Commission for Gender Equality on its 2015/16 Annual Report

Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities

12 October 2016
Chairperson: Ms P Bhengu (ANC) (Acting)
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Meeting Summary

The Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) achieved 89% of its strategic objectives in the past financial year, reflecting a year-on-year improvement since 2014. The clean audit report reflects responsible financial management, however decreasing revenue and the solvency ratio show that there is clear room for improvement. The CGE noted that they are in the process of implementing plans to improve upon the weaknesses highlighted by Auditor General South Africa (AGSA) in the audit.

Nine hundred complaints were received by the CGE in the 2015/16 financial year, where 1143 files were attended to, and 500 files had rolled over from the previous financial year. Most complaints pertained to maintenance issues and gender discrimination. The CGE exceeded its yearly target of 90 legal and outreach clinics with 154 conducted across the country, and a total of 317 files opened. The CGE engaged with various local and international institutions aligned with its constitutional mandate, including legislatures, government departments, United Nations agencies, labor organisations, the media, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), State-owned Enterprises (SOEs) and other Chapter Nine institutions. However, the CGE highlighted the lack of a clear and effective national coordination strategy to direct key institutions involved in combating gender-based violence.

The CGE had undertaken three systemic investigations in 2015/6, two of which – the Transformation of the Judiciary and the Decriminalisation of Sex Work – had been completed. The Commission’s report into the investigation into Maternal Health had not yet been finalised, as the Department of Health had decided to conduct their own investigation into the matter. The CGE was able to work with the Department of Home Affairs and the South Africa Police Service (SAPS) to help advise and interview Thai women who were victims of a human trafficking syndicate operating in South Africa. There was successful engagement with Islamic women on forced marriages and religious schools grooming young girls into becoming brides. Discrimination and gender-based violence in the mining sector remains an ongoing issue, as the CGE finds that the sector largely neglects the imperative to promote gender equality. The transformation of universities remains central to the CGE agenda, in terms of underrepresentation of women among students and staff.

Ongoing engagement with the traditional and religious sectors has revealed challenges for women in registration of customary marriages, estates and succession. In collaboration with the National Treasury and the South African Revenue Service (SARS), the CGE was able to assist women in vulnerable positions. 154 outreach and legal clinics were held across the country, with a total of 317 files opened. Joint coordinated programmes with the LGBTI sector and Chapter Nine institutions revealed a growing need for training in HIV/AIDS awareness and corrective rape on black lesbians.

In the wake of the 2016 local government elections, an assessment of the manifestos of political parties highlighted ongoing underrepresentation of women and whether political parties were embracing imperatives to promote gender mainstreaming and eventual 50/50 gender representation. Ongoing engagement with the National Treasury to remove Value-Added Tax (VAT) on women’s hygiene products remains on the agenda for both the CGE and the Committee.

The CGE’s 12% vacancy rate was attributed to staff defections to other Chapter Nine institutions and government departments, who offer employees more attractive packages. The organisation has invested heavily in developing Information and Communications Technology (ICT) infrastructure over the last two years, improving administrative efficiency and capacity. An ongoing partnership with the SABC and a recent memorandum of understanding with the National Community Radio Forum (NCRF) has enabled the institution to spread its message through fifty-eight radio slots. Equality Courts are not yet functional, as the CGE face stern challenges relating to service delivery and financial resources.

The Commission’s over-expenditure as well as the deteriorating financial position concerned the Committee, despite undertaking corrective measures to reduce wasteful expenditure. The CGE stressed the need for financial assistance from National Treasury in order to continue the progress made in fulfilling their constitutional mandate.

Meeting report

As the chairperson was attending a Pan African Parliament meeting in Egypt, the Committee elected Ms Bhengu to chair the meeting.

Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) Annual Report 2015/16
Mr Mfanozwelwe Shozi, CGE Chairperson, began by commending the strong relationship between the CGE and the Committee, noting that this would be his final annual report before his term ends in January 2017. Three broad concerns were raised relating to the funding of the institution, several vacant positions within the CGE, and a review of the CGE’s role as a Chapter Nine institution. The delegation was then introduced to the Committee.

On the CGE commissioner vacancies, Ms Bhengu stated that the Committee had sent a letter to the Speaker of the National Assembly, while she was not in a position to respond to the two other issues.

