International Women’s Conference: parliamentary staff briefing

Women in The Presidency

24 August 2017
Chairperson: Ms R Morutoa (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The South African Parliament is to host a 2-day International Women’s Conference.

The theme of the conference is: “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50:50 by 2030”. The aim of the conference, amongst other things, is to create a platform for the discussion of progress made on the continent in absorbing women into the economy and in creating working environments that are gender sensitive. The Conference will also discuss the challenges in relation to absorbing women into the economy and the factors that impede upon their career progress and ability to manage their gender roles in work environments.

Conference resolutions and discussions would also inform the work and programmes of the Women’s Caucuses and Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians’ Chapters at national and provincial level.

200 delegates from parliaments internationally are expected to attend and the conference will be held in Parliament from the 29 to 30 August 2017. The specific focus is on legislatures in Africa. An attempt would be made to ensure that representatives from both Houses of bicameral legislatures are invited. Conference participants would also include a range of stakeholders in civil society such as Non-Government Organisations, business sector, women entrepreneurs, and trade unions.

The Committee was also briefed on the South African National Parliament Commonwealth Women Parliamentarian chapter launched in March 2017. Areas that were identified that the chapter should focus on to ensure and maximise its chances of success before the end of the Fifth Parliament, such as to focus on increasing the number of women represented and participating in politics; re-introduce gender responsive budgeting; look at violence against women; and focus on women and health, with special emphasis on cancer.

Members remarked that their input regarding the conference is not taken seriously by the Offices of the Speaker and Chair of Chairs; wanted to know who is going to deliver a talk on behalf of the UN because there is no representation from the UN; and commented that the senior researcher should take into consideration the information on poverty that StatsSA talked about and matters affecting women because the two correlated.

Concerning the , South African National Parliament Commonwealth Women Parliamentarian chapter, Members remarked that the Departments of Water and Sanitation, Health, and Arts and Culture could help to drive this programme; and proposed to engage with the Department of Finance to scrap Value Added Tax on sanitary towels.

 

Meeting report

Senior Researcher Presentation

Ms Joy Watson, Senior Researcher for Socially Vulnerable Group and Members’ Legislative Proposal Cluster: RSA Parliament, stated women in South Africa have played a critical role in both fighting for freedom and in shaping the transition to democratic governance. Through the National Women’s Coalition (NWC), formed in 1991 as a mechanism to unite women of all political parties as well as civil society, the Women’s Charter for Effective Equality was developed, providing a critical framework for the drafting of the Constitution. The formation of the NWC and the development of the Women’s Charter saw the increased participation of women in the Constitution-building process and provided a strategic conduit for women to articulate their rights.

As part of an attempt to mark the 20-year anniversary of the Constitution and the critical role played by women in its development, Parliament proposes to host a 2-day international women’s conference, centred around the theme of “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50:50 by 2030.” It is proposed that the conference targets legislatures globally, but with a specific focus on the Africa region.

The conference would create an important platform to engage further with the critical issue of transforming workplaces for women. Within the context of global digital and technological development, the work environment for women worldwide is changing. Potentially, this offers opportunities for women in balancing gendered roles and working differently such as working from home, but it also creates challenges such as unstable livelihoods and incomes. Women’s economic empowerment must be located within these global shifts and within a context where fiscal and trade change policies are also changing.

The hosting of this conference will assist in giving effect to commitments that South Africa has made in international conventions and protocols such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Beijing Platform for Action and at a regional level, the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development. All of these instruments contain provisions for eradicating poverty, educating and training women and girls, and closing the gender gap in the economy.

Hosting of the conference will also feed into the work of the South African Parliament at global parliamentary platforms such as the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians. The conference would further provide a strategic opportunity to reflect on how to give effect to the resolutions of the sixty-first session of the Commission of the Status of Women.

The conference will be held at Parliament, Cape Town, and attended by 200 delegates from Parliaments internationally, with a specific focus on legislatures in Africa. An attempt will be made to ensure that representatives from both Houses of bicameral legislatures are invited. Conference participants will also include a range of stakeholders in civil society such as NGOs, the business sector, women entrepreneurs and trade unions.
The objectives of the conference are to:

  • Create a platform for the discussion of progress made on the continent in absorbing women into the economy and in creating working environments that are gender sensitive.
  • Discuss the challenges in relation to absorbing women into the economy and the factors that impede upon their career progress and ability to manage their gender roles in work environments.
  • Give effect to resolutions made at the 2016 Women’s Parliament in relation to women and economic empowerment.
  • Provide a platform for reporting back on the sixty-first session of Commission of the Status of Women.
  • Develop clear national plans to give effect to resolutions adopted at the sixty-first session of the Commission of the Status of Women. These should be dynamic in seeking to change the world of work for women.

