Commission on Gender Equality response to 2012 State of the Nation Address

Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities

29 February 2012
Chairperson: Ms M Tlake (ANC) (Acting)
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Meeting Summary

The Commission on Gender Equality (CGE) briefed the Committee on its response to the 2012 State of the Nation Address (SONA). The CGE understood the main focus of the SONA to be on service delivery, and said that proper monitoring of the work of all government departments would help the country to move in a direction that realised gender equality. The CGE stressed that the Department of Health, in particular, needed to align its plans so as to respond to women’s health issues, including their reproductive rights. CGE continued to monitor the work and policies of government. It believed firmly that gender mainstreaming had to take place across all departments and all policies to ensure that a society free from gender oppression and all forms of inequality was achieved. Women were still experiencing problems at the social, political and economic level. CGE urged state departments to analyse women’s challenges and needs, and create policies that would deal with the differing gender dimensions. Sufficient resources to implement must be allocated. Proper disaggregation of gender data and statistics was needed and specific targets and monitoring measures must be put in place. Skills and training that would result in changed mindsets must be introduced.

CGE said that job creation and economic development were vital to lessening gender gaps, and so women must benefit in real terms from these initiatives. Women must be assured of access to the Job Fund and loans, so they could benefit from state procurement opportunities. Infrastructure development programmes announced in the SONA were likely to improve the quality of life of women, but there was some doubt whether the departments would be able to address all the challenges to service delivery, and whether they would take women’s needs into account when planning. The measures to ensure the girl child’s access to education were likewise welcomed, but CGE stressed that higher education for girls was also needed, and wanted to see gender equality being included in the school curriculum. The inadequate implementation of the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Acts was criticized. Other issues requiring greater attention included women’s access to land and recognition of their title to land.

Members stressed that the CGE must present concrete strategic plans and action plans to indicate exactly how it intended to achieve its aims. They suggested that CGE needed to be stronger in coordination, and should not attempt to shift the blame. They asked whether the mandates of the CGE and the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities overlapped, and stressed that proper monitoring was needed. Members asked why the unequal access to resources, particularly in rural areas, was not being addressed, noted that private institutions also did not comply with gender and disability targets, and asked whether the CGE made use of the powers that it already had. Members raised concerns about human trafficking, asked about how far the Department of Health had gone towards implementing the National Health Insurance, cited instances of talented pupils who were not able to access further education, and noted that there were difficulties arising from the confusion of “gender equality” and “empowerment of women”.

Meeting report

Commission on Gender Equality: Response to 2012 State of the Nation Address
Teboho Maitse, Commissioner, Commission on Gender Equality, noted that the Commission on Gender Equality (CGE) felt that the State of the Nation Address (SONA) had focused on service delivery, and had mainly addressed how government departments should do their work. Proper monitoring of these issues would help the country to move towards gender equality. She placed emphasis upon the need for the Department of Health, in particular, to align its plan of action for the year in response to issues around women’s rights, including their reproductive rights.

Ms Janine Hicks, Commissioner, CGE, tabled and took Members through the presentation on the response to SONA. She said that the CGE had to continue to monitor the policies of government and their impact on women and the disabled. This would lead the CGE towards achieving its vision for a society free from gender oppression and all forms of inequality. Gender mainstreaming had to be applied across all policies, to ensure that women would benefit from the promises outlined by the President. The CGE noted the various challenges and struggles still experienced by women in social, political and economic realms.

Ms Hicks said the CGE wanted to achieve a shift, at the level of state departments, in analysing the challenges and needs, so that policies were created to deal with particular gendered dimensions. Gender mainstreaming would require that a gendered analysis be done into the different situations of women and men, and policy should then be geared to respond appropriately. She said that specific resources should be allocated for implementation. Gender targets, together with monitoring and evaluations measures, and methods for proper disaggregation of gender data and statistics, should all be put in place. Every department needed to ensure that skills and training were given that would actually shift prejudices and correct attitudes to gender equality.

Job creation and economic growth were imperative to preventing continued gender inequality and discrimination. Ms Hicks suggested some interventions that would be required to ensure that women benefitted from this economic growth and job creation. The New Growth Path (NGP) and Vision 2030 were key policy drivers, yet they were gender-blind. She noted that most of the jobs created through the infrastructure development programme did not specifically address the ‘scarce skills’ issue. Women had to be assured of access to the Job Fund and loans, so they could benefit from state procurement opportunities.

