Long gone are the days when women devoted themselves entirely to the needs of their hard-working husbands and families, thanks largely to women’s rights which are safeguarded in South Africa. Yet those days weren't actually that long ago. In fact, many grandmothers will relate how they slogged in their kitchens to ensure grandad had a hot meal when he came home from work, the house was clean, the children and extended family cared for, and all this on a monthly budget.
With the man as the financial provider and his wife the home-keeper, came the sense that a certain servitude was expected, and sadly accepted, by women.
This (generic) attitude traditionally left women vulnerable when a husband left them, for in being the person that made the home loan payments, he most often got to keep the house and its contents, regardless of how much effort the wife had put into maintaining the property.
In South Africa, patriarchy was particularly prevalent in cultural marriages, and women were further impacted by customary and religious laws and practices, domestic violence, the proliferation of HIV/AIDS, and of course apartheid just served to further distance women from homeownership opportunities.
No doubt these practices left women frustrated, angry, and motivated to see change, creating a strong desire for independence, and as women began to earn their own incomes the need for establishing their own asset security became paramount. What better asset than owning a home!
With such ownership came not only the ability to provide a stable home for her children, but a sense of pride, a statement of strength and endurance, and an expression of success.
This is opposite to what had gone on before. Women’s access to adequate housing, let alone ownership, was informed by the historical, social, and economic context in which they found themselves. When this changed in 1996 with the right to equality across many Acts, specifically section 26 of the Act No. 108 which basically says everyone has a right of access to adequate housing’, the state could no longer prohibit unfair discrimination related to housing rights.
Regardless of the law, however, many women still do not have ownership rights to the land on which they live, due to hidden discriminatory attitudes, patriarchy, or simply just accepting their humbleness. But as it is well documented, when women have secure property ownership, either land or a house, they tend to begin to exert themselves, and positively so, on those around them.
The new woman
Over the last few decades, women have steadily been blurring the lines between male and female representation in workplaces and homes. Businesses, governments, and policies have also played a big role in ensuring gender equality across all economic sectors, and this has contributed significantly to a recent property trend: that female property buyers have overtaken their male counterparts in being responsible for more than 50% of property purchase activity.
Absa has been watching this upward trend with keen interest and confirms that this started before, and sustained through, the Covid year. Kamini Ramsamy, Head of Risk Management Acquisitions at Absa Home Loans says that the bank has also noted that single female buyers now make up 55% of home loan applications. “We are also beginning to see an increase in under 35-year-old females that are buying homes.”
There is also another trend that Absa is highlighting: females are spending some 30% more on their property purchases in comparison to pre-lockdown. “This is compared to only a 19% increase for male buyers, and this is largely due to the favourable interest rates, which are the lowest in 50 years. Combined with transfer duty saving on properties below R1-million, what we have is a very conducive environment for women to enter the property space as owners.
“We’re also seeing many more females entering the workplace, taking up leadership roles, which of course comes with higher salaries. It’s not uncommon today for women to own more than one property, which mirrors the changing balance of economic power between men and women.”
The independent woman
Ramsamy says that such women are seeking independence and financial security. “They see the benefit of growing wealth through property as an investment, especially those who are single Moms and who want to secure a roof over their children’s heads. It’s also evident that some of the female home loan applicants are the first generation in a family to attend university, and with their aspirations for the future, comes a desire to support their extended family in a home of their own.”
Young families, where both mother and father are income earners, are finding joint applications for a home loan very affordable. Many of these are looking to move from rural to suburban areas so that they can access better infrastructure such as transport, schools, and medical/health facilities.
Although banks like Absa do not specifically have or offer ‘female’ oriented financial products or incentives, the entire range of Absa’s home solutions are especially applicable to women because priority is given to addressing the ‘unique’ needs of a customer. The bank views each female applicant as an individual in her own right whether she is married or not, and is sympathetic to her desire to own and create a home for her family.
Ultimately women are doing it for themselves today, and while you may sit with grandma and shake your head in awe at the unequal household that she had to maintain, remember that someday, you too may be a grandmother with stories to tell that shape our past and our future.