We must support SA women with a BIG, they uphold the rest of society
We must support SA women with a BIG, they uphold the rest of society
Our President strikingly referred to gender-based violence (GBV) in South Africa the ‘second pandemic’ affecting our nation alongside the Covid-19 pandemic that disrupted the globe in 2020. His administration has won approval for the hosting of a Summit to end GBV in 2018, and for repeated affirmation for the need to end this scourge. But the weight of the burden carried by so many millions of women in this country does not seem to be easing.
As with the many commitments to easing levels of poverty and inequality in South Africa, the lofty promises to improve women’s lives just become cheapened with repetition, when what is needed is clear and appropriate action.
The striking call of the women of 1956 marching to Pretoria was “Wathint' Abafazi, Wathint' Imbokodo”- you strike a woman, you strike a rock. Women marched against the dehumanising policies that limited their freedoms and inherent human dignity. The strength and fortitude of women and the triple burdens borne by poor black women in particular is synonymous with resilience.
But imbokodo – or rock – is also a grinding stone. A grinding stone has to be hard as it crushes wheat to flour. A woman has to be hard to survive in South Africa. It is hard for a woman to survive in South Africa, and even harder to thrive, to enjoy the freedoms that her mothers and grandmothers fought for. This is not the time for further rhetoric and promise. During this Women’s Month it is time that we actually did something concretely to ease this burden. Introduce universal Basic Income Grant of R1268, and let us build a decent standard of living from there.
Women carry the brunt of poverty in South Africa. More women are unemployed compared to men, and more women are employed in precarious and underpaid activities, women are more prevalent in the vulnerable informal economy, and women carry disproportionally the burden of raising the nation’s children, as unpaid care givers. In South Africa, 42% of children are raised by their mothers only, 4% by their fathers only, 32,7% by both parents and 21,3% of children by neither parent.
How do women cope financially? Not well. And according to the most recent NIDS CRAM data, women are more likely to shield children from hunger compared to men. The same survey found that roughly 10 million adults and 3 million children are affected by hunger in South Africa. The net result of this perpetual anxiety and hunger is an extremely high level of mental illness, and the research found that levels of mental ill health were much higher in households that were food deprived.
Depression and anxiety link to a loss of faith in a better future, a sense that life cannot get better. This falls so far short of the promises in our Constitution that guarantee access to sufficient food and water, to social security, to inherent dignity, equality and life, that we may as well be talking of a different country for the majority of women.
Even the policy landscape is designed despite women, to spite them it sometimes seems, rather than with women at the centre. Two such policies that leap to mind are the Child Support Grant (CSG) policy and the policy of the Social Relief of Distress grant that ended in April 2021.
The Child Support Grant is a means tested grant that is intended to meet the needs of poor children. The child is the grant beneficiary, but it has to be received by an adult recipient. Just over 7 million
women receive the Child Support Grants (CSGs) as proxy recipients for children, compared to 166 197 men.
For over 40 % of these women, the CSG is the single stable source of income into their household each month. Children, it is claimed, are our nation’s future. Women are our country’s treasure. And yet as this single most important safety net to survival, we deem it appropriate to pay a CSG that is only 76% of the R585 Food Poverty Line, the monetary equivalent of the cost of enough food to keep a person alive.
The current monthly value of the Child Support Grant is R460. Fixing a grant so low means that people cannot use the money to support micro – enterprises, so you are also condemning grant recipients to eternal dependency on the grant.
SPII’s research amongst everyday people found that the cost of living a life of dignity came to R7 600 per person per month. A CSG is 16% of the Decent Standard of Living. Negotiating this shortfall is the reality for millions of women every day. You are striking a woman. Statistically, the majority of caregivers who receive the CSG are Black African women. You strike a rock.
Last year the President announced a social grant relief package for poor households from April/ May 2020. These grants came to an end in October 2020, apart from the well-known R350 Social Relief of Distress grant which continued until April 2021. Despite the greater prevalence of poverty amongst women, only 36% of the SRoD grant recipients were women.
This is because the policy was designed to exclude women who received grants for children. Although the CSG is less than the basic food intake costs, and notwithstanding that women are rights holders in their own right universally and in terms of the Constitution, women were denied access to the grant because they received grants for children.
You strike a woman, you strike a rock, but why do we continue to treat women with such disrespect, why do we continue to crush women, their bodies and their souls, their futures condemned to repeat their mothers’ painful pasts?
I was talking to a retired global director of an international financial development bank earlier this week. We had been discussing the complexity of causes of the recent violence and destruction in this country. I asked his view on the probability of adoption of a decent Basic Income Grant in South Africa in coming months.
A self-confessed social and economic policy conservative, it was his considered response that for South Africa to continue as a going concern, we needed to be searching for accelerated solutions for stability as a prerequisite for reconstruction and recovery to begin.
The universal BIG that I had spoken to him about, indexed at the Upper Bound Poverty Line of R1268 per person per month seemed to be the most credible policy solution for South Africa in the here and now.
To stabilise the simmering violence of the economically disenfranchised we need a universal badge of inclusion that does not discriminate against women, but neither against men. A policy that embraces all as South Africans and gives us the ability to navigate a future.
Research has shown the immediate affordability of a BIG, and the many multipliers that it will create for future economic growth leading to real job creation. A universal BIG is our one hope of a stable and secure and inclusive future. A catalytic shock adjuster. Bankable solutions, not weak rhetoric.
For the physical and psychological well-being of women in South Africa, our leaders must leave behind the rhetoric and announce the introduction of a universal R1268 BIG. South African women are the rock that this nation rests upon, it is essential that the foundation upon which they rest is sturdy.
Source: The Sunday Times