Abducted Nigerian Girls (#bring back the girls campaign): ministerial briefing; SADC Gender Protocol: Commission on Gender Equality briefing

Multi-Party Women’s Caucus

04 March 2015
Chairperson: Ms R Morutoa (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation updated the Multi-Party Women’s Caucus on the government’s role in securing the safe return of the 230 girls kidnapped last year by Boko Haram. She stressed the complexity of the issue and noted that after some girls had managed to escape and others were dropped off near their homes, there were international rescue efforts, although there were also complications. The Nigerian government had come under severe criticism for the way it had handled the matter. That sparked the international "Bring Back the Girls" campaign with a number of prominent people, including US First Lady, Michelle Obama, joining in. The campaign encouraged military intervention to recover the abducted girls. It was felt that the Nigerian government was being too ineffectual, and the Deputy Minister accused political parties of politicising the agony of the girls and their families to score political points. The government was trying to balance the feelings of the people with efforts to fight the Islamist group but had indicated that it was not prepared to enter into negotiations for exchanges. It had been decided that concerted efforts by the AU as a body were needed to working for safe release. South Africa was ready to assist in whatever way it could and was continuing in negotiating efforts. Members were particularly concerned at the reports that some of those returned to their families were now found to be pregnant. It was decided that the Multi-Party Women's Caucus should issue a statement and write a formal letter to the AU expressing its concern and reiterating the country's support, and also calling on other countries to intensify their efforts to secure the release of the girls.

The Committee's Content Advisor gave a short presentation to the Committee outlining the country's obligations to report on certain international agreements, and this was then followed by a report from the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) CGE outlined, at some length, its mandate, obligations and the governing legislation and the fact that it was tasked with monitoring implementation of compliance on international instruments relating to equality conventions. The Commission must also ensure creation of legislative framework to promote gender equality and the various pieces of legislation passed, and the CGE's attempts to monitor certain types of court cases, were summarised. The CGE was also engaging with civil society and private organisations to discuss how they were promoting gender equality among employees. It was imperative that the employment equity issue was thoroughly addressed by the Department and Committees. It was noted that although women's representation in Parliament was at 42% in 2009, the position had regressed. Members were critical of the report, felt that it did not address enough specifics, and because of lack of time, the CGE was asked to answer questions about the status of gender equality and policy briefs and dialogue in writing. To enable the Committee to monitor the status of the country reports, it was asked to submit monthly reports to the Committee. 


Meeting report

Opening remarks
An apology was conveyed from the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Ms Maite Nkoana-Mashabane and the Minister of Social Development, Ms Bathabile Dlamini, for their inability to attend the meeting.

The Chairperson also noted apologies from three Committee Members who had other commitments and were unable to be present.

Committee Content Advisor's briefing on agenda for meeting, and introduction to SADC and UN Protocols and South Africa's obligations
Ms Thembakazi Mpapela, Content Advisor to the Committee, noted that the Committee would today hear briefings on developments around South Africa's joining of the campaign to find and return the Nigerian girls abducted by Boko Haram. The Committee would also hear a briefing on South Africa’s compliance with international and regional regulations and SADC Gender Protocol. She explained the timelines for South Africa submitting its reports to both the UN and the SADC compliance, and noted that the Commission for Gender Equality had been asked to brief this Committee in advance of submitting the reports to the AU later in March (see attached document for more details)

Nigerian kidnappings: Briefing by Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation
Ms Nomaindiya Mfeketo, Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, briefed the Committee on the abduction, last year, of girls in Nigeria by the Islamist militia Boko Haram. About 230 girls were kidnapped and about 40 had either managed to escape or had been released close to their homes.

The Deputy Minister noted that the abduction of the Nigerian girls was a complex issue and that Boko Haram's activities had started way back in 2008, and even though its followers were not at that stage as active as they were today, they had, prior to 2014, attempted several attacks against Nigerian security forces, only one of which was successful. Following the 2014 abductions, in order to try to curb this Islamist group, an extensive international media campaign was launched to pressure the Nigerian government and international community to respond and help rescue the abducted girls. The United Kingdom and United States of America already had teams helping on the ground in Nigeria as well as the Israeli counter-terrorism team. The South African government had joined also in the global community's efforts. It did this, firstly, as an African country, trying to support the efforts of the Nigerian government and its people. The South African government, particularly through the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) was in constant communication with the Nigerian government as calls for the release of the abducted girls continued to spread. In addition, Ms Mfeketo stated that the government was ready to provide any kind of support to the international efforts to help trace and free dozens of abducted Nigerian girls. She urged that Boko Haram should not be allowed to continue its violent siege in Nigeria where an estimated 2 000 people in 16 villages and towns were killed last week in the country's northern bushveld.

