Multi-Party Women's Caucus: United Nations Commission Status of Women 56th Session: key issues

Women in The Presidency

24 April 2012
Chairperson: Ms D Ramodibe (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Parliamentary Research Unit tabled its report on the 56th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (56th CSW Session). This Session had concentrated on two main themes, but other issues were discussed in side-events, and summaries were presented. The main theme was “Empowerment of Rural Women and their Role in Poverty and Hunger Eradication”. Rural women continued to suffer discrimination at different levels, and poverty, exacerbated by rising food prices and difficulty in accessing the formal economy, gender-based violence and trafficking of women remained high, whilst climate change and the global financial crisis also impacted severely. The lack of data on the status of rural women rendered rural women invisible. It was recommended that programmes focus on achieving food security for rural women and girls and that improved education should be developed for rural areas, including access to sexual and reproductive health care, to break the link between teenage pregnancy, forced marriage and continuing poverty, and access to basic health services. Women also needed better access to credit, land, resources and markets in agriculture, as well as access to communication and technology, and it was urgent to improve their economic empowerment. 

Another theme of the Session, “Financing for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women” was a review of conclusions reached at the 52nd CSW Session. Gender-responsive budgeting would play a vital role in reaching gender equality, particularly for rural women, who relied heavily on micro-finance, because of their inability to access land, and therefore to provide collateral for bank loans. They also needed non-financial support, such as assistance with business planning. In addition, there were limitations around them receiving, and understanding, communication that was sent through the internet, fax or e-mail. It was recommended that policies must be adopted that ensured adequate financing for gender equality, that measurable targets be set and aid instruments be improved.

Other side themes of the Session included the need to engage young women and men, and children of both sexes, to understand the need for gender equality, and the possible enforcement of quota systems to ensure equality of representation. It was noted that notwithstanding legislation, there was still prevalence of gender-based violence, and violence coupled with HIV were the greatest threats to women’s wellbeing. Targeted strategies were needed to address the root causes. The Inter-Parliamentary Union had outlined some strategies that Parliaments could adopt for empowerment and advancement of gender equality.

Members noted that South Africa was a leader in advancement of women’s rights and commended their  equal representation at political level. Many Members were concerned that too little time was allowed for debate, and suggested that a workshop on the issues be arranged. They also noted that despite the favourable policy environment, insufficient funding was allocated in practice to advance the position of women, particularly rural women, and questioned the progress on reaching Millennium Development Goals on women. A suggestion was made that a clear policy should be adopted of “nothing for us, without us”, requiring conscious involvement of women at all levels. The role of the Caucus was discussed, and a Member suggested it should operate similar to portfolio committees. Members noted the need to comment on, and if necessary oppose any provisions of the Traditional Courts Bill that undermined the status of women. The Parliamentary Research Unit was asked to assist in developing a framework for further engagement on this Report.
 

Meeting report

56th Session of United Nations Commission on Status of Women: Parliamentary Researchers report
The Chairperson noted that this meeting would receive a report on the 56th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (56th CSW Session), and noted that Parliamentarians who had attended that session were also invited to other events, also discussed in the report. Two priority themes had been identified for this Session, namely, Empowerment of Rural Women and their Role in Poverty and Hunger Eradication, and Financing for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. Other key themes had included the need to engage young women and boys to advance gender equality, elimination of violence against women and girls, which would be a priority theme for the 57th CSW session in 2013. She was pleased to record that party policies in South Africa ensured high levels of political representation of women.

Rural Women’s Empowerment
Ms Joy Watson, Researcher, Parliamentary Research Unit, tabled a summary of the Report on the 56th CSW Session, held from 27 February to 9 March 2012. She reiterated that the priority theme was empowerment of rural women, and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development, and current challenges. The theme on financing, outlined by the Chairperson, was a review of the agreed conclusions of the 52nd CSW Session.

In relation to the empowerment of rural women, Ms Watson noted that rural women continued to suffer discrimination at different levels. Levels of poverty, exacerbated by rising food prices, and difficulty in accessing formal economy, gender-based violence and trafficking of women remained high. The lack of data on the status of rural women rendered rural women invisible. The effects of climate change and the impact of the global financial crisis remained key challenges to the eradication of poverty and hunger.

It was recommended that programmes should focus on achieving food security for rural women and girls. Improved education systems should be developed in rural areas to break the cycle of poverty. It was believed that access to sexual and reproductive health care, as well as basic health services, should be enhanced. She noted the link between teenage pregnancy, forced marriages and continued cycles of poverty, and a suggestion was made for targeted prevention programmes.

