Despite Progressive Laws, Barriers to Full Gender Equality Persist in South Africa

Since May, for the first time in its history, half of South Africa’s Cabinet ministers are women. And assessing women’s economic participation, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment, the Global Gender Gap Index ranks South Africa 19th out of 149 countries. But while these may be important markers on the path toward gender equality enshrined in the Constitution, activists say they hardly ensure systematic progress or tangible benefits for most women. Their point is backed by the country’s high rates of gender-based violence (GBV), disproportionately high HIV prevalence among women, higher female unemployment, and a lack of representation of women in top management positions. In this dispatch, we use Afrobarometer data to explore South Africans’ perceptions of the state of gender equality. Findings suggest that a majority of both men and women think equality is already a reality when it comes to education, earning a living, and owning or inheriting land. But fewer than half think equal opportunities and treatment for women have improved in recent years. And only half of men endorse gender equality when it comes to getting a job.