The Committee was briefed by the Commission on Gender Equality on its work and recommendations that went into formulating the 2015 South African government's Beijing+20 Report on measuring South Africa’s progress in complying with the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, thus meeting the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) reporting obligations.
The Committee said that many wrongs had been perpetrated against rural people and asked that it be ensured that all political parties were present at public hearings. The Committee heard that practices that impacted on the girl child in the province and from the quarterly reports had indicated that female genital mutilation was on the increase. The CGE still had to delve into this issue and concern was expressed that the CGE had not gone to Mpumalanga, the province where FGM was taking place and on the increase.
The Committee asked about female literacy rates and was told that the numbers of literate females were on the increase. Automatic changing of a woman's surname on marrying was questioned and it was noted that this was incorrect as the woman should be asked if she wanted her surname changed. The age of consent for marriage by girls was questioned and discussed. The Committee was informed that the Children’s Act and the Marriage Act stated that no child below the age of 18 may be married without parental consent. The Committee emphasised that land ownership for women had not been emphasised enough in the report nor the value of child care work and caring for the elderly.
Members were concerned that in the education sector there seemed to be reluctant about taking action against the perpetrators of sexual abuse and harassment at schools. They asked what the proper way was of dealing with this and who was going to enforce this. Problems arose when the police were not giving effect to the warrant of arrest and when officials did not understand the schedule of the crimes and how to react to them. This was falling through the cracks. Another concern was that women were once again being used to advertise cars.
The CGE appealed to the Committee to recognise its support role and to insist upon accountability and decisive action from departments such as the Departments of Health and of Police.
Beijing +20 report to UN by South Africa: briefing by Commission for Gender Equality (CGE)
Ms Thoko Mpumlwana, CGE Deputy Chairperson: Commission on Gender Equality, said that she would provide a brief overview on the history of the Commission. Commissioner Janine Hicks would be joining the meeting later because she had gone to the Portfolio Committee on Justice. In 1974 in UN Resolution 3324, South Africa was excluded from participating in all international organisations and conferences under the auspices of the United Nations (UN) for as long as South Africa continued to practice apartheid and failed to abide by the UN Resolution concerning Namibia and South Africa. In 1994, ‘the UN noted with great satisfaction the establishment of a united non-racial democratic government of South Africa’, and removed the question of South Africa from the agenda. In 1996, in the preamble of South Africa’s Constitution it stated that we wanted to: "Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in a family of nations’. In terms of international instruments, by saying South Africa was joining the family of nations it was binding itself to all the treaties and protocols that the state from then on would sign. The Convention on All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is seen as the women’s Bill of Rights. In 1948 there was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was regarded as a generic human rights instrument for all the states that had signed up to the UN.
In 1967 the Declaration on the Elimination of the Discrimination against Women expressed concern on the lack of progress in terms of women. In 1979 CEDAW was established as a single legally binding instrument. This involved the elimination of all discrimination on the basis of sex in the enjoyment of civil, political, economic, social, cultural and specific rights in terms of women and girls. In 1981 it came into force after ratification and the obligation that CEDAW placed was as follows: ‘states have an obligation to eliminate discrimination against women through legal policy and programmatic measures in all spheres of life and must take appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women by any person, organisation or enterprise’.
In terms of CEDAW, each state party has to report every four years on its progress. In the Reporting Committee there were 67 experts who reviewed all the submissions by signatory states. This Committee would be able to see from the report how South Africa had performed.
The Beijing Platform for Action came into effect in 1995, it was intended to advance women’s empowerment by concentrating on removing obstacles. It was adopted to reaffirm the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. The Beijing Platform for Action sought to enjoy full enjoyment of rights and freedom of women in their life cycle from the time they were born to the time they died.
The new and emerging issues that were not in some of these documents were: the role of men in women’s empowerment; lesbian gay bisexual transgender intersex people (LGBTIs); the backlash to women’s empowerment; sex work; migration; Millennium Development Goals (MGDs) to Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs); and the increase of cultural matters that were not necessarily harmful but that had an impact on women and girl’s empowerment, dignity and rights. These issues might not have come out strongly in the review.
