A-grade women butchering gender norms

A-grade women butchering gender norms

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When Claudia Sithole, aged 24, arrives for work at a supermarket and announces that she’s been sent to cover for an absent butcher, the other workers think she’s joking.

“But you’re a woman,” they say.

Claudia responds by setting to work at the butcher’s block, easily wielding the equipment usually handled by men, cutting and portioning meat like an expert. This is the best part of her day – when she is at the height of her craft and knows that people look at her differently. She always tells other young women: “This could be you”.

Claudia is part of a butchery programme designed by Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator for Freddy Hirsch, Southern Africa's largest supplier of industrial spices, sausage casings, and meat processing equipment. Claudia learnt her trade at a butchery school - one of the services Freddy Hirsch offers its customers, which include retail groups and hundreds of independent stores and butcheries.

Says Claudia: “My life is so much better now. I love knowing that I’m a young working woman with a job I’m good at. Every day I go home feeling proud of myself.”                                                                                                                                             

Michelle van Rhyn, manager of the butcher school, says, “We really wanted to address the problem of South Africa’s high level of youth unemployment, so we piloted with Harambee starting in 2016. Our customers were pleased so we expanded the programme. Historically women don’t become butchers, but we’ve discovered they’re really good at it. Butchery is a scarce skill in South Africa. It gives lots of options for employment, from retail and wholesale to the food and beverage industry, and even as entrepreneurs.”

Despite the ongoing push for gender equality, labour force participation remains lower for young women than for young men even with an increased focus on legislation and diversity in the workplace. Breaking Barriers, Harambee’s Quarterly Employment Report, looks at the barriers that young women face in finding and keeping jobs and what solutions are working. Watch some of these young women’s stories here.