Ms Keketso Maema, Chief Executive Officer of the CGE, highlighted the Commission’s year-on-year improvements in achieving its predetermined objectives and the clean audit opinion received: 89% of predetermined objectives were achieved, while partially achieved objectives amounted to 9%.

The CGE had made substantial progress in producing a consolidated report on Employment Equity hearings on various departments this financial year although the report has not yet been concluded. Gender transformation hearings with three tertiary education institutions (University of Pretoria, University of the North-West and Tshwane University of Technology) have been conducted. It was found that these universities still faced challenges in achieving EE targets. Ms Maema noted that further engagement with the Ministry of Higher Education and Training would be necessary to ensure that EE transformation targets are taken seriously by tertiary institutions.

The CGE provided a status report on gender policies and practices in the mining sector, specifically targeting Khumani Iron Ore, Two Rivers Platinum, Nkomati Nickel Mine, Kumba Iron Ore, Anglo Platinum Mine and Anglo Coal Mine. The mining sector remains male-dominated, largely neglecting the imperative to promote gender equality. A request was made to the Committee to look further into gender issues within the sector, specifically with regards to the high prevalence of gender-based violence.

Considering the local government elections that took place earlier in the year, the manifestos of political parties were assessed to determine whether political parties are embracing constitutional, policy and legislative imperatives to promote gender mainstreaming. The CGE also awaits completion of the final report on gender representation in eight metropolitan districts in the wake of the changes brought about by the local government elections.

The CGE engaged with a number of stakeholders aligned with its specific constitutional mandate, including legislatures, government departments, United Nations agencies, labor organisations, the media, NGOs and other Chapter Nine institutions. Joint coordinated programmes with the LGBTI community and other Chapter Nine institutions revealed a growing need for training in human rights and HIV/AIDS awareness. The assessment report on the 365 Days Programme on gender-based violence highlighted the lack of a clear and effective national coordination strategy to combat gender-based violence. Ms Maema noted that the lack of a coordinated strategy among institutions such as South African Police Service (SAPS), the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), civil society and the CGE undermines the efficiency in addressing gender-based violence, often through the duplication of efforts.

The report on the Implementation of the Victims Charter found that departments have addressed some of the issues raised, however there was clearly room for progress in a few areas, notably the limited budgets and resource allocations and the poor state of facilities. The consolidated court monitoring report reveals that courts were experiencing severe challenges regarding service delivery, and that Equality Courts were not yet functional. It was noted that the CGE and other Chapter Nine institutions such as the South African Human Rights Commission have made progress in rolling out a countrywide programme to address gender issues in the absence of functioning Equality Courts.

Nine hundred complaints were received by the CGE in the 2015/16 financial year, where 1 143 files were attended to. Most complaints pertained to maintenance and gender discrimination. The CGE exceeded its yearly target of 90 legal and outreach clinics with 154 conducted across the country, and a total of 317 files opened.

The CGE had undertaken three systemic investigations in 2015/16, two of which – the Transformation of the Judiciary and the Decriminalisation of Sex Work – had been completed. The investigation into Maternal Health pertained to reports of HIV-positive women being sterilised without their consent, however the Commission’s report had not yet been finalised, as the Department of Health had decided to conduct their own investigation into the matter. The CGE was called upon in an investigation on the possible human trafficking of Thai women in South Africa. Ms Maema applauded the presiding female judge for calling upon the Commission to advise the court, describing it as a step forward in the transformation of the judiciary. The CGE was able to engage with Islamic women in Kwazulu-Natal on forced marriages and divorce procedures in Muslim marriages.

Seven provincial reports on engagements with the traditional and religious sectors revealed ongoing challenges in the registration of customary marriages, inheritance and succession. With regards to the latter, the CGE had achieved relative success in engaging with the National Treasury and SARS to address issues of tax and future of estates for widows. The reports also stipulated that in some provinces, traditional leaders were reluctant to compromise with the CGE on cultural practices that impact on gender equality. The CGE had ongoing engagement with the Treasury to remove value-added tax (VAT) on women’s hygiene essentials such as sanitary towels, however, progress is slow.