Are we there yet? Measuring South Africa’s Progress in Implementation of CEDAW
Ms Joan de Klerk, CGE Head of Public Education and Information, outlined the constitutional mandate of the country which showed the creation of an independent Commission for Gender Equality to deal specifically with the promotion of gender equality and to advise and make recommendations related to gender equality and the status of women. A summary of South Africa’s reporting history to the UN was provided where it showed that the South African government had failed to submit a report to the UN in 2001 and 2005. The Commission felt it prudent that it assist the Department in preparing for the CEDAW session in 2011 which presented the combined second, third, and fourth periodic reports of South Africa.
. The objective of the CGE’s Report was to:
- Provide additional information indicating the implementation of the recommendation of the CEDAW Committee at the last reporting session (1998);
- assess the South African government’s compliance with and implementation of CEDAW; and
- highlight some of the shortcomings of the South African government’s report that was presented at the CEDAW Committee sitting held in January-February 2011.
CGE presented the progress in and CGE recommendations for implementing the 16 Articles contained in CEDAW. Articles 1 to 5 represent the general interpretative framework for all the substantive articles:
Article 6: Suppression and Exploitation of women
Article 7: Political and Public life
Article 8: International Representation and Participation
Article 9: Nationality
Article 10: Education
Article 11: Employment
Article 12: Equality in Access to Health Care
Article 13: Social and Economic Benefits
Article 14: Special Help for Rural People
Article 15: Equality Before the Law & Civil Matters; and
Article 16: Equality in Marriage and Family Law.
CGE reported on General Recommendation 19: Violence Against Women. It identified the predominant cases as being: ukuthwala; witchcraft incited rapes and murders; femicide; sexual violence and hate crimes. CGE noted with concern: that there were no recorded statistics made available from the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development and the South African Police Service on Gender-Based Violence (GBV) broadly; that GBV was not categorised as a criminal offence and that there was no costed Action Plan to assist in the implementation of the Domestic Violence Act.
Overview of South Africa’s compliance with the Beijing declaration and platform for action: briefing by Commission for Gender Equality
Ms de Klerk said that the accountability process of the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA) developed and agreed upon in1995 required UN member states to meet on a five-yearly basis to review their implementation of the Platform for Action with a view to fine tuning, remapping progress and reactivating commitment, taking into account prevailing global and local conditions. South Africa’s evaluation was based on responses by departments wherein questionnaires prepared and administered by the CGE were sent to government department and private entities.
The CGE sought qualitative and quantitative data from departments on key elements of achievements and challenges under each of the twelve critical areas of concern (see document):
- Women and Poverty
- Education and training for Women
- Women and Health
- Violence against women
- Women and armed conflict
- Women and the Economy
- Women, Power and Decision-making
- Institutional mechanism for the advancement of women
- Human rights of women
- Women and media
- Women and environment
- The Girl Child.
Some of the challenges were:
▪ Women in rural and remote areas who constituted the majority of women in South Africa, which was characterised by poverty, still had difficulties in accessing health and social services, and a lack of participation in decision-making processes at the community level;
▪ There were no statistic on domestic violence because it was not registered a crime;
▪ Attitudes of both men and women to the criminality of domestic violence also tended to impede successful and timely prosecution of acts; and
▪ Data gaps in critical areas with respect to women’s contribution to economic development affected effective planning, monitoring and evaluation of the gendered impacts of economic and social policies.
Ms Mpumlwana pointed out that this was a summary of the big reports, it did not put in everything but it tried to concentrate on matters that needed attention so it would highlight critical successes and looked at gaps that needed to be covered.
Ms G Tseke (ANC) took over as chairperson temporarily and called for questions.
Ms C Majeke (UDM) asked if the CGE was monitoring anything, and if it was monitoring, how this was done.
Ms Mpumlwana replied that the CGE’s role was to monitor implementation. Implementation was a challenge throughout. The CGE did the best that it could with resources that were available. She was happy that there was a Ministry to assist with dealing with issues. An appeal was made on behalf of the Commission to use its Chief because the issue of accountability was critical.
Ms D Robinson (DA) said that in Article 9 it stated that the Department of Home Affairs automatically changed the nationality of children. She asked if the child of non-SA parents was born in South Africa, did this child become South African. She asked how this policy was implemented and if it involved choices.
Mr Kamraj Anirudhra, CGE Parliamentary Officer, replied that the child acquired South African citizenship if he/she was born in South Africa.
With regard to the changing of females’ surnames by the Department of Home Affairs on marriage, Ms Robinson asked what process was followed.
