What inequality looks like

Southern Africa enjoys vast mineral wealth and established democracies. The region has nurtured leaders whose impact on social justice has been felt around the world. But the legacy of apartheid and colonialism continues to sow division when it comes to race, class, and gender—and in relation to the rural and urban poor.

Despite economic growth, women, youth, and the poor continue to have unequal employment opportunities. Women’s lack of access to land also remains a significant barrier to equality, while the poor are deprived of benefits from the region’s abundant natural resources. Corruption and political patronage guide markets and governments, while many people struggle to engage in and influence these arenas. For women, these challenges are compounded by cultural norms, laws, and high rates of violence that inhibit economic opportunity and limit participation.

Confronting inequity to advance change

Across the region, progressive laws and policies have great potential to advance social justice—if they are implemented equitably and effectively. South Africa’s Constitution, in particular, upholds individual and socioeconomic rights and underscores government’s responsibility to ensure the welfare of all its people. Laws and other efforts aimed at empowering women and girls, youth, black people, and the poor have the capacity to deliver greater autonomy and increase people’s ability to participate fully in decisions that affect their social, political, and economic lives. To realize this promise, all people must play a key role in advancing progress, and governments and the private sector must be accountable for their actions.