The South African job market has seen some interesting dynamics in recent times. While the aftermath of the pandemic initially showed promising signs of improvement in youth employment, it’s evident that female youth employment has hit a plateau, in stark contrast to the growth observed among their male counterparts.

According to Stats SA’s most recent Quarterly Labour Force Survey for the second quarter of 2023, there are at least 2 million fewer employed women in the country compared to men. This gender disparity is concerning, but it doesn’t dampen the spirit of young women who continue to demonstrate resilience when given equal opportunities.

One area where young South African women shine brightly is education. They consistently outperform their male counterparts academically. For every 100 men under 35 with a matric qualification, there are 112 women with the same credentials. Even more impressive, young women with degree equivalents or higher outnumber young men by 50%. This educational achievement represents a generational win for women, narrowing the educational gender gap.

However, despite these educational accomplishments, it’s disheartening to see that they don’t necessarily translate into employment opportunities. Women, regardless of their level of education, remain underrepresented in the labor market across all age groups. South Africa’s ranking in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report reflects this gender disparity, especially concerning wage equality for similar work.

Yet, amidst these challenges, young women are actively seeking employment opportunities, showcasing their competence and tenacity. The Presidential Youth Employment Intervention (PYEI) has been instrumental in supporting young women’s efforts. The SA Youth platform, part of PYEI, has provided nearly a million work opportunities for youth, with two-thirds of them going to young women.

Efforts like the Department of Basic Education’s school assistant program, a flagship initiative of the Presidential Employment Stimulus, have taken proactive steps to mitigate employment barriers for women. This includes reducing educational requirements, offering placements close to their homes, providing a safe working environment, and ensuring equal pay. Unsurprisingly, 70% of program participants are women, highlighting the positive impact of such initiatives.

Moreover, when barriers to entry into male-dominated industries are removed, women excel in these opportunities. For example, the installation, repair, and maintenance (IRM) sector in South Africa has witnessed a surge in demand but remains heavily skewed, with only 3% of licensed plumbers being women. Initiatives like the one launched by the Institute of Plumbing South Africa, Harambee, the National Business Initiative, and BluLever have aimed to address this disparity. They set ambitious targets, reserving 50% of opportunities for women and ensuring gender equity throughout the project value chain.

Innovative policies and legislation, such as those protecting the rights of pregnant work-seekers and employees, as well as opportunities for women to catch up on missed content, prove to be a wise investment, as women continue to seize opportunities and exceed expectations.

The Basic Package of Support (BPS), led by a consortium of partners, addresses the challenges faced by young people who are not in employment, education, or training (Neet). Given that young women are often more vulnerable due to living in income-poor households and bearing heavier caregiving responsibilities, programs like BPS offer invaluable support. They provide face-to-face coaching to help these young women overcome various challenges and pursue their goals, as exemplified by Mikayla’s inspiring journey from job hunting to higher education.

The current economic landscape presents significant challenges, particularly for women. However, the collaborative approach of the PYEI, along with initiatives like the DBE program, the BPS, and sector-specific efforts in the IRM sector, demonstrates that strategically coordinated investments and targeted support can create a more gender-inclusive environment across all sectors. This not only benefits organizations and communities but also unlocks earning pathways that transform the lives of young women, ensuring a brighter and more equitable future for all. 

Source: written by Sharmi Surianarain Chief Impact Officer at Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator & Lerato Shai is Director: Presidential Youth Employment Intervention, the Presidency:

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