Ms Mpumlwana replied that women had the right to keep their original surname but they would have to say this. This included indicating if they wanted a double-barreled surname. So the surname would not be automatically changed unless the person says so. The marriage officer had to ask the woman if she wanted her surname changed. If nothing was said, the state defaulted to the old system.
Ms Robinson said that in Article 10 on education, the CGE expressed concern that school governing bodies were allowed to draft and implement school policies and codes of conduct which sometimes discriminated against female learners. She asked for examples of this phenomenon and from where the information was obtained.
Ms Mpumlwana replied that the CGE had written to all Schools to say that one could not have rules that worked against the Constitution and girls who had babies were allowed to return to school after their babies were born. The issue of child care was a big issue because if there was no childcare then girls could not return to school after having their babies. The policies were good but families because of the realities they faced were unable to send the children back to school. It was important to have mechanisms in communities where basic education worked, like where everyone in the community was participating to ensure that there was afterschool care. There were a lot of permutations to deal with.
A Member of the Committee asked for more information about the age of consent with regard to marriage of young girls.
Commissioner Janine Hicks, Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) replied that what was needed was harmonisation on the question of age. There was the Children’s Act and the Marriage Act which stated that no child below the age of 18 may be married. She appealed to the Committee - because the CGE saw itself as a resource to the Committee - to assist with its oversight role and when it engaged with the Education Portfolio Committee or the Health Portfolio Committee that it ‘grilled’ department officials and demanded responses and accountability.
Ms Robinson asked for more information about Female Genital Mutilation in South Africa. It appeared that it was on the increase in this country and also that the country was regressing in this regard.
The Acting Chairperson asked with regard to Female Genital Mutilation, what the CGE’s role was as it had the power to monitor and investigate.
Ms Mpumlwana replied that it was a relatively new phenomenon and prevalent in a few provinces like Mpumalanga. The CGE had not done a proper study so it could not say where it came from, but it had heard about it from some areas. Maybe a question should be asked to the Department of Education or the Department of Health to find out if they were aware of the phenomenon and what they were doing about it. The CGE said it would follow it up depending on its Annual Performance Plan (APP).
Ms de Klerk said that what had been noted through their reporting was that when conducting assessments on practices that impacted on the girl child in the province and from the quarterly reports, it was indicated that FGM was on the increase. It was raised as a concern in discussions with communities. The CGE still had to delve into a deeper study to ascertain the numbers and discuss further with Department of Health. It was indicated that it was a common practice in Mpumalanga area especially.
The Chairperson expressed concern that the CGE had not explored the area in Mpumalanga where FGM was taking place. It rather said ‘doing further investigations’.
Ms M Khawula (EFF) raised five issues of concern:
- Disabled children faced a challenge with the Department of Social Development who cut off their school grants when they turned 18 years of age. She had spoken with five of those learners who were now unable to continue with their schooling because their social grants had been cut off. As a result they were drinking, taking drugs and hanging around in unsavory places. Some of them had even resorted to selling alcohol;
- Sanitation in schools: When girls in school reached puberty they were unprotected. The toilets in schools were not safe. Diseases were contracted there and there was no running water;
- Surname change of females at time of marriage had to be looked into;
- Migrant workers: While the report stated that migrant workers were welcome in this country and could bring their families, she found it unacceptable that migrant workers were welcome in this country and could bring their families. She said they should develop in their own countries and fight for their rights there. They brought a lot of challenges like drugs for example. South Africa never had drugs in this country before migrants came here; and
- Houses without toilets: A visit had been paid to certain areas and photographs taken of households where people had to relieve themselves inside their houses in a bucket at night and throw it out later.
Ms Mpumlwana said that disabled persons, young and old, had the same rights and same access to services in South Africa in terms of the Constitution. Rights were irreversible and could not be taken away from people.
Ms N Tarabella-Marchesi (DA) said the dropout rate at schools was high amongst boys and girls. She asked what the CGE intended to do about this.
Ms de Klerk replied that one of their reports reflected that one of the reasons girls dropped out of school was that there was no aftercare or support after pregnancy so they were forced to leave school to look after their babies. This was one of the experiences of the girl child, where she was forced to leave school as there were no childcare facilities. This impacted negatively on whether the girl child was able to return to school. There was a need to raise this with the Department of Basic Education as well as the Department of Social Development. The CGE would explore this but it had not had that engagement with them as yet.
