A lot of news has been circulating about the need for increased employment of women in senior positions in various fields.
While greater awareness may seem like a cause for celebration, we still need to be conscious of and have conversations around the precise influence that women have within their respective industries in the country as a whole.
According to an article in EngineeringNews.com, the importance of having and seeing women in particular professional positions is necessary as they stand as role models for future generations. It exposed how few women there are in economic professions but also showcased the women already playing key roles.
"In government positions, both globally and in South Africa, we have seen low female representation, with South Africa never having had a female Minister of Finance," the article explains. "Female role models can negate the stereotypes that continue to drive gender gaps in many fields, including in economics."
The article explains that "women are less likely to study economics because of the perception that it is a route to work in financial services, a stereotypically male dominated domain, as research at English schools and universities shows that economics textbooks emphasise the role of men as policymakers and business leaders."
But what if there were more women in economics than we have now?
Currently, there are notable women in prominent economics positions in South Africa and who are a part of shaping the economy of the country.
Prof Ingrid Woolard, Dr Thabi Leoka, Dr Neva Makgetla, Prof Ada Jansen and Lynn Moeng are five women on the nine-member VAT panel reviewing the list of products that should be VAT exempted, with a view to easing the burden of poverty for many South Africans. On the list of things that should be zero-rated, along with school uniforms and nappies, are sanitary pads.
We spoke to Professor Ingrid Woolard, who is the first female dean of the economic and management science faculty at Stellenbosch University, and she says that "it is interesting to be a woman in leadership in this sort of role.
"I am bringing a new perspective in terms of inclusivity, not just for women but for people of colour."
She believes that economics is gradually becoming a less male-dominated space and that there are more women interested and involved in economics than there were before.
"It's always important to have diversity of all forms," she explains. "If there are professions that somehow seem to exclude certain groups, then of course you're never going to get the best people into those groups. So it is important to ensure that women don't think that they can't be engineers or they can't be economists. It's important to have senior women as well so that there are role models."
Prof Ingrid commented on the VAT panel's decision for a zero-rate on sanitary pads and she expressed that the decision came out of a very clear principle from the panel that sanitary products are a grudge purchase for women. "They are not something that women choose to spend money on, it's more of a natural necessity; and so from that point of view we thought it was important to signal that they should be zero-rated based on a gender justice argument."
With women being more involved in economics and in the decisions that shape the country and its economy, Prof Ingrid highlights that this, and several other pressing topics, shouldn't be women's issues but that everyone should be involved in finding and contributing to solutions.
She says that there were men on the panel, like Ayabonga Cawe, who are strong proponents of gender justice and who are advocates of the same cause.
"I always find it interesting that you do find that the people working on, for example, wage differential or poverty among children, are more likely to be women. I think we need to get past that point where we see these as women's issues rather than everybody's issues," she added.
We will never have too many women in important positions, and so we need to make means to encourage more women to pursue them.
According to Prof Ingrid, we have to be intentional in terms of thinking about ensuring that female students feel that this a career that they would want to go into, that they don't feel like this a male-dominated field, where they can feel that they can have purpose.
"Women are more driven than men in terms of thinking about having careers where they have actual impact, and economics touches on every aspect of our lives. We need to be more intentional in terms of promoting the theory of economics as being about human development and also social issues."
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