By Jessie Taylor


Creating an equal society hinges on including vulnerable groups in social and economic activity. This is the key work of the Minister in the Presidency for Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, as she oversees the country’s programmes to create an inclusive society in which all South Africans have access to their rights.


Leading the way to inclusion

Minister Nkoana-Mashabane was appointed as Minister in the Presidency for Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities on 30 May 2019. She has had extensive experience running government ministries, having held the position of Minister of International Relations and Cooperation from 2014 to 2018 and Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform from 2018 to 2019.

She has been a member of the ANC national executive committee and national working committee since 2007. She has been a provincial convener of the Progressive Women’s Movement in Limpopo since 2007.

Before democracy, Minister Nkoana-Mashabane was a member of the United Democratic Front and served on various underground structures of the Mass Democratic Movement and ANC. After 1994, she served on the ANC Women’s League and was made a Member of Parliament. She served in the diplomatic service and was high commissioner to Malaysia, servicing the Philippines and Brunei from 1995 to 1999.

Minister Nkoana-Mashabane’s Department tackles three vulnerable groups in society, driving programmes to increase their participation in the economy and integration into society.


A safer society for women

One of the biggest challenges facing women in South Africa is gender-based violence. The World Health Organisation estimates that more than 12 women in every 100 000 are victims of femicide in South Africa each year. Alongside this, almost half of women have reported experiencing emotional or economic abuse at the hands of their intimate partners.

Minister Nkoana-Mashabane’s Department has been working to implement the National Strategic Plan (NSP) on gender-based violence to reduce violence against women.

The plan outlines a comprehensive strategic response to gender-based violence. To strengthen the NSP, President Cyril Ramaphosa recently approved the amendment of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act Amendment Bill, the Criminal and Related Matters Amendment Bill, and the Domestic Violence Amendment Bill.

“The implementation of this legislation will go a long way to ensuring that cases are successfully prosecuted, that survivors are protected and that there are more effective deterrents in place,” said President Ramaphosa.

“However, the fight against gender-based violence will never be won unless, as a society, we mobilise all formations and all citizens behind a sustained programme of social action.”


Building a future for youth

One of the most significant issues the youth faces is unemployment, with an estimated one in every two people between the ages of 15 to 34 years without work. The persistently high youth unemployment rate is driven by, among other factors, a lack of sufficient skills and previous work experience in young people. To address this skills gap, President Ramaphosa has announced measures by the Department to support young people to prepare them for work and link them to opportunities.

This includes increasing the value and expanding the criteria for participation in the Employment Tax Incentive, which will encourage hiring by smaller businesses. This has proven an effective way to encourage companies to hire new work seekers.

“We are calling on the private sector to support these measures – and, wherever possible, to drop experience as a hiring requirement – to give as many young people as possible their first job,” says President Ramaphosa.

Other measures include the Presidential Employment Stimulus programmes, which has created over 850 000 opportunities, most of them among the youth, as well as the appointment of 10 000 unemployed young people by the Department of Home Affairs to digitise their systems.

In addition, a  revitalised National Youth Service will recruit its first cohort of 50 000 young people during the next year, creating opportunities for young people to contribute to their communities, develop their skills and grow their employability.


Increasing access to rights for people with disabilities

People with disabilities have greater healthcare needs and are more likely to experience poor health than persons without disabilities. The Covid-19 pandemic created significant challenges for this group of South Africans to fill their healthcare requirements. Research by the Department of Women, Youth and Persons with disabilities and the United Nations Regional Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) found that many rights, such as the right to healthcare, had been limited during the pandemic.

People with disabilities experienced difficulties following mandatory Covid-19 guidelines such as social distancing and wearing of PPE; accessing healthcare including therapy, medication, specialist care and assistive devices; communication and care from healthcare workers.

The Department has embarked on a process to establish empowerment programmes and projects for the disability sector, and Minister Nkoana-Mashabane has stated that the rights of persons with disabilities remain a priority for the government.

“It takes each and every one of us to remember that persons with disabilities are not to be sidelined in any area. We must adjust our attitudes and perceptions towards disabilities and understand that many people face mental health challenges daily. We must be more understanding towards each other to ensure a more caring society,” she says.


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