As the international rescue efforts to find the girls continued, Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton had joined in lending support to the "bring back the girls" campaign, which encouraged military intervention to recover the abducted girls.

Ms Mfeketo noted that the issue had become a key point in relation to the national elections in Nigeria. She accused political parties in Nigeria of politicising the agony of the abducted Chiboko schoolgirls and of the whole nation to score political points.

She informed the Committee that it was agreed that the African Union (AU) as a body, rather than individualised efforts by different countries, would be stronger in continuing with efforts to work towards the safe release of the almost 200 girls who were still being held captive by Boko Haram.


The Chairperson thanked the Content Advisor as well as the Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation and the Ministry of Social Development for the reports and indicated that the information would be vital in assisting the Committee and the campaign at large.

An ANC Member asked whether it was permissible for the Multi-Party Women’s Caucus to issue statements regarding the abduction of the girls. She stressed that the issue of the released girls now found to be pregnant should be clarified.

Ms C Dlamini (ANC) proposed that the Caucus should write a formal letter to the African Union expressing its feelings in regard to the abduction of the girls, and offering support for all the efforts made thus far. All female Members of Parliament would be asked to sign the letter. She suggested that the Caucus should also make a call to other countries to assist with the safe release of the girls.

Ms H Maxon (EFF) noted that some of the girls had escaped. She asked what specifically the Nigerian government was now doing in order to rescue the other girls, because there seemed to be a clear indication of where those girls were being held. She added that Boko Haram seemed to be being funded by certain imperialists, considering the nature of their resistance and perseverance.

Ms Mfeketo replied that the Nigerian government was trying to balance the sentiments of the Nigerian people with making efforts to fight the Islamist group, Boko Haram. Abuses by Boko Haram and inadequate responses by the government meant that many people in northern Nigeria were beset by fear and anguish. The government and its allies needed to step up their protection, support services, and ensure prosecutions of abuses on both sides to stop this cycle of terror. For some time now, the Nigerian government had refused to negotiate with Boko Haram. Some reports indicated that the group had asked for the release of a number of detained militants in exchange for the return of the schoolgirls, but there was no clarity on that issue.

Ms L Mnganga (ANC) recommended that a press statement should be released on the matter and the developments of the campaign. This should be to the effect that the Multi-Party Women’s’ Caucus had expressed its concern that the majority of girls kidnapped in Nigeria by the militant group Boko Haram had still not been found, and the Committee Members expressed concern for the state of the health of the remaining girls.

The Chairperson agreed and said that she was especially concerned since it seemed that some of the girls who had been returned to their families were now pregnant. In the statement, the Committee would guarantee its unwavering support to the Nigerian government and offered to work together with the Nigerian High Commission in South Africa. A special mention would be made of the concerns of Members about the state of health of those still being held.

SADC Gender Protocol: briefing by Commission for Gender Equality on its Annual Report
Mr Mfanozelwe Shozi, Chairperson, Commission for Gender Equality, noted that he would outline South Africa's implementation of the SADC Protocols on Gender Equality (the Protocols).  He began by giving a brief background to the Protocols (see attached presentation for full details). He then presented a performance overview of the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE or the Commission) including its work done towards the planning, transformation and the implementation of SADC Protocols in 2014. The Commission on Gender Equality Act 39 of 1996, tasked the CGE with monitoring implementation of compliance on such international instruments.

Mr Shozi noted the strategic objectives of the Commission, which included that it must ensure the creation and implementation of an enabling legislative framework that promoted the attainment of gender equality, and the promotion and protection of gender equality, by engaging with relevant stakeholders to educate and raise awareness on issues of gender equality. He noted that the CGE was in the process of finalising its Annual Report, and was focusing on two issues, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Beijing Platform for Action.

The CGE was engaging with civil society and private organisations to discuss how they were promoting gender equality among employees. It was imperative that the employment equity issue was thoroughly addressed by the Department and Committee. Both entities needed to push for 50/50 representation of party lists.

