Why is Womankind still working in South Africa?
South Africa is an ‘Upper Middle Income Country’, which means it had a per capita GNI of US $3 706-$11 455 in 2007 – so says the DAC List, a list of all the countries receiving Official Development Assistance – aid to you and me – listen in order of the average wealth of citizens. The DAC list is used by all donors to decide who is and isn’t eligible to receive aid, which makes a lot of sense at a time of economic downturn when all aid needs to be spent as well as possible and have the maximum impact on poor people’s lives.
Because of its position on the DAC list, South Africa is getting less aid and many donors are leaving the country. And this makes sense – the South African government should be responsible for delivering the basic services its citizens need and it largely (at least compared to many other African countries) has the resources to do this. So should Womankind pull out of South Africa, job done, and move onto a poorer, more needy country?
But South Africa is also one of the most unequal societies in the world, which is obvious when travelling around. Central Jo’burg looks like many other western cities, with shops, businesses, restaurants and people rushing around making a living and living their lives. But then drive a few kilometres from the city you enter the townships, where although there are many newly constructed houses and improved roads, there are also make-shift shacks and many people still don’t have lack of access to water and electricity. Unemployment is high and many people scrape a living in the informal economy, selling goods on the side of the road or finding occasional casual work.
And black African women are the most unequal of all. They still have fewer educational and employment opportunities, are more susceptible to HIV and AIDS, and are most likely to be living in absolute poverty. In addition South Africa has among the highest levels of violence against women, including rape, anywhere in the world.
And it is these statistics and these facts that means that Womankind will remain in South Africa over the coming years – because ‘average’ hides massive inequalities and severe problems which need to be urgently addressed. Organisations like Womankind need to continue to support South African women’s rights organisations in ensuring that all women benefit from the growing wealth of the country and can live in safety. It will be difficult for Womankind to find the funds to support our partners, but we’ll keep trying because there is such a great need and we will be able to have a profound impact on so many women’s lives.