Ms Watson also highlighted the need to change the socio-economic status of rural women by improving their access to credit, land, resources, markets in agriculture and information, communication and technology (ICT). It was believed that the development of adequate policies and service delivery should be informed by empirical data. An enabling policy environment was needed to fast-track rural women’s economic empowerment and access to finance, whilst access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services were essential for addressing maternal and child mortality. Strategies should be informed by the burden of disease and should include communicable and non-communicable diseases.

Financing Gender Equality
In relation to the side-theme of financing gender equality and empowerment of women, Ms Watson emphasised the vital role that gender-responsive budgeting would play. Rural women relied heavily on micro finance, because of lack of access to land and an inability to acquire land. Access to micro credit had limitations and there was a need for a broader range of strategies to enable rural women to access finance, as well as non-financial support such as assistance with business planning. Most rural women could not offer collateral to banks, and were therefore unable to get assistance from them. In addition, financial institutions communicated with clients through internet, fax and email communication, and rural women not only most often did not have access to these services, but were hindered by low literacy levels.

It was recommended that policies should be adopted that expanded the fiscal space to ensure adequate financing for gender equality. Measurable targets were required to evaluate the progress on gender equality, which should be strengthened by effective capturing and analysis of data. The macro-economic framework and policies would have to be re-examined and there should be improved management of aid instruments aimed at addressing gender equality.

Other themes: Engaging young women & men, girls and boys to advance gender equality
Ms Watson highlighted the need for expanded research on the status of women and girls in rural areas. She noted a view that the adoption of quota systems was important to the enhancement of representation of women in public office. There was a need to engage with young women and men, girls and boys in eradicating gender equality.

Gender Based Violence
Ms Watson noted that, notwithstanding legislation and more progressive attitudes, women and girls across the globe continued in many places to be subjected to high levels of gender-based violence (GBV). The intersection of violence and HIV were two of the greatest threats to the health and wellbeing of women. There was a need to develop targeted strategies to prevent violence by addressing the root causes.

Inter-Parliamentary Union
Ms Watson noted that during the 56th CSW Session, the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), had raised the issue of what role Parliaments should play in relation to empowering rural women and advance gender equality. IPU outlined four key intervention strategies (see attached presentation for full details), which it urged delegates to implement at country level.

Discussion
The Chairperson noted that South Africa was a leader in the advancement of women’s rights, and that this was the first time the caucus had not simply “rubber stamped” the key resolutions. She also stated that insufficient time was allowed for robust debate.

A Member noted that despite the favourable policy environment, insufficient funds were allocated to programmes that advanced the position of women in general, and rural women in particular.

Ms M Ngwenya (ANC) asked what was now expected of this Committee. She too felt that there had been insufficient time allocated for meaningful engagement. She proposed that a strategy to develop a framework should be clearly outlined.

Another Member questioned the progress made on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and other processes that aimed to advance the status of women.

The Chairperson noted that the ANC had a quota policy and gave women the right to equal representation at all levels. She asked for suggestions how the Caucus could influence other political parties to follow that example.          

Ms N Mfeketo (ANC, Deputy Speaker) suggested the adoption of a policy for decisions on women’s issues, of “nothing for us, without us”. She believed that the role of the Caucus was to enhance the position of women in South Africa. She expressed concern at the slow pace of progress. 

A Member noted that the Report did not address the issue of children aged 0 to 4, when good nutrition was particularly vital for early childhood development. She stressed that high levels of poverty and food insecurity would limit the impact of developmental efforts. She recommended that Parliament be invited to participate in finalising the draft document.

Another Member also expressed her concerns about shortage of time, and asked if a workshop could be organised to address the issues, but said that many of the points raised were not new. This report outlined some “raw data” but the Minister’s report should be comprehensive.

Ms D Tsotetsi (ANC) commented that the status of the Caucus was not clear, as it met when an emergency arose. She recommended that the Caucus should function in a similar way to other Portfolio Committees.

Ms Mfeketo said that the role of the Caucus was to advance a political agenda for the emancipation of women. It was therefore important that Members should comment on the Traditional Courts Bill. If the Bill undermined the status of women, then Parliamentarians - including gender-sensitive men - should vehemently oppose that Bill.

The Chairperson thanked members for their comments and recommendations. She proposed that the Parliamentary Research Unit should assist the Steering Committee to develop a framework for Members to further engage with the 56th CSW Report. She summarised the key resolutions. She noted that these included the launching of district-based Multi-Party Women’s Caucuses, and an analysis of the impact of the Traditional Courts Bill on women.

The meeting was adjourned.

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