Ms Keketso Maema, Chief Executive Officer, CGE, presented a report and highlighted, firstly, the constitutional mandate as well as the powers of the CGE. In terms of section 11(1)(h) of the Commission on Gender Equality Act 39 of 1996, the CGE is to monitor the compliance with international conventions and international charters acceded to or ratified by the Republic, relating to the object of the Commission. The CGE must also prepare and submit reports to Parliament pertaining to any such convention, covenant or charter and in compliance with the objects of the Commission.

Ms Maema added that the work of the CGE is guided by several international instruments, which included:
- The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW
- The Beijing Platform for Action
- The Millennium Development Declaration and Goals

The Chairperson suggested that the CEO, in the interests of time, should move straight into the main body of the presentation, unless there were any specific issues to highlight about its mandate.

Ms Maema wanted to note some specific achievements in measuring South Africa’s progress in the implementation of the SADC Protocol and related conventions. She asserted that South Africa had fulfilled its obligations in relation to constitutional rights. For example, the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (PEPUDA) had established equality courts that could adjudicate all equality issues and offer judicial remedies. However, there were still certain challenges being faced in various parts of South Africa, in relation to certain traditional practices such as virginity testing, male primogeniture, and traditional and customary practices that continued to prejudice women, especially in rural areas. There was a need to promulgate legislation that recognised all customary and religious marriages such as Muslim, Hindu and Jewish marriages.

Ms Maema noted that the Constitution provided for affirmative action, as envisaged in Article 5 of the SADC Protocol and there were numerous statutes in South Africa already designed to drive affirmative action, such as the Employment Equity Act and PEPUDA.

On the issue of domestic legislation, she said that in the past South Africa has enacted legislation that had discriminated against women as well as children, but a number of these Acts had been reviewed. She cited examples of the Intestate Succession Act and Maintenance of Surviving Spouses Act, which, after having been found to discriminate against women in polygamous marriages, had then been amended.

The Commission acknowledged the fact that South Africa was currently undergoing a reform to ensure women’s access to justice, and to improve prosecution and conviction of cases related to violence against women. There was also a concern about the Traditional Courts Bill, which might jeopardize women’s access to justice and equality of treatment before the law.

She highlighted the achievements of the Commission in terms of internal strategic objectives, including the areas of human resources, policy dialogues, finances, and communications, but also noted the problems with supply chain management.

The national accomplishments included the promulgation of anti-discriminatory laws such as the Employment Equity Act, the Sexual Offences Act, the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act, the Maintenance Act, the Choice of Termination of Pregnancy Act and the Protection from Harassment Act.

The CGE had strategic objectives which included monitoring the compliance with regional and international conventions, covenants and charters which had been acceded to, or ratified by, the Republic, relating to the objects of the Commission. To build an effective, efficient, visible and sustainable institution that would fulfil its constitutional mandate on gender equality.

Ongoing work by CGE involved looking into submissions on legislation before Parliament.  The Commission indicated it would like to engage with the Committee on the assessment reports on women’s representation in political parties. The Committee expressed disappointment at the lack of detail in the CGE’s presentation, especially on specific programmes. Due to time constraints, several questions went unanswered and CGE would provide written responses.

Ms C Dlamini (ANC) commented that this presentation was very long and the audience was losing concentration.

Ms Maema said she would try to cut it short. She noted the figures for female representation in Parliament. In 2009 women made up 42% of Parliament, and 14 women were in the Cabinet, 16 held positions as Deputy Ministers and 5 were Premiers. The trend was encouraging between 1994 and 2009, but the trend reversed between 2009 and 2014. The CGE would continue with the monitoring of court cases (equality, domestic violence, sexual offences and maintenance) and would hold policy dialogues on the gender focal persons report and the gender barometer report.

There was little time left to engage in questions, but the following points were made:
- Members expressed disappointment at the lack of detail in the CGE’s presentation, especially on specific programmes
- Members asked questions about the status of gender equality
- Members asked for more information about the policy briefs and dialogues, questioning which departments and political parties had been engaged, and the reasons.

The Chairperson closed the meeting by stating that the Members were not yet convinced by the submissions made by the CGE.  The slow pace of gender empowerment was of concern, and the CGE needed to ensure the implementation of SADC protocols. The Portfolio Committee would do its best to ensure oversight. For this purpose, she requested that the Commission send monthly reports to the Committee. Several issues had been raised, and this was appreciated. However, due to time constraints, the questions must be replied in writing.

The meeting was adjourned.

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