Ms Watson indicated the conference would look at why it is important to change the world of work to be sensitive to women’s gender needs and interests; how legislatures can effectively take up the gender issue, areas of collaboration across legislatures on advancing meaningful, active inclusion of women in the economy, barriers and challenges in implementing policies and laws that promote economic activity of women; sexual violence and its impact, addressing sexual harassment in the workplace and economic impact of violence against women; and the role of Parliaments in changing the world of work for women.

The conference resolutions and discussions would also inform the work and programmes of the Women’s Caucuses and Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians’ Chapters at national and provincial level.

Content Advisor Presentation

Ms Tembakazi Mpapele, Committee Content Advisor, informed the Committee that the South African National Parliament CWP chapter was launched on 06 March 2017. A strategic planning workshop was held on 20 June 2017 in order to identify priority areas that the chapter will focus on. Due to the short-term duration of the chapter an agreement was reached to focus on few areas to ensure and maximise chances of success before the end of the Fifth Parliament. The following were identified as areas to focus on by the chapter:

  • To focus on increasing the number of women represented and participating in politics.
  • To focus on re- introduction of gender responsive budgeting.
  • To focus on violence against women.
  • To focus on women and health with particular focus on cancer.

With regard to increasing the number of women in politics, the following activities were identified:

  • Lobby and advocate the Electoral Commission of SA (IEC) to review and amend the Electoral Act before 2019 elections.
  • Engage political parties to adopt voluntary gender quotas and encourage male comrades to be champions of gender equality as per the ‘HeforShe’ campaign.
  • Make politics attractive to young women by hosting regular dialogues with female political studies students
  • Another way marketing politics identified is the profiling of all women who have been Members of Parliament since 1994.
  • Regularly hosing social events to make current women Members of Parliament excited about the chapter,
  • Developing a political alumnus of former women Members of Parliament and encourage current Members of Parliament (MPs) to regularly interact with them in order to seek their wisdom and experience.

To achieve gender responsive budgeting, the following activities were identified:

  • Engage with National Treasury about re- introduction of GRB (Gender Responsive Budgeting)
  • Engage with the Speaker’s forum through the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly about current efforts by the Speakers’ forum with regards to GRB
  • To lobby and advocate for training of Members on GRB
  • To engage with the Ministry of Women on the development of GRB framework

On gender based violence (GBV), some of the following activities were identified:

  • To host roundtable discussions with relevant Departments on GBV (including human trafficking and femicide).
  • Forge and strengthen relations with NGOs and CSOs (Civil Society Organisation) dealing with GBV.
  • To engage women in traditional leaderships and the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities about cultural and religious practises contributing to violence against women.
  • Social activism in the form of awareness raising and by conducting advocacy and outreach initiatives to various communities.
  • Media coverage by regularly making pronouncements condemning violence against women and children.
  • Raising of motions related to GBV in both Houses of Parliament.
  • Lobbying and advocating for legal reform for various vulnerable groups where GBV is prevalent.

Concerning health and women, the following activities were identified:

  • Host onsite screenings for cancer in Parliament
  • Make presentations to Select and Portfolio Committee of Health about prioritising oversight over women and health issues especial cancer
  • Continue to lobby and advocate for free provision of sanitary towels to indigent women.
  • Conduct a study tour to a Country that has managed to removed VAT from sanitary towels and as well as provide free sanitary towels to girls.

Discussion

Ms M Chueu (ANC) remarked that nothing said in the Committee was taken seriously, especially their input regarding the conference, Members were just told how the conference is going to run, their input was not needed. What came from the Speaker’s Office or Chair of Chairs Office was not changed.

The Chairperson stated the researcher had given the direction the conference is going to take and the Committee has submitted its input. The Committee made it clear if its input is not considered, its Members are not going to attend the conference. Fortunately, its input has been considered.

Ms Chueu stated it is impossible to have a women’s committee without input from women on things that affect women like poverty. The Committee must get programmes that play a role in the 4th Revolution.

The Chairperson said she was informed that the Women and Children’s Ministry is going to participate in the conference. She wondered how the provinces are going to be drawn into the conference and know their input. The senior researcher should take into consideration the information on poverty that StatsSA spoke about and matters affecting women, because the two correlated.

Ms P Bhengu (ANC) wanted to know who is going to deliver a talk on behalf of the UN because she did not see any representation from the UN.

Ms Watson explained that the conference was proposed, but a political decision refused it, and then it was approved very late.

The Chairperson said the opposition parties need to convene their own programmes on the CWP matter so that they could share their issues with the Committee, but the Women’s Caucus includes women of all political parties.

Ms Chueu stated she saw three departments that would help to function on this programme. The Department of Water and Sanitation, because the dignity of women starts at the pit toilets; the Department of Health has to talk of its plans on sanitary towels; and the Department of Arts and Culture in order to get the input of traditional leaders, and to talk about the culture of oppressing women. Lobbying and advocacy should be done for the removal of VAT on sanitary towels just like in Kenya. She suggested the Committee engage with the new Minister and Deputy Minister of Finance so that they understand why there should be no VAT on sanitary towels.

The meeting was adjourned.

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