The CGE successfully engaged with communities through fifty-eight radio slots, made possible through a memorandum of understanding with the National Community Radio Forum (NCRF) signed earlier this year, and an ongoing partnership with the SABC. Moreover, the CGE was able to create and produce a three-part documentary on gender-based violence, containing information to educate victims on empowerment programmes to assist them. It was aired on various community stations. A branding drive in collaboration with the private sector produced several murals with public messages on gender equality, extending the CGE’s mandate and outreach. The CGE produced two assessment reports on the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development and the African Protocol. Ms Maema noted that government had made significant progress in introducing the necessary policy and legislative framework to promote gender equality, in line with the principles of the Africa Gender and Development Index (AGDI). However, the necessary resources to implement these policies had not yet been made available to the CGE.

Ms Maema concluded by acknowledging recognisable advances in gender transformation, however issues of gender-based violence, brutality towards women and the LGBTI community remain central to the CGE agenda. She also called upon the Committee to put partisan allegiance aside in the call for legislated 50/50 gender representation in political parties.

Commission for Gender Equality Financial Management Report 2015/16
Mr Moshabi Putu, CGE Chief Financial Officer, noted CGE’s total expenditure overran the R67.7 budgetary allocated from the National Treasury, which excluded conditional grants amounting to R3.7 million. Other income included interest, cash donations and Donations in Kind, amounting to another R2.19 million. Therefore, the total revenue was R73.6 million, a noticeable decrease from the R74.6 million the previous financial year. Total expenditure of R71.4 million resulted in a surplus of R2.1 million. The CGE attributed this to book entries made in line with the Generally Recognised Accounting Practices (GRAP) 23 to account for a conditional grant made by the National Treasury for the purchase of assets. In terms of risk management, compliance with section 66 of the Public Finance Management Act saw no exposure to credit, credit liquidity, or interest rate risk. Moreover, no cases of material fraud were recorded or suspected during the period.

Operating expenditure reflected savings form efficiency gains in travel and accommodation, arising out of cost containment measures implemented earlier in the year. R1.4 million was overspent on Administration expenditure, which was explained by legal fees in defence of its investigation reports. The CGE Head Office accounted for the most spending, however provincial offices also received substantial resources, supplemented by regular support by Commissioners, management and functionaries from Head Office. Administrative support functions accounted for 29% of spending, while 16% was spent on Commissioners and 55% was directed at core service delivery. Over the last two years, a R4.5 million investment has been made on improving ICT infrastructure, which includes the procurement of servers, desktops, local and wide area network connectivity and software.

The CGE operated within the provisions of section 22 of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act. Personnel costs ran higher than budgeted due to the cost of living adjustment at 2% more than anticipated. 52% of the cost of employee (COE) bill was used for the remuneration of officers and professionals, while lower skilled workers accounted for 18% of the COE bill. Employment Equity favors women, with 68% of employees, while Africans constitute 91% of the CGE staff. There were 21 terminations during the period, reflecting a vacancy rate of 12%.

The Statement of Financial Position revealed that liquidity (the value of current assets to current liabilities) is relatively sound with the current ratio at 96%, down from 99% the previous financial year. The ratio of Solvency to Net Asset Value (NAV) is at 177%, however Mr Putu warned that this figure may be misleading, as the accumulated surplus of R6.9 million represents non-current assets which will be written off as depreciation over the years. Therefore, without additional funding, the solvency situation will inevitably deteriorate as the balance will be totally diminished within the next 36 months.

Despite the clean audit report, the CGE remains committed to act on the recommendations outlined by the AGSA to strengthen internal control systems. In order to sustain the financial viability, the CGE will have to work closely with National Treasury and other stakeholders. Management is in the process of drawing plans to implement AGSA recommendations, directly overseen by its Audit Committee and CGE governance structures. For the period under review, financial activities were undertaken mostly according to budget and in compliance with laws and regulations.

