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Women and finances – a discussion we need to have

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Published Sep 9, 2021


Rizwana Butler

The pandemic has, arguably, been especially devastating to women. It set progress for gender pay parity back by possibly a generation, partly due to the massive burden of care women have carried over this time.

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A Stats SA (December 2020) survey found 41.8 percent of South African households were female-headed. And many, many women have lost their jobs.

Two out of the three million job losses that happened in the 2020 lockdowns were women. In a world where women already earn less, are financially stressed and don’t tend to invest, this could have detrimental consequences. Now is the time to turn it around.

Traditionally, men have been the breadwinners and women the caregivers. It takes collective will, cultural shifts, time, education and an enabling economic environment to change this. The way we’re raised and socialised has much to do with it. In a Ted Talk, Reshma Saujani spoke of how girls are raised to be perfect. Boys are raised to be brave.

The exposure we typically provide to young children at school and home still often aligns with traditional roles. Girls are prompted to lean to the arts rather than the sciences. They’re frequently not encouraged to study business, maths, finance and economics at school, which limits their exposure and confidence when it comes to finance and business. And, if they’re not privy to financial conversations and education at home, then where is their financial literacy supposed to stem from?

This has far-reaching implications for many aspects of life, including our relationship with money. Women tend to have a smaller appetite for risk – which makes them good investors when they do invest. But Pew Research shows women tend to invest less and later than men. Men earn more money and make it work harder for themselves.

Happily, much has changed in recent years, and now the trend is to try and get more girls into STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects. But, in South Africa, everyone knows our public education system is not where it needs to be, and its impact on young people’s maths, science, and reading are far-reaching.

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Now, lockdown-linked lost school days pose a considerable threat to learning gains. Young people face a loss of crucial maths teaching in the foundation phase. Given that maths is learnt cumulatively, the impact of this cannot be overstated. With every day lost at school, we deny our youth a strong foundation in literacy, numeracy and financial skills, the essence of critical life skills.

You educate a woman…

My great-aunt Amina Butler is an example of what an empowered woman can do for her family. In the 30s, a time when young Muslim girls were taken out of high school and encouraged to get married rather than pursue a career, 22-year-old Amina went back to high school. She dared to push boundaries and was the first Muslim girl in Durban to go to high school, paving the way for others to follow.

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She went on to qualify as a teacher and took care of my dad and his five siblings when my grand-dad passed away. She could do this because she was educated and financially independent. She also raised me for the first two years of my life and played a vital role in guiding me in my childhood and teenage years. She paid for my first semester of university as well, giving me the chance to pursue my dreams. Her story is the foundation of my belief in gender empowerment. If you educate a woman, you educate a nation.

Right now, we have a massive global skills scarcity. In South Africa – and worldwide – there’s a shortage of data, digital and technology skills. Equally, there’s a shortage of critical softer skills, like problem-solving and decision-making.

Additionally, the opportunity to learn and grow is vital. We see that many women appreciate mentorship from senior female role models, particularly on topics such as navigating the workplace and balancing work and life.

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We also know that women actively seek companies that strive for gender equity.

It’s an attitude change

Up-skilling girls in financial knowledge takes more than just education. It’s an attitude change as well. We’re coming from a legacy where finances were the domain of men. To turn this around, we must disrupt the paradigms of what men and women are perceived to be able and unable to do. Our recent #ReimagineTheRand campaign was all about putting women on our currency. It’s a discussion on representation generally. More symbolically, it’s a commentary on women’s chronic exclusion when it comes to money matters.

We need to work even harder than ever before to create inclusive environments where women have a seat at the table. We need to bring young girls’ attention to the many businesswomen in South African communities who are doing amazing things. We need to expose girls to STEM-centric careers early on.

Once women are in the work world, we need to create stronger networks, more mentorship and coaching opportunities to build confidence. And we need to make financial education easily accessible to people of all ages – changing market conditions means it must be ongoing. A once-off course is simply not got enough.

Empowering women to make their money work harder for them

Women tend to naturally use their hard-earned income to provide a better life for their families and loved ones. There’s a fine balance between providing for immediate needs and securing one’s financial future. It’s not easy. It often requires tough conversations. It always takes discipline.

People need to know that no matter how much they earn, there are ways to make that money grow.

For women who are keen to become financially independent and start living a more empowered, future-fit financial journey, the first steps are always daunting. But we all know “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.

I suggest:

Start small: Pay yourself first by saving at least 10% of your monthly income. Build a nest egg to deal with unexpected emergencies and pursue purposeful goals, like starting a new business venture.

Read and research to build your understanding of financial matters

Believe in yourself and permit yourself to play. Especially when it comes to investing. Try and see what happens with small amounts on Easy Equities. Build your knowledge and then diversify your portfolio, increasing your investment amount over time.

Set up savings accounts linked to specific goals.

It takes guts to get going, but your future self will thank you.

Rizwana Butler is a human resources executive at Capitec Bank.

*The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL or of title sites.