

Ya has he would go to school if he could stop working at the dump. He says he wants to go to school but cannot because his family is so poor.

Ya and his family now face a new challenge: the government plans to close Steung Meanchey and relocate the 535 families living there to land about 50 kilometers south of Phnom Penh.

The government will let them have tiny plots on which to build new homes. An official in charge of the project notes the location is near Udong Mountain, a tourist site, so that there are jobs available in the region. And he says, families are not being forced to move, but most are volunteering.

Still, no families have left so far. Many scavengers say they will be happy to leave the dump, but they are worried that they will not be able to make a living because the relocation camp is too far away from the city. By Rory Byrne, Phnom Penh.

Source: Cambodia: CHILDREN OF THE DUMP – YouTube

Informal Workers’ Access to Healthcare [video]

Published on Jul 27, 2015

 This video by WIEGO and partners, Asiye eTafuleni(AeT) in South Africa; HomeNet Thailand; and the Self-Employed Women's Association in India tells the stories of informal workers and the difficulties they face in accessing health services in their respective countries. It also presents some of the solutions that each of these organizations has developed to mitigate against these barriers to access.
If you are interested in learning more on this topic, please read the accompanying post on our blog:…


Note: Just in case you may have missed any of my previous blog posts, I post here on one of my active projects. It is a new social network for entrepreneurs, completely free, and very unique. It could be a great thing for your business. It is called MarketHive. Just click —-> HERE <—- to find out more.

If you are interested in participating in this effort to lift these children to inspiration, please join me in the Markethive group “Green Fire”. It is from here that we will start a crowd funding campaign to aid Green Fire in its mission – The Children of the Landfill.