Ms Tarabella-Marchesi recommended that the CGE looked into linking social grants and education so students could stay in school even if their grants came to an end.
Ms Tarabella-Marchesi said that she did not see anything about the land issue with regard to women in the report. She asked how this could be taken forward to ensure that it was considered.
Ms Mpumlwana replied that as the CGE it had been promoting for some time now: one woman, one hectare of land. It had been asking government to take up this campaign and some government departments were keen on it. CGE wanted that support to ensure that women had access to land and could have the opportunity to transform land into an economic and also a social benefit. This included rural woman.
Ms Tarabella-Marchesi asked if the CGE had the statistics of the ratio of female to male teachers.
Ms de Klerk replied that the CGE Researcher said that the Deputy Chairperson had indicated that the presentation just highlighted some of the issues that came out of the baseline report. There were graphs and statistics that dealt with learners and educators. It was a bit difficult to get the disaggregated data. With education, the Statistics South Africa Report of 2010 had shown that within primary basic education there were more female educators than male teachers, however even though there were more female teachers, there were more male principals. Page 134 of the CEDAW Report showed how far the country had come in terms of literacy from 1995 to now. Development indicators from 2009 in the graph on page 144 of the Report showed that more strides had been made.
Ms de Klerk said that with Higher Education on pages 158 to 159, it was clear how many female and male professors there were and in which institutions they were located. The CGE looked into science and technology again and identified institutions that focused on retaining female professors within the science and technology field. This was due to the finding from other studies that even though females had the same or similar qualifications, the salaries were skewed.
The Acting Chairperson said that when looking at these statistics, it was clear that gender had to be prioritised, and there was still a long way to go. In one of the reports it showed that there were many females with regard to enrollment but at the workplace it was a different matter.
The Acting Chairperson welcomed the Chairperson of the Multi-party Women’s Caucus, Honourable Morutoa.
Ms M Chueu (ANC) said that positive and negative aspects of the issues raised should appear in the report, as the report raised only the negative areas. She asked for statistics on the progress made concerning illiteracy in women. She encouraged the CGE to suggest programmes that the government could use to move forward.
Ms de Klerk said that on page 143 of the Report there was a table that indicated the literacy rate had improved from 1995 to 2007 and that there had been a gradual increase in women that have become literate over the years. In 2007 the literacy rate was 74.4%. A challenge still remained but the numbers were increasing annually.
Ms Chueu bemoaned the fact that women were once again being used to promote car sales in the media. This had been stopped for a while but had resurfaced in the last two years and nothing had been said about it anymore. The CGE report had only highlighted decision-making job positions.
Ms M Chueu said that in the area of Women in the Economy, the issue of the income gap had to be raised in programmes.
Ms Mpumlwana said that this was a very difficult area because if one spoke about care work which a lot of women were doing such as caring for the elderly and caring for children, then this has not been costed at all as it was seen as having no value. This work had to be valued.
Ms M Chueu said that the issue of land had to be emphasised, because without land there would be no economic development. Women still suffered the most when it came to property. South Africa had a Land Bill, but it has never been challenged with regard to the plight of rural women. The CEDAW Report did not suggest programmes to bring rural women into the economic mainstream and out of poverty. The CGE should provide the Committee with information so that it could ensure that women were given land. The majority of women were in rural areas and needed to be catered for.
Ms Robinson said that with regard to violence against women, the report had acknowledged a concerted effort undertaken that involved men and boys working to combat domestic violence. She only knew about Sonke Gender Justice’s efforts in this regard. She asked if CGE could tell the Committee if government was doing something about this as well, or was this only in the hand of the Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs).
With regard to gender-based violence not being categorised as a criminal offence, the Acting Chairperson asked if the CGE had engaged with the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the Department of Justice in this regard. Gender-based violence had also not been raised in relation to the Domestic Violence Act since its approval. She asked further what the CGE was doing about this.
Commissioner Hicks said that again it was due to a disconnect because the Domestic Violence Act does criminalise acts of domestic violence. The problem comes in the reporting and the statistics collection at the level of the South African Police Service and the bigger problem was with gender-based violence because that was not recognised as a crime in law. Police would record assaults as grievous bodily harm, but what they will not record was that the person was assaulted because she was a lesbian. It would be recorded as a random attack on a person walking through the community. We were not getting the lens on the forms of gender-based violence in our community and the extent of these within our society was not getting the appropriate responses from our different stakeholders. The CGE was looking at SAPS and their reporting and classification of forms of gender-based violence and gathering statistics on those because that then gave one the true picture of gender-based violence in our society that would equip us to develop an appropriate response.