Ms G Tseke (ANC) strongly commended the work done by the CGE, noting that the institution has come a long way since 2007. She also complimented the organisation on its responsiveness to the recommendations of the Committee during the period. With regards to the CGE’s financial position, the financial constraints were largely a result of the economic downturn and are therefore understandable. The presentation had neglected to mention any information on the 20-year review, to which Ms Tseke asked if there was any available information. With regards to the Commissioner vacancies, she was noticeably frustrated by the National Assembly’s lack of responsiveness to the letter sent by the Committee earlier in the year. Considering the CGE Chairperson’s term is ending shortly, she raised the question of whether any progress has been made to find candidates for the position. She also requested reasons for the high vacancy rate in the international office’s human resource and research departments, as well as if there were any strategies in place to improve staff retention. Two employees had their contracts terminated, and she requested reasons for termination, as well as if exit interviews had been conducted. She noted that wasteful expenditure had decreased to R245 000, and an inquiry was made into the nature of this spending. The number of cases had not yet been completed this financial year, will these rollover into the forthcoming period? What are the financial implications of this?

Ms M Khawula (EFF) asked the CGE whether there had been significant improvement of female representation at universities. She noted that women still experienced prejudice in the mining sector, asking what has been done and what strategies are in place to address this. The presence of numerous illegitimate clinics, distributing flyers to advertise illegal abortion to women, is another area of concern. She noted that there were reports of aborted children found in dumps and pipes, and if the Commission has looked into this matter. Taverns and bars that harbor illegal drugs, alcohol and stolen goods, as well as overcrowded hostels present health and safety issues, especially for women. What is the role of the Commission in addressing this? Lastly, what can the Commission do about discrimination and violence against individuals with albinism by unlicensed traditional healers?

Ms M Chueu (ANC) asked the Commission to elaborate on the human trafficking of Thai women mentioned in the presentation, as well as provide more information on engagement with Islamic women regarding forced marriages. Following from Ms Khawula’s question about female representation in universities, Ms Chueu asked if there were any figures on the number of African female graduates since 1994? In this regard, she requested the Commission meet with Stellenbosch University, the University of the Free State and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. From this basis, she argued, the Committee can gain a better understanding of the ‘#FeesMustFall’ movement. She noted that adequate finance is critical to address women’s issues, and asked if anything can be done in acquiring greater private sector funding. A request was made to debate and share ideas of how teenage pregnancy can be addressed responsibly, perhaps in collaboration with the Department of Education. She mentioned challenges in acquiring funding from National Treasury for the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (PEPUDA), and requested a debate to break down and analyse the Act more intensively in the interest of women’s rights. She argued that the issue of witchcraft in South Africa – particularly the Suppression of Witchcraft Act of 1957 - had been worsened by historically misrepresented colonial portrayals of sangomas as witches. She added that many of these sangomas are elderly, senile women who face discrimination on the basis of their profession. What can be done to protect these vulnerable women? She requested information on the Commission’s engagement with National Treasury on the removal of VAT for women’s hygiene products.

Ms D Robinson (DA) asked if CGE resources have been adequately utilised to provide training in communities and schools, particularly around gender-based violence. She added that gender roles are reinforced by a lack of education, which in turn leads to societal gender-based violence, therefore resources should be utilised to educate both genders. She requested the CGE organise a workshop for the Committee to discuss how gender-based violence can be addressed in the family domain.

Ms T Marchesi (DA) requested that the CGE look closely at its audit report, stressing the need to tighten finances in the organisation to address budgetary issues. She urged the Commission to continue pressing for equal representation in political parties in the build-up to the National Elections in 2019. She commended the Commission on their efficient management and administration, however stressed the room for improvement.

Ms Bhengu asked about the R245 000 wasteful expenditure reported by the Auditor General during this period, as well as if there were any strategies in place to prevent further waste. Is the CGE able to monitor the impact of legal expenses? She noted that there was a lack of representation for people with disabilities in opposition political parties, and that there was insufficient female representation within the DA’s parliamentary caucus.

Ms Machesi responded by highlighting the insufficient female representation within the EFF, to which Ms Khawula swiftly interjected “We [The EFF] are the better devil”.

