Over the past 26 years, South Africa has developed some of the world’s most progressive legislation aimed at advancing women’s rights and gender equality.
This Women’s Month, gender equality in South Africa is in a better position than it was at any other point in our history. Tremendous strides have been made in empowering women, but to further close the gender gap, public servants need to continue working on solutions to the many challenges still facing women today. National government has led the charge in bridging the gender divide, not only in the laws and policies it has implemented, but also in the employment of women. Despite this, discrimination of women in South Africa, whether it be in the workplace, home or society at large, is still very evident. Add to this the alarming surge in gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF), and it is clear that more still needs to be done to empower women.
Equality in the workplace
Government has been a trailblazer in implementing the various gender equality policies it has put in place regarding the employment of women. In 2018 and 2019, an Interdepartmental Task Team undertook an extensive review of the progress made on gender equality, in line with the Beijing Platform for Action established in 1995.
The report highlighted the substantial successes made in the establishment of institutional mechanisms for advancing women’s empowerment. This includes the establishment of the Department of Women Youth and Persons with Disabilities, and various laws for the employment of women.
After President Cyril Ramaphosa took office, Cabinet boasted a 50/50 representation between male and female Ministers for the first time in the country’s history. Close to
50 percent of seats in Parliament are taken up by women, and around 40 percent of Municipal Mayors are female. In fact, women now make up more than 50 percent of all public servants.
“Government has strived to transform the state sector and to ensure that mechanisms are in place to prioritise the progress of women in all sectors of public life. It is evident from all available data that women have made significant progress in all areas of the civil service,” the report states. President Ramaphosa warned however, in an address for the celebration of International Women’s Day, that progress has been some- what uneven, especially in the private sector.
“In South Africa, as in many other parts of the world, women continue to bear the brunt of poverty and unemployment. They are less likely to own a business, less likely to be employed, less likely to be promoted.
“While the representation of women in the public service has increased dramatically over the past 25 years, we have not seen similar progress in business or academia. This highlights the fact that there is still a long journey ahead, and that the gains we make can be undone unless we are vigilant and focused.”
Protecting women’s rights
Discrimination against women is still deeply entrenched within South African society. This has been pain- fully illustrated by the continued high levels of violence perpetrated against women. As President Ramaphosa points out, government has a vast number of policies and programmes aimed at protecting women’s rights.
“We have implemented policies and programmes to give practical expression to the rights of women and girls to education, to re- productive health care, to basic services, and to social support. We have several gender- responsive laws around reproductive health, sexual orientation, ac- cess to justice, customary law, and protection against domestic and sexual violence.”
In March, Cabinet approved the GBVF National Strategic Plan, and has also established the Inter-Ministerial Committee on GBVF.
In her adjusted budget speech in July, Minister in the Presidency for Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, highlighted how these developments will build on the existing initiatives in place to counteract GBVF.
“This will build onto existing structures that are working well at com- munity level such as the police, victim empowerment programmes, religious organisations and civil society net- works. From individuals, to faith-based organisations, civil society organisations and the private sector, South Africans are joining hands to fight and eradicate this pandemic. We must also integrate the National Strategic Plan targets into their plans and government departments must include the targets in their plans.”
President Ramaphosa said that true empowerment of women can only occur when all forms of violence against women are put to a stop.
“The empowerment of women means that we need to end all forms of violence perpetrated by men against women. We need to urgently address the continued economic marginalisation of South African women and their vulnerability to GBVF,” he added.
Priorities for the future
This year, Women’s Month is being celebrated under the theme of “Generation Equality: Realising Women’s Rights for an Equal Future”.
Minister Nkoana-Mashabane explained that government will intensify its efforts to encourage the economic inclusion of women, particularly in the wake of the corona virus pandemic.
“We want to join hands across spheres of government and with all sectors of society as part of a Decade of Action towards gender equality. We also want to see sustainable programmes that are geared towards achieving this goal.”
Government is working with civil society in establishing Action Coalitions to drive visible change for women. The Minister stressed that the fight against GBVF is bigger than government and will require a collective commitment from society.
“We will utilise Women’s Month to accelerate the implementation of the National Strategic Plan on GBVF in partnership with civil society.
“We call upon our communities to join and help us eradicate this pandemic. We further appeal to families and communities to come together against this scourge to expose perpetrators and not turn a blind eye,” she said.