Women’s month provides us with an opportunity to reflect on our progress towards full gender equality in South Africa. It is a time to celebrate the progressive policy framework that we have put in place to support transformation in South Africa, while acknowledging the challenges that remain.
Today, South Africa has achieved a level of gender equality that has only been accomplished in other countries after many decades of democracy. Our cabinet and legislatures are among the top ten most representative in the world. Four in ten cabinet ministers are women and four in ten national MPs are women. In school girls have equal access to education and are performing at improved levels in many subjects. In higher education women number more than half of the student body. Women make up almost four in ten of the Senior Management Service in the public service and overall women comprise more than half of employees in the Public Service.
Yet the evidence of continuing gender inequality in some of our key institutions of governance and in the private sector clearly indicates that a great deal more has to be done.
How do we in the ANC plan to strengthen women’s participation in decision-making? Women’s participation and leadership in decision-making is of critical importance, both in terms of justice and equality and because the active presence of women has been shown to put gender-specific concerns on the agenda and encourage the monitoring of the implementation of related policies and programmes. Participation is about more than just how many women are present in decision-making forums; it is about the effective articulation of issues that matter to different groups of women. Enabling women’s participation, however, should not lead to women being the only ones responsible for prioritising gender equality concerns. All decision makers, women and men, must take responsibility.
The ANC has put in place an overarching framework for women’s empowerment and gender equality, developed in 2000 by the former Office on the Status of Women (OSW) in the Presidency. In 2009 the OSW was integrated into the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities (DWCPD). In 2014 the DWCPD became the Ministry of Women in the Presidency.
The National Policy Framework for Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality provides the closest possible platform for gender mainstreaming in the country. The central goal of the policy framework is to achieve gender equality through two policy strategies, namely: women empowerment; and gender mainstreaming. The national policy framework mandates the ministry to be the national coordinating structure at the apex of the gender machinery in the country. The policy framework further tasks ministry to set up a gender management system on the basis of which all institutions charged with women empowerment and gender equality will account.
Therefore, gender focal points in various national line-function Departments and Provincial offices are to account to their respective Ministers and Premiers as well as to the Minister on progress in relation to women empowerment and gender mainstreaming.
In addition, there are other laws that seek to address inequality in the country, such as the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (PEPUDA), 2000; and the Employment Equity Act, 1998. However, these laws deal with equality/inequality in a broad sense. For example the PEPUDA deals with all forms of inequality and prohibit all forms of discrimination: race, gender, disability, age, ethnic origin, religious belief. These are laws implementing the equality clause in the Bill of Rights. Studies and our own experience reveal a gap between the existence of rights and their implementation especially for the benefit of poor and rural women.
The 2017 policy conference implicitly asked for a focussed attention on the following issues:
- Building a broad national women’s movement;
- Strengthening the gender machinery in government;
- Ensuring that gender is integrated in all aspects of ANC policies and programmes;
- Action against violence against women and maintenance violations; and
- Calling for a gradual review of all discriminatory customs, traditions and other practises that are oppressive to women.
However the struggle is far from over and in some instance there is a backlash against the advances that we have made. For instance, the high level of violence against women, especially domestic, may well be part of men’s resistance to change. We have not as yet gone far in acknowledging and addressing women’s unpaid labour. Sexist attitudes in our society and even within the democratic movement still lag far behind the equality we want. The result is that more women than men are unemployed and women-headed households are generally poorer than men-headed households.
Very wide gaps still exist in ensuring gender mainstreaming in all ANC policies. It’s up to the Women’s League to lead the ongoing struggle for ANC equality policies at home and at work.
Cde Naledi Pandor is a member of the ANC NEC and NWC