Africa’s Future May Depend on Women’s Employment

Print More

Nophiwa Sinquina

PONDOLAND, South Africa (WOMENSENEWS)–Half the buttons on Nophiwa Sinquina’s skirt have fallen off, and despite the long distances she walks, her shoes are only floppy sneakers. But Sinquina, 24, has something many young people here, especially young women, envy: a job.

A few times a month, the quiet, young woman leads visitors along South Africa’s eastern shore as part of a community-run tourism project. Vistors around the world come to seethe area’s rugged beauty, but for the people ofPondoland–named for the rural Xhosa-speakingPondo people who live here–life here ishard.

Ten years after the end of apartheid, many villages still have no running water or electricity. Jobs are scarce, families are large and AIDS is running rampant. With few prospects at home, many young people still leave for the big cities in search of work, leaving behind households of old people and children.

At play in Pondoland are a number of demographic trends–a youth bulge, urban migration and scarcity of land and water–that researchers at the Washington-based Population Action International say may contribute to future civil conflict.

A report released by the group last month, The Security Demographic: Population and Civil Conflict after the Cold War, argues that much of sub-Saharan Africa, as well as parts of the Middle East and Asia, are at high-risk for future civil conflict. The report, which found a high correlation between demographics and conflict in the 1990s, also identifies the increasing toll of HIV/AIDS as a factor that will likely make some states more vulnerable to civil conflict in the future.

Researchers at Population Action International argue that the best way to mitigate these factors is to improve women’s access to education, family planning and economic opportunities. Programs such as the European Union-supported Wild Coast Trails Community Tourism Initiative that provide jobs for young women such as Sinquina can help reduce birth rates, slow urban migration and ultimately reduce the risk of civil conflict in high-risk countries such as South Africa.

Averting Risks of Domestic Work

Whether single by choice or circumstance, Sinquina’s unmarried state would make her a prime candidate to be sent to the cities to find employment, most likely as a domestic worker, where she would be more vulnerable to sexual exploitation and AIDS.

Sinquina said her job as a tourist guide–which gives her just a few dollars a few times a month–provides enough income for basic needs like clothes and soap and to contribute to her family. And, although it is not discussed in conservative areas such as the Eastern Cape, the income also makes her less vulnerable to AIDS by reducing the chance that she will trade sex for food or clothes, a major cause of the virus’ spread.

The second of ten children, Sinquina is the only one of her grown sisters who is not married and the only one without children. Like her sisters, Sinquina did not finish high school–scarce money to pay school fees often get used up on boys–but spent enough time in school to become literate and speak some English. Both are remarkable skills in a region that has among the country’s highest poverty rates and lowest adult literacy.

Like most families here, the Sinquinas live between the modern and traditional economies. They keep cattle and grow corn, providing for themselves much of what they need. But pensions and remittances from family members working in the city and mines provide cash income to pay for school fees, housing improvements and smaller items such as cooking oil and soap they cannot make themselves. The average monthly household income in this area of more than 1 million is less than $150.

“Girls here marry young, sometimes at 15 or 16,” Sinquina told Women’s eNews, her English still quiet and unsure, as she walked through the sunset past clusters of traditional houses.

‘Pro-Poor’ Tourism

South African development researchers Zolile Ntshona and Edward Lahiff, who have studied the community tourism projects in Pondoland, say the five-year-old Wild Coast Trails Community Tourism Initiative is a successful example of pro-poor tourism, which relies primarily on natural assets, like the Wild Coast’s beauty, and labor.

Pro-poor tourism, they say, aims to spread the economic benefits of tourism widely, particularly to women. In the Wild Coast project, women serve as guides, but also cook food for guests and maintain and clean the houses in which visitors stay. The European Union is helping the small program expand further up the coast and hopes its success will serve as a model for similar programs elsewhere.

“I’ve had visitors from Norway, Japan and the United Kingdom,” said Lorraine Ludude, a widowed mother of eight, who makes $30 or $40 a month hosting visitors in her home. “The money helps me improve my house and send my children to school.”

The Eastern Cape province where the Pondo live has the highest poverty rate in South Africa. The nearest high school to Ludude’s village is more than 20 miles away, so she must maintain a second household for children during the school term. A high school graduate herself, she values her children’s education.

Post-Apartheid Development Lags

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, political fighting between two rival parties hoping to gain power after the end of apartheid threw parts of South Africa–though not Pondoland–into turmoil. Although the violence has since died down, many of the factors that the report’s authors believe contributed to it, such as migrant labor and a large population of young people, remain.

Indeed, South Africa today–like Africa as a whole–has an incredibly high number of young people. More than 44 percent of the adult population is between 15 and 29. With few economic opportunities in rural areas, flight to the cities is high and conflicts over land, the best of which remains in a few white hands, is on the increase.

Back in Pondoland, young employees say the Wild Coast Trials and similar programs keep them at home and dampen the despair of unemployment.

Ultimately, however, such programs are only a part of the solution for areas like Pondoland, mired in poverty and underdevelopment. People here say the money from the trails helps, but ultimately they want things like jobs and services that only the government can provide.

“The government said it would give us running water and electricity,” said Ludude. “But still, nothing.”

Nicole Itano is a writer based in South Africa.

For more information:

Population Action International–
“The Security Demographic: Population and Civil Conflict after the Cold War”
(Adobe PDF format):http://www.populationaction.org/securitydemographic/pdfs/SecurityDemographic.PDF

Population Action International–“Community-Based Eco-Tourism on the Wild Coast, SouthAfrica: The Case of the Amadiba Trail”
(Adobe PDF format):
http://www.ids.ac.uk/ids/env/PDFs/wRP07.pdf


Comments are closed.