The Chairperson said that when the Committee was doing oversight it had called SAPs and liaised with the senior person within because most of the discrepancies were happening at the Charge Office. The Committee wanted to understand how they dealt with the brutalities done to women. Now that as the top ranking SAPs person and she did not have a clue and when the Chairperson asked her was done when a person was raped and mutilated, she talked about a Schedule 1, when according to the Chairperson this was a Schedule 8 offence. She asked how one would then be able to cut down on those cases when high ranking officials did not even know how to deal.
The CGE Parliamentary Officer said that the protection order in the Domestic Violence Act offered a quick remedy for the complainant who was exposed to psychological, economic or even physical harm in a domestic relationship so the legislator did not want to send the perpetrator to prison in all instances. This should not stop the complainant from laying a criminal charge as well along with the application for the protection order. There was also a criminal element because the moment the court granted the protection order, even if it was an interim order, there was a warrant of arrest along with that interim order, so if the perpetrator violated the term of the order, he would be arrested immediately. The problem arose when the police were not giving effect to the warrant of arrest and as the Chairperson indicated officials do not understand the schedule of crimes and how to react to them. This was where the issues were falling through the cracks.
Ms Robinson said that the Report had stated that the establishment of the National Council on Gender-based Violence was one the country’s achievements. She questioned this because as far as she knew the Council had been non-functional and had not achieved anything. She asked the CGE to elaborate on why it thought it was an achievement besides, of course, its establishment.
Ms Mpumlwana replied that she thought it was an achievement. In fact in the UN CEDAW Committee was looking forward to it, they had said they liked the idea and were looking forward to implementation. The CGE was still hoping it would happen, and still saw it as an achievement until informed otherwise.
Ms Khawula said that many wrongs had been perpetrated against rural people. She asked that it be ensured that all political parties were present at the public hearings.
The Acting Chairperson asked what CGE was going to do about departments who had not submitted information for the CEDAW Report.
Ms Mpumlwana replied that it called them again for employment equity hearings. It tried to find ways to get all the departments to respond but CGE started with Employment Equity Hearings. As it could be seen from the CGE’s Annual Performance Plan (APP), it would be concentrating on Higher Education. Since the CGE budget had been cut, it would be concentrating on the Higher Education sector on how it was gender mainstreaming in all aspects.
The Acting Chairperson asked how the CGE would engage with other departments to make sure that findings and recommendations on CEDAW and Beijing were implemented.
Ms de Klerk replied that the CGE Report had been compiled to share with the Ministry, who was responsible for coordinating the drafting of the CEDAW Report. This CGE Report has been shared. The recommendations and our shortcomings have been highlighted and the Ministry would then engage further with the departments who had inputted into the CEDAW process because each government department had a responsibility in relation to CEDAW. Most probably they would supply more information, meaning that some of the recommendations that CGE had put forward could have changed by now because this was a 2013 report and by now government departments were aware of this report as it had been tabled and they would have provided further information. Even those departments who were not responsive at the time, when the Ministry called, they could then supply that. Once government has completed their CEDAW Report the CGE would critique that report to see where the shortcomings still remained or whether those had been covered in the SA Government CEDAW Report.
The Chairperson said that 24 children had been trafficked in KwaZulu Natal, what was going to be done about that. She also asked what was going to be done about the abuse of young girls by farmers.
Questions asked but not answered
Ms Robinson said that in the education sector there seemed to be reluctance about taking action against the perpetrators of sexual abuse and harassment. She asked what the proper way was of dealing with this and who was going to enforce this. She asked further how the Committee could tighten up the regulations.
Ms Tarabella-Marchesi asked if transport and rural women could be put on the agenda as rural women often traveled for long periods daily.
The Acting Chairperson asked if CGE had attempted to feed into the Portfolio Committee on Labour’s discussions on the Minimum Wage.
The meeting was adjourned.
- Concluding observations of Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women to South Africa February 2011
- UN 2015 Guidance note for the preparation of national reviews
- Draft South Africa Report 2015 to UN Commission on the Status of Women as of 12 February 2014
- CEDAW presentation
- CGE Overview of SA Compliance with Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action
- Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women & its Optional Protocol Handbook for Parliamentarians
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