Inequality in South Africa it is Important to Identify the Ways Gender and Care Intersect

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“In this essay I shall show the ways in which care, and gender intersect in order to illustrate some of the causes of inequality in South Africa.

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I shall do this by firstly defining gender and two terms that are closely related to it. Secondly, I shall define care and show how it can be a process. Thirdly I shall elaborate on the ways in which care is done/practiced. Next, I will show how gender and care can intersect and finally how this interception can be used to explain the inequalities in South Africa.

Gender (as opposed to sex) “Refers to the social aspects of differences and hierarchies between males and females”. (Daniels, 2019) Thereby gender is constructed by societies interpretation of a person’s gender. The concepts of feminism and masculinity and the roles and responsibilities attached to each are created by the social interpretation of gender of both females and males respectively. Masculinity is a term used to describe traits that are usually linked to male individuals such as powerful, emotionless, strong and dependable. On the other hand, feminism is a term used to describe traits that are often attributed to female individuals such as emotional, nurturing, caring, weak and protective.

Tronto defines care as “a species activity that includes everything that we do to maintain, continue and repair our ‘world’ so that we can live in it as much as possible”. Unlike most writers Tronto decided to look at care as a process rather than something static and amorphous. This process and definition allow for a deeper understanding of what care is and what care is not. It is important to note that this definition of care does not include activities done in pursuit of pleasure, creativity and those linked to production and or destruction.

Tronto process includes 4 subcomponents or stages to care, which follow each other sequentially, these components are as follows;

The first stage is ‘caring about’ and consists of the realisation that care is required (i.e. recognising a need for care). The second stage is called ‘taking care of’ which is the acceptance of responsibility for and decision on how to act regarding said need. The third stage is ‘care giving’ which involves action. This stage almost always involves the care giver coming into contact with the object of care. The final stage is ‘care receiving’ which includes the response of the object of care to the care it received.

Ways in which care is practised/done.

Any activity which is undertaken for the sole or partial purpose of maintaining, continuing or repairing the world is a practise of care (Tronto page 18-119). Viewing care as both a practice and disposition rather than as just a disposition widens caring beyond an emotionally driven attitude of a care giver. Thus, for the purpose of this essay care is defined as being both an emotion and an activity.

Show the intercept between gender and care in South Africa.

Defining femininity, masculinity, male and female is reliant on societies interpretation of each concept, the definitions are always going to be subjective and dependent on many factors which may in turn lead to inequality. The social constrains constructed by society to define gender mean that, not only are individuals encouraged to act in a certain way determined by the interpretation of their gender, but additionally an individual’s view of themselves may be altered over time. Quite often caring roles are assigned based on the socially constructed concepts of gender which a society has constructed. (Urdang) These gender concepts influence the amount of power certain genders are perceived as having which leads to inequality.

South African Society can be said to be subconsciously heteropatriarchal meaning that straight males are generally viewed as being at the top of the food chain, or in power. (Gouw, 2014:103) This means that women are viewed as lesser at least in terms of authority. These social norms where inequality is prevalent are reinforced by parents, family members and the greater society in which the person lives, works and interacts thus creating an endless cycle of inequality.

In family contexts it can be presumed by following heteropatriarchal and gender stereotypes that woman play the role of primary caregivers. (Gouw, 2014:103) This can be supported by data from a study by Akintola which found that care work was mostly done by women with only one of the 21 caregivers sampled being male. (Gouw, 2014:102)

An additional study by Gouw and Zyl found that the majority in care-giving positions in all four of the study’s categories were females. These categories were; the primary care-giver; the secondary care-giver; the community care-giver and the health professional. This applied to both the heteronormative and non-heteronormative participants, except for the category of secondary care-giver for which the non-heteronormative participants had equal numbers of female and male care-givers. Furthermore, of the 12 care recipients assessed, the primary care-givers in 10 of the cases were female family members. The delegation of the tasks that the care-givers performed were also influenced by gender with the women caregivers, whether primary or secondary, performing the domestic chores while the men provided monetary support for the household. (Gouw, 2014:113)

In reference to the four aspects of the caring process, the gendering of care in patriarchal society implies that men would fit into the “care about” category while women would tend to fall into the “care for” category. This implies that men are more likely to have a less active role in the caring for a society or household only providing money or the necessities for survival. (Tronto, 1993:115)

A study was conducted by Gouw and Zyl that provides evidence of the above situation. It was found that the women in the study did most of the “caring for”, which is embodied by the physical and emotional needs of the care recipients. While the males in the study “cared about” them by suppling the recipient of care with food and money but were not physically involved. (Gouw, 2014:109) An interesting finding is that although the care-givers tasks were influenced by their gender the gender of those receiving the care did not play a role in the type of care received. (Gouw, 2014: 118)

In South Africa caring jobs such as nursing and teaching are undervalued and underpaid. Thus, as women in South Africa perform these jobs more often than men it can be said that inequality exists in terms of gender. This supports our argument that gender intersects with caring and results in inequality between men and women in South Africa.

In South African society, when a member of a household becomes seriously ill, it is the female members who are tasked with the care for this individual. Providing private care-giving leaves these relatives with little time and an additional burden to carry alongside their everyday tasks. This means that the female relative would need to take time off from work to take care of the recipient, which in turn means that the care-giver is not earning money during this time causing an economic loss or inequality. The long-term affect is that this often leaves women reliant on their partners for income placing the male partner in a position of power as he controls the finances.

Additionally, the responsibility for care often includes the young girls of the family whose education suffers as they are required to take time off from school to help, often not returning to the classroom. This creates a large inequality in the education levels between genders thus meaning that girls either have a lower degree of education than their male peers, or they have no education at all. This disadvantages women in that when they reach an age where they go out and find work, men are in a better position to find higher paying and less menial tasks than women, thus making women often reliant on marriage and partnerships for support. This cycle of reliance continues if the situation repeats itself.

The history of South Africa during apartheid years has also contributed to the disproportional inequality between men and women and is another reason why women took on the role of main caregiver. Available jobs for people of colour was limited to certain functions with women mainly finding work as a domestic worker. The men on the other hand could work on mines which paid better but this meant that they were away from home for long periods of time leaving their wives and women folk to take care of the household. This cemented the women’s role as care giver and making them reliant on the men financially.

It is important to note that there are times at which the values of masculinity are harmful to men. For example, in South Africa if a man contracts HIV or any other serious illness they are less likely to go to the doctor as this would be admitting to their own weakness which is frowned upon by societal norms.

The fact that men are not seen as being caring or primary care givers also counts against them when faced with custody battles of their children. The courts in the interest of the children often award the women custody and require the men to provide economically.

The historical perception that women are more nurturing and emotionally in tuned than men is used as a reason why women disproportionally undertake the largest tasks of caring in South Africa. The largest caring tasks in South Africa include, tending children, tending the infirm and the aged and everyday domestic tasks for the family. Societies attitude sees women as being better suited to caring and until the attitudes change women will always be disproportionality represented in the practise of care and inequality will remain.”

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Inequality in South Africa It Is Important to Identify the Ways Gender and Care Intersect. (2021, Feb 25). Retrieved from