The Infrastructure Development programmes announced by the President were welcomed by the CGE, as they were aimed at improving quality of life for women, by giving them access to basics such as water and electricity. However, she questioned whether all state departments would find it possible to deal with the real challenges to these service delivery issues. There was little evidence that women were actually taken into account in the planning processes. The CGE had undertaken gender and energy hearings, to identify the challenges, and then ensure that state policy was responsive to them.

The CGE also welcomed the measures which would ensure a girl child’s access to education. However, there was a need for state departments still to tailor their policies and budgets to ensure the girl child’s continued right to education. Gender equality issues should be included in the school curriculum. CGE felt that the state had failed to implement the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Acts in full, and felt there were general inadequacies in the reports to Parliament on gender-based violence.

Ms Hicks also urged that greater, and urgent attention was needed to women’s access to land, as well as recognition of their title to land.

Ms Hicks concluded that all state departments must still address entrenched inequalities and discrimination that was negatively impacting on the quality of life for women.

The Acting Chairperson asked if the CGE would prepare any framework to outline exactly what had to be done to ensure that gender equality became a reality. She felt that the CGE had been declining in its effectiveness since inception. She felt that CGE needed to take the lead in coordinating a far more integrated approach, instead of attempting to lay the blame for any shortcomings with any other entity.

Dr Maitse responded by saying that CGE would be looking at specific strategies that were needed to realise the framework and agreed that the framework was imperative to achieving gender equality. She noted that there was also scarcity of certain skills amongst black men. The CGE sought equal benefit from job creation. She also emphasised that monitoring was key to the proper implementation of mandates. She felt that the CGE had managed to achieve a great deal although she conceded that there was much more that still needed to be achieved.

Ms Hicks added that the CGE had very specific strategies and recommendations in place. The CGE would be engaging with all state departments to challenge and push them towards gender equality.

Ms H Lamoela (DA) focused on women in rural areas, saying that they were trapped in a vicious circle of poverty, which prevented them from furthering their education and thereby empowering themselves. She asked if the CGE could suggest the main reasons that these issues were not addressed, and wondered if this was linked to a lack of resources, or the absence of a focused strategy.   

Dr Maitse said that the critical issue of women’s unequal access to resources was not being addressed because the government departments were not getting the information around targets that would be necessary to achieve, in order in turn to achieve gender equality.

Ms E More (DA) said that a lot of private institutions also did not comply with gender and disability targets. The CGE had the power to implement measures that would actually empower women. She enquired whether the CGE had actually made use of those powers.

Ms Hicks highlighted the hearings which the CGE had undertaken. These would form the basis for the CGE to “come down hard” on the private sector to enforce greater compliance. She noted that the CGE did use its powers of subpoena, and that was one way in which the CGE could be assured of the ability to do its job properly.

Ms R Rwexana (COPE) said that she was still not sure how the CGE could achieve what it wanted to on such a limited budget. She questioned whether the CGE was not essentially fulfilling a similar function to the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities (DWCPD). She asked how closely the two entities worked together.

Ms Hicks stressed that the CGE had a very different mandate to that of the DWCPD. It focused on gender issues. The CGE would shortly be presenting its strategic plan to the Committee, and this would indicate exactly how the CGE planned to monitor and research the challenges in the future.   

Ms Rwexana noted her concerns that although human trafficking was on the increase, CGE had made no mention was made of it anywhere in the 2012 strategy, and asked why not.

Mr Javu Baloyi, CGE, said that the CGE was working hard on the human trafficking problem, often together with National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). He added that certain issues of pertaining to human trafficking matters could not be discussed.

Ms Rwexana asked if the Department of Health was busy with preparation of legislation for implementation of the National Health Insurance (NHI).

Dr Maitse voiced her frustration that the meeting that CGE had asked for, with the Department of Health, to discuss the NHI had still not taken place. 

Mr D Kekana (ANC) gave an example of a naturally gifted pupil in Port Elizabeth who, unable to further her education due to the circumstances in which she found herself, had ended up instead selling sweets. He thought that the Department of Basic Education needed to put measures in place that would avoid loss of talented individuals, and that could instead channel them into a system that would empower them to realise their potential. He asked what was being done to ensure that students had the skills required for available jobs.

Ms Hicks stated that it was impossible for the CGE to be everywhere all the time. CGE was not a service delivery institution, but one that attended to coordination. However, she promised to get further details and follow up on this pupil.

Mr Baloyi confirmed this, and promised that CGE would contact the family in Port Elizabeth. He noted, however, that similar situations could be seen in many poverty stricken areas.

