Disparities and Segregation
In Southern Africa, it is widely known that segregation was abolished in 1996. It is also widely known that, in the labor market, this is false. Occupational distribution continues to be a problem for blacks, coloureds, and Asians as high skill jobs are often given to whites. From an optimistic point of view, one can assume these disparities are unintentional, and that the reason most whites do not form part of the unskilled or semi-skilled labor force is simply coincidental. Unfortunately, numbers do not lie. This is still a systematic battle to be won, as whites are the smallest ethnic group in Southern Africa, it is therefore nonsensical to assume that such a small group would hold the same type of jobs coincidentally.
Women receive the primary backlash of inequality when it comes to the labor market as, depending on the area of work, men tend to be the preferred hire. Within the formal labor market, women face less issues than others, such as having to safe place or person to leave their children with, often having to make room for the extra expense of a childcare facility. The labor agreements often written by males leave little room for maternity issues, such as appropriate maternity leave or medical appointments. However, formal labor is preferable to that of informal labor as labor and human rights are almost impossible to ensure. This article will concentrate heavily on explaining the issues behind informal labor from women’s standpoint.
Informal labor is often problematic because it is the area that, primarily, women resort to, risking the certainties that come with formal labor which help insure a livable quality of life. Through contractual law, companies and employers protect themselves from an absolute responsibility over the employee. This is not to say that they (companies and employers) and not held accountable for their employees, as contractual law is also dependent on labor laws. These labor laws make sure that incidents such as workplace injuries are not overlooked, and that the company compensate the employee for the determined amount of time until they can return to work, if that is a possibility. But the employer-employee relationship includes many more responsibilities than just workplace accidents; employers also must ensure health and sanitation standards in the workplace, provide health care, establish a stable wage, and provide safety to a certain extent within the workplace. Since there is a lack of employers in the informal labor market, there is no way to ensure safety, health care, wages, bathrooms, or much of anything else. The following sections expand on the subject.
Sanitation. There exist regulations and systems which regulate the health and sanitation at official job posts. However, many women throughout southern Africa have resorted to selling fruits and vegetables, arts, or clothes in the streets. Women are then left with the absence of bathrooms, leading to potential health issues such as Urinary Tract Infections (UTI), malnutrition, and bacterial diseases. Besides this, women often work in streets, exposing them to high levels of toxic chemicals from cars increasing the chances of respiratory health problems. Inaccessibility to water adds on to the problems of health and sanitation, leading to the probability of infected food products, then affecting the consumer.
Workplace Injuries. Women who work in streets often face the risk of being ran over, or the risk of being harmed by men. Street vendors often need to pay off police officers guarding the area to protect them, but mainly to have the opportunity to take their business about without being deprived of their products for not having permits. This is harder for women with disabilities, who often are not capable of finding formal employment, and resort to these same measures. However, women with disabilities cannot so easily lift their products and run from authorities, forcing them to pay heavy fines on top of losing their products. Other areas of work include mines, in which women have recently immersed themselves. Here, women face dismemberment and intoxication with no guarantee of a health care provider which to attend. Furthermore, women in this area who do suffer workplace injuries serious enough to receive lifelong pensions, receive nothing and are often left in situation where they can no longer work. The manufacturing industry is a silent killer, whether formal or informal work. The process of making repetitive movements for 8 to 10 hours a day during years takes a big toll on joints and muscles; specially when employees must stand for the entirety of their workday, the spinal cord, hip, and lumbar area suffer damage which often results irreversible. For commercial sex workers, workplace accidents include being raped, beaten, trafficked, killed, becoming unintentionally pregnant, or attaining STIs. A wide range of workplace injuries are susceptible to occur regardless of the activity, but the status of formal employee helps protect some from a life of struggle of not being able to find a job because of the repercussions of their attempt at affording a life.
Maternity. Previously we mentioned the issue that women face in having to set aside money to pay for childcare. This is harder to do for women working in the informal labor sector, because of the unstable wages. Women then often are forced to take their children with them to work exposing them to dangerous areas as well as the same health and sanitation complications they experience themselves. Women employees within the informal sector risk losing their jobs if they decide to go on maternity leave or attend doctor appointments, leading them to disregard their health and potentially risk their lives. Maternal morbidity continues to be a health complication that women struggle to overcome due to the inaccessibility to prenatal care.
Harassment. Although women form the vast majority of informal laborers, men are not exempt from this area of work. As more men enter the informal labor force, they often harass women to incentivize them not to work in the same area as them, or to continue adding on to the problem of sexual violence that women have been fighting for all of history. Apart from harassment by competing men, women face harassment from police officers who use the opportunity to collect monetary compensations to not report vendors. Corrupt police officers have been known to charge up to 60% of the vendor’s daily wages, apart from at times asking for sexual favors. Informal employees also face harassment from their employers or supervisors who threaten to fire them if they do not comply with sexual favors or non-related work demands.
Migration. Bad economic conditions lead people to migrate. This is the case with many Zimbabweans, who have migrated to South Africa and Zambia in search of jobs after the economic crisis of 2017. Many women who have migrated from Zimbabwe have entered sex trade as a form of employment. With no other labor options and having to compete with the women of other countries, these women often undersell their work. As the prices are more beneficial to the client, the competition begins between native women of the country and the immigrants; this is when the native workers turn against the others and report them to migratory officials. It is important to understand that migration and crime (such as theft) occur due to bad economic opportunities. Nobody wakes up in the morning wishing to be a thief or an armed robber with all their hearts. Intolerance toward migrants is intolerance toward a person trying to find the opportunity to live out a decent life.
Women in the Political Sphere
The participation of women in politics always seems to hit its peek only right after they have been given the opportunity to participate in it. Afterwards, the initiative loses momentum, and women slip back into their daily lives. The past couple of years have been historic as we have seen an unprecedented number of women involved in political systems all over the world. Zimbabwe experienced a strong female military presence during the years of national liberation, however the association of women involved in politics since then are women who have been part of the sphere for years. This adds to the exclusivity of entering the governmental system. Entering the political system should not be treated as an “invite only” situation because the role of the government is to look out for the people of that country.
The problems described throughout this article are not impossible to solve. An effective government works to the best of its ability to resolve the issues faced by the community. But only the community knows the entirety of the problems it is plagued with.
Women, we have the obligation to ourselves, our communities, and the future generations to solve the issues that shake us. It is not enough to think, it is not enough to speak, it is not enough to debate; ultimately, action must be taken. We must act on our interests and on those of the people around us. Do not be afraid to make a change, you are capable to doing anything that you truly want to accomplish. If it is in your interest to better the working conditions of women, enter into the political system of your community and make it happen.
If you identify with migrant workers, enter the governmental system and create an association that will support them. If you are one of the many women who form part of the informal labor market and you want to change the situations that you endure daily, do the dirty work. Women need representation within the government in order to ensure justice for our gender and our communities. Do not be afraid to be the one who begins a whole new era of governmental participation.