Almost six out of every 10 South Africans (58%) think the government is doing very or fairly well when it comes to the promoting of equality between men and women. A similar proportion of 57% agree that in the last 18 years, we have seen a great improvement in the area of women’s rights. Overall, 58% of men and 56% of women are convinced that there has been an improvement in gender equality in the democratic South Africa.
These are some of the prominent findings from a Pulse of the People survey conducted by Ipsos during October and November 2012. Face-to-face interviews were conducted with a randomly selected representative sample of adult South Africans.
However, in contrast to the findings quoted above, there is strong evidence that discriminatory practices and ideas of gender inequality are supported by between a fifth and a third of adult South Africans – and these ideas are growing in popularity – as outlined in the table below:
In all cases men are stronger supporters of these discriminatory ideas than women. Nevertheless, it may be surprising that sizable proportions of women also support these ideas.
The fact that some women support the idea that men make better politicians shows the internalisation of the idea that politics is a predominantly male-centred domain.
While women believe that men make better politicians, they will not encourage other women to participate in politics, especially within the terrain of struggling local government authorities, where women’s contribution can make an important difference to service delivery. With 45% of national government currently being female, the question remains why so many women are negative about female politicians.
Young people (below the age of 25) form the largest group of adults within the population (28%). It is clear that these archaic ideas are eroding as the younger population show less support for statements of gender inequality. However, there is still a significant chunk (31%) of them that feel men make better political leaders.
The fact that the younger generation seems to be less supportive of gender stereotypes is encouraging. “The importance of the educating the positive qualities about women among girls and boys in schools and society cannot be stressed too much,” comments Harris.
When it comes to the statement: “A boy has more rights to education than a girl”, those with less education are much more likely to agree than those with a higher education level. However, 15% of South Africans who have a tertiary qualification agree with this statement. “The Department of Primary Education should work on a programme encouraging girls to attend school – and to finish school,” states Harris. “This is not only of the essence for progress in the area of gender equality, but also for the sustained economic development of the country.”
While these statistics may have changed somewhat between May and November 2012, it is very similar to earlier surveys, which showed that between 25% and 30% of the population believes that a woman’s main role is that of caregiver (her place is in the home) and that boys have more right to education than girls.
These views have far-reaching implications for gender equality because they do not encourage the empowerment of women who, very often, are the only breadwinners in single parent households. Women who may not fit the stereotypes are often on the receiving end of male violence because they are viewed as “taking men’s jobs” when they are employed and as “negligent” parents when they are not at home 24/7.
These attitudes also contribute to finding it acceptable to take girls out of school when resources are meagre or when primary caregivers become ill (often due to HIV/Aids), in order to care for the household.
When schooling for girls is not considered essential by a society, it does not contribute to promote education for girls or force the government to make school environments safe for girls. Consequences of this neglect, like the very high level of gender-based violence such as rape and sexual harassment by boys and male teachers at school (often leading to teenage pregnancy) has become an epidemic that needs intervention and needs to be addressed by the highest level of government.
* Fieldwork was carried out from October to November by trained and experienced fieldworkers.
* Face-to-face in-home interviews were conducted with a randomly chosen sample of 3 563 South Africans, 15 years and older, interviewed in the language preferred by the respondent.
* The results were weighted and projected to the universe (ie, adult South Africans).
* Amanda Gouws, Professor of Political Science, University of Stellenbosch and Commissioner of the Gender Commission, Phone +27 21 808 2414 AG1@sun.ac.za
* Mari Harris, Director Ipsos Public Affairs, Phone +27 11 709 7800 email@example.com, Mobile: 082 557 5058