Ms G Tseke (ANC) asked what strategies the CGE had to deal with the challenges the country faced. such as unemployment amongst women, and their lack of access to land and basic services. She wondered what the responsibility was of the CGE in relation to the Job Fund. She asked how exactly the CGE intended to bring influence to bear on other departments.

Ms Hicks said that the CGE would engage with the Committee shortly to present its programme of action, once this had been tabled in Parliament.

Ms M Tlake(ANC)felt that the concept of empowerment seemed to override the concept of gender. He suggested that women had first to be empowered, so that they could then achieve gender equality. He asked how the CGE planned to achieve gender equality without losing the focus.

Ms Hicks said that although empowerment of women empowerment was vital, and the CGE had a good relationship with the DWCPD in regard to this aspect, a paramount aspect was the segregation by gender. There was a need to eliminate discrimination based on gender. She noted that there were some issues that affected this, including the fact that the Gender Equality Bill had apparently been tagged as the Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill.

Dr Maitse said that the assessment of the performance of Directors General in departments did not carry anything based on gender. The CGE had to ensure that there was general gender equality across appointments. She said that sometimes the concept of “gender” and “women” were confused, and this created difficulty. Gender equality implied that both sexes should be equally represented and given equal opportunities and access. Many women had been socialised to believe that men were superior. These women’s consciousness and awareness needed to be raised, so that they could lead the way to their own empowerment. However, she reminded Members that it was necessary to ensure that men were not alienated in the attempt to achieve gender equality, but instead that the CGE and other entities must move in tandem with them. Gender based violence was another issue of concern.

Dr Maitse reminded Members that there were some contradictions, because about 90% of African households were in fact headed by women.

Mr Kekana felt that the empowerment of women was not happening on the ground, especially in poverty stricken areas. Training in specialised skills, that would enable people to start their own businesses or industries, paved the way for creation of other job opportunities for other less skilled people and this in turn would empower women.

Ms M Nxumalo (ANC) said that a number of issues would need to be monitored, since they posed problems that had to be addressed. She was worried about the future of girls who fell pregnant whilst still at school. She too expressed her concerns about the trafficking of women and girl children, in particular. She noted that although crime statistics were said to be declining, she felt that there was still too much violence against women and children, often resulting in death.

Ms Rwexana stressed the need for the Committee to receive a full briefing on the CGE’s strategic plan for 2012/3, which should set out precisely how the CGE planned to implement its responses to the SONA. She noted that the CGE should explain what it had actually achieved, what tools it had used in the delivery of services to women, and, where changes to women’s lives had not happened, what would be needed.

Ms Hicks agreed upon the importance of education, and said that girl children should be nurtured into taking challenging subjects, which would enable them to study further and find good jobs. She said that this would be assisted by increased availability of bursaries and scholarships. She noted that companies were encouraged to send their employees for training that would qualify them for promotion.

In response to concerns about the problem of trafficking, Ms Hicks said that the issue was monitored, but instead of focusing on foreign women trafficked to South Africa, there needed to be more emphasis on South African women and children who were being moved across the borders overland.

Ms Hicks said that the Department of Health had not yet submitted the required annual reports, nor had it developed its own regulations and training courses, and this was a source of frustration for the CGE. Costing and budgeting had to be done by government, and more care centres were needed, although these were normally donor-funded. She said that health issues remained in the domain of that department.

Dr Maitse said problems like teenage pregnancy, sexual harassment at schools and violence on women in homes became moral issues, and they were often not reported, because of pressure or reluctance to discuss them in the homes. The CGE had many suggestions and proposals on how to address this issue, but there was unlikely to be an overnight solution.

Mr Baloyi said the CGE was moving in the right direction to develop skills, to empower women and to overcome inequality. He noted that in respect of girl children, the CGE’s intervention that resulted in the supply of sanitary towels at schools was a positive move.

A Member of the Commission conceded that an unhealthy nation was a sick nation. She said that although the Department of Health continued to supply and fund health care, there was a need for a specific focus on women’s health issues. The existing elitist health system meant that many people, particularly those in rural areas, did not realise that they were suffering from certain ailments, due to lack of access to health care, and the CGE wanted to restructure policy so that the specific health needs of women could be met.

The Acting Chairperson reminded CGE of its very specific powers and independence assigned by the Constitution, urged the CGE to make good use of its powers, and to use any means available to create awareness and educate all communities towards women’s empowerment and gender equality.

The meeting was adjourn


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