Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

When I asked my son a few months ago who he thought was going to pick up his clothes, toys and towels strewn across the floor, he looked at me like I was slightly off kilter and said: "You."

Wrong answer. And he knew that the second the word left his mouth by the look of horror on my face as it dawned on me that my young child was learning that women were there to tidy up after him.

I knew then we needed regime change, fast: amazing what a tick chart and the associated rewards (or consequences) did to get clothes in the laundry basket, towels in the bathroom and toys in their place.

It helps that in our home my husband and I both pitch in with no chore assigned to a particular gender and that my sons know plenty of intelligent and determined women and their daughters.

But even so it is still a challenge to raise boys to not assume that women should fulfil traditional roles. And that they themselves are not constricted by society into what choices they want to make, especially as they see stereotypical gender roles playing out at school and in society every day.

Take Women's Day this week - you would be forgiven if you thought it was a rerun of Valentine's Day as a steady stream of pink-coloured marketing material flooded social media.

Flowers, chocolates and even scantily clad women were used to promote products, despite the day being about commemorating the political and economic power of women.

And while recognising women who have made significant strides in their careers and instituting change in society, it should also be a day to reflect on how far we still have to go. The evidence is easy to find.

According to the Quarterly Labour Force Survey for the second quarter, released this week, there is a higher unemployment rate among women, at almost 30%, than men at 26%. The margin is wider if you use the expanded unemployment rate: 40.4% for women and 33.3% for men.

The gap persists even in employment, with more women in lower-paid jobs than men. For example, there are about 459000 women managers but more than one million men in that role.

So from the get-go men have greater economic means, and financial means give you greater scope to define your own life.

This is also evident when it comes to middle-income jobs: more men contribute to retirement funds, and more belong to trade unions, which suggests they get better wage increases than do women - fewer of whom are organised.

This follows since more men are employed than women, but it underlies the better financial outcome for men.

There are signs of change. StatsSA data shows greater equilibrium between men and women employed in the professional category. And women are gaining ground in the technical field, with more employed in this category than men.

But if we hope to get to a point where this is no longer a discussion, the only people who are going to change women's roles are women themselves by raising their sons (and daughters) to embrace all the possibilities available to them and to support others in achieving their dreams. That is, of course, if women decide to become mothers at all.

Enslin-Payne is deputy editor of Business Times

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