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George Washington University

Publication Date

Spring 2014

Program Name

South Africa: Multiculturalism and Human Rights


The research study described in this paper examines different women’s perceptions of their economic opportunities and sense of empowerment in Cape Town today. Although post-apartheid South Africa boasts many more opportunities for women than under apartheid, there is still a large disparity in the treatment of women in the workforce compared to men – from the number of women employed to wage inequality to the levels and types of jobs to which women are constrained. This gender discrimination has reverberating effects on the poverty and development of South Africa the nation, as many argue that women’s economic empowerment is directly correlated with the overall growth of a country. The research in this study is therefore relevant because South African development policymakers may benefit from comparing and analyzing women’s views of their own economic opportunities today. The seven participants of this small-scale qualitative research study are women of diverse races and ages, and the synthesis of this cross-racial and generational research provides a non-representative sample of the concerns of women in Cape Town today regarding economic opportunities. I conducted my research through seven interviews with women who live in Bo Kaap, Langa, Oranjezicht, and Sea Point and who are of younger and older generations. From these interviews I found that cultural upbringing is a highly influential factor on women’s opportunities to succeed on their own financially and can significantly restrict or increase women’s economic empowerment. My research also highlighted the underlying insecurity that many women in the workforce today feel regarding their abilities, which reinforces negative stereotypes of women. Overall, the findings of my study suggest that women’s unique experiences with economic opportunity depend greatly on their individual culture and family structure, rather than purely racial and class distinctions. This research provides valuable insight into the complex causes and details of the gender gap felt by women of different races, ages, and cultures in Cape Town today.


Family, Life Course, and Society | Inequality and Stratification | Politics and Social Change | Race and Ethnicity | Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies | Women's Studies


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