In response, Mr Shozi began by stressing the considerable amount of work that can still be done before the end of his term. On the question of illegal abortion clinics, he noted that the Termination of Pregnancy Act 1996 affords women the choice to abort, however some registered health practitioners still continue to deny women this right. He added that the lack of education around abortion and virginity testing among the youth is only worsening the issue. With regards to the poor living conditions within cramped hostels in Kwazulu-Natal and Johannesburg, he noted that the Department of Human Settlements had made progress in addressing the matter, which is closely linked to issues of xenophobic violence. To address gender violence in taverns, bars and recreational spaces, he stated that the matter should be taken to SAPS and the Department of Trade and Industry to look into changing the law if gender-based violence persists in these spaces. Furthermore, he argued that the matter is complicated by the relationship between large corporations from the alcohol and cigarette industries and political parties. If these corporations continue to fund political parties, then the latter will be reluctant to address the issues relating to taverns, bars and recreational spaces.  

Commissioner Nondumiso Maphazi noted that the primary concern of the CGE was how best the institution can deliver on its mandate considering the small staff complement. The organisation must source appropriate candidates to fill vacant executive positions, which may take some time. With regards to the financial position of the CGE, she noted that there has been no funding increase from National Treasury despite the organisation’s need for enhanced financial assistance. She stated that transformation in universities is also critical in the academic curriculum, as well as staff positions. A possible strategy is the provision of university output requirements for females, however there is currently a trend at universities to keep Masters and Doctoral students because of the funding afforded by the national government, subsequently reducing university output. She concluded that 50/50 representation should not apply more stringently only to political parties, but also government departments and the private sector.

Commissioner Nomasonto Mazibuko highlighted the United Nations’ recent recognition of albinism as a classified disability. She added that discrimination against albinos by traditional healers is not taken seriously enough by the authorities. South Africa’s porous borders also allow illegal trafficking and disappearances of vulnerable groups including children. She argued that vulnerable groups require special attention from the SAPS, Department of Justice and the Department of Social Development. She noted that individuals with albinism are severely underrepresented in universities and in political office.

The CEO, Ms Maema, noted that the five-year review had not yet been undertaken by National Treasury, however she is confident in the CGE’s performance in that period. With regards to the absence of the 20-year review, she reassured the Committee that the preliminary report will be available in the near future. The high vacancy rates in research and legal positions can partially be explained by skilled individuals defecting to other institutions based on their own distinct preferences. The findings of exit interviews revealed that many former staff members left for other Chapter Nine institutions and better salaries at government departments. She explained that around 500 cases were rolled over as of March 2016, however difficulties arise due to inefficiency in the manual filing system. With regards to the human trafficking of Thai women, the CGE has been able to work with the Department of Home Affairs and SAPS to advise and interview the Thai women. She stressed the need to engage with the Department of Social Development to investigate human trafficking and how it can force women into prostitution. The CGE was able to successfully engage with Islamic women who are victims of discriminatory cultural practices and gender violence. In response to Ms Robinson, training programmes on a municipal level are currently ongoing. Ms Maema stressed the importance of targeting groups for engagements to create a catalytic effect, rather than educating individuals directly, which often proves difficult. She added that the legal clinics had limited success, particularly in assisting women from low-income households, however there is a reluctance to acknowledge the rights of women and disabled persons in certain areas. Lastly, she highlighted that adherence to the Employment Equity Act has been limited, stressing the need to enhance punitive measures for non-adherence.

Mr Shozi requested the assistance of the Committee to address human trafficking, specifically considering the existence of border gateways that enable the practice of human trafficking. He added that in 1999 the CGE produced a report on the Suppression of Witchcraft Act 1957, which is currently under review by the South African Law Revision Commission (SALRC), therefore the organisation will seek to engage with the SALRC on the matter.

Ms Marchesi addressed the CFO specifically on the reasons for the First Quarter over-expenditure of R1.5 million, as well as the measures that will be taken to stabilise the finances of the CGE looking forward.

Mr Putu, CGE CFO, stated that the budget had come under pressure this financial year, and that expenses relating to travel arrangements and training overlapped into the 2015/16 financial year. He stated that the budget had not been adjusted, despite inflation and rising prices. Salary increases had been benchmarked at 6%, which contributed to the increased expenditure. The CGE is actively seeking to cut travel and accommodation costs through increased telecommunication meetings. With regards to the unmet targets, he concluded that funds were already spent on certain ongoing projects, and that their primary limitation was the CGE’s over-stretched budget.

The Acting Chairperson congratulated the CGE delegation and the meeting was adjourned.

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