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Strategic women-focused CSI is vital for social change in South Africa

By Judith Mtsewu, Knowledge Manager, CAFSA

Gender mainstreaming 

The state of our country and its people – in particular those on the margins of society – makes the pursuit of social change a continuously pertinent issue in South Africa. The development sector in our country is focused on the struggle for social justice and human rights for all.


Within this, women’s rights and gender equality often appear as an isolated part of CSI agendas. However, there is much more to be done to address women’s issues more effectively. At the heart of the issues lie every woman’s right to equality, empowerment and safety.

There has been pressure from different segments of society for government to step-up to its constitutional mandate to improve the lives of women in South Africa and to ‘bridge the gap’ when it comes to gender inequality. The corporate world is also under pressure to bring about meaningful and tangible change to promote and deliver on gender equality in the workplace.

Yet, we still find that many multi-faceted social justice platforms are often silent on women’s rights and gender issues, tending to present wider societal issues in gender-neutral terms. In these instances, the circumstances and experiences of men and women are presented as similar, or the same, which can lead to some voices and perspectives left unheard.

The above is exacerbated by the fact that many women-focused organisations are among those that have struggled to keep their doors open due to funding challenges. Donor fatigue and funding issues have had profound implications on the work of this particular sector.

To move our country forward, our women need to move forward. We, as civil society, must commit to placing a strategic focus on women’s issues, not only in isolation during gender-focused campaigns and initiatives, but within the broader development space too.

Below are some commonly-known gender related facts that have been reported on, which demonstrate the importance of women in our society:

  • As reported by business journalist, Toni Muir, in Business Day’s Empowerment magazine 2017, women account for more than half of SA’s population and comprise around 45% of the total workforce
  • As reported by StatsSA, women fill 44% of skilled posts, which include managers, professionals and technicians. This figure hasn’t shifted much over the years; it was 44% in September 2002
  • StatsSA also reports that gender representation is still below the 50% mark for positions, with a great deal of influence, according to data from 2014. Women comprised of 32% of Supreme Court of Appeal judges, 31% of advocates, 30% of ambassadors and 24% of heads of state-owned enterprises

 CSI is an important lever that can be used to bring about gender-related social change. By putting gender-based issues at the foreground of CSI strategies, CSI spend could be channeled to ensure that not only are there clearly targeted gender-focused areas, but that all development areas integrate gender in a meaningful way.


Data-driven research and statistics will be a critical part of making real change happen. Data relating to beneficiaries needs to be documented and segregated according to gender, in order to ensure that particular issues affecting women, men, girls and boys are made visible.

But, preceding this, we as individuals, within our various organisations, must demonstrate our commitment to making gender issues more visible. We can do this in the following ways:

  • Be conscious about your own organisation’s stance on gender. If it’s not where you think it should be, speak up and see where changes can be made.
  • Secondly, we must ensure that we consistently apply a gender-focused lens when we craft interventions
  • Thirdly, we should be recording gender disaggregated data when we implement programmes. This data will deepen our analysis of the work we do as organisations.  
  • Lastly, we should be telling compelling stories of achievement that reflect clear change.


If we all take responsibility – as individuals, as organisations and as the development sector as a whole – by the time next Women’s Month comes around, we'll be able to tell a story of significant progress in making visible what if often invisible.