Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women: Implementation report by Office on Status of Women

Monitoring Improvement of Quality of Life and Status of Women

16 May 2008
Chairperson: Ms M Morutoa (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Professor Zuby Saloojee, an independent consultant contracted by the Office on the Status of Women, briefed the Committee on South Africa’s progress in addressing matters of gender equity and dealing with discrimination against women, in line with its obligations under the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. A draft report had been consolidated for Cabinet and would be submitted by end of May. The terms of reference and consultations held were fully outlined. The report contained 23 recommendations. It dealt with the definition of women, the need for vibrant civil society organisations to deal with women’s issues,  government’s obligation to eliminate discrimination and the enforcement of roles through different committees, public prosecution and the Labour Court. There had been progress in dealing with violence against women, but rural women were unaware of their rights and were exposed to violence and discrimination daily. Examples of gender mainstreaming were cited from various departments. The public service targeted 50% representation of women by March 2009. However, the conditions and work climate must still be improved so that women were accorded due respect.  Gender based stereotyping and prejudice was entrenched, and there was a need to address this. Trafficking and exploitation of women and girl children must be addressed. There had been progression in participation of women abroad in political positions. Issues of nationality, citizenship, polygamy and inheritance were also covered. Access to education by women had improved and gender equity was advancing. Challenges remained as the need for greater funding for women in small businesses, and addressing violence against women. Members raised concerns about the fact that provincial matters were not addressed in the report. They also queried the fact that civil society dealing with gender issues was not well established and the fact that there was no follow up to issues raised. The exclusion of rural women in organisations dealing with gender equity was also raised as a concern, as well as the lack of sufficient mechanisms to deal with rural women’s issues.

Meeting report

The Chairperson made note of the fact that Parliament would be going for recess at the end of July due to 2009 elections. She added that the Committee might have to meet during the recess to discuss some issues that would not have been discussed by that time.

Convention On The Elimination Of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW): Implementation report from Office on Status of Women (OSW)
Professor Zuby Saloojee, an independent consultant contracted by Office on the Status of Women (OSW) briefed the Committee on the progress in implementing the CEDAW, including what had been done by the OSG. She said the report was based on desktop research and it offered options to impact on the gender structure in South Africa. Professor Saloojee said the first CEDAW Report by South Africa was produced in 1998, adding that the second and third reports were combined in the present one. She said that the objectives and process of the report provided a realistic appraisal of the legislative, judicial and administrative measures in implementation and challenges for the years 1998 to 2008. According to Professor Salojee the report was compiled through literature review and consolidated inputs from various departments and non-governmental organisations.

She said that the report followed the CEDAW framework and guidelines and that a draft had been consolidated for Cabinet and would be submitted by end of May. She outlined the terms of reference for submission. These included provision of inputs into the CEDAW report, cross-reference to the Beijing platform and an assessment on the status. There were several consultations held in preparation for the CEDAW report. This had included a consultation with the National department on the 18 March; the CGW Violence against Women Conference held in Durban on 19 March; consultations on 2 April with Department of Provincial and Local Government (DPLG) and the South Africa Local Government Association (SALGA) and traditional leaders, a consultation with the Joint Monitoring Committee on 16 May and a drafting of the report with gender experts on 7 May.

Professor Salojee said the report framework required sixteen substantive articles, which dealt with discrimination against women. The report presented had 23 recommendations, and Professor Salojee outlined several critical issues of the report. The report dealt with the definition of discrimination against women according to the Constitution as well as the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act. It also addressed the need for vibrant civil society organisations to deal with women’s issues. In addition the report dealt with the government’s obligation to eliminate discrimination and the enforcement of roles through different committees, public prosecution and the Labour Court.

Moreover fundamental questions on rights and accessibility of justice for women were included in the report. She added that there had been progress to deal with violence against women, citing the sugar cane killings and how they were dealt, with and the Zuma rape case.  Professor Salojee stated that rural women were unaware of their rights and were exposed to violence and discrimination daily. She added that the South African government should learn from the Austrian government’s failure to exercise due diligence in the protection of women against domestic violence. In that country such failure had led to the death of two women and court cases. The report also addressed development and advancement of women, citing the role of different stakeholders in the successes and strengths. She said that a critical approach was used in the Commission to assess the public service and gender equity. Examples of gender mainstreaming were cited from various departments, including the South African Police Service, Department of Correctional Services, South African National Defence Force, Black Economic Empowerment Charter and others. The report found that South Africa had some of the best practices in relation to gender equity. It was noted that the public service targeted 50% representation of women by March 2009, adding that the climate and conditions of work had to be improved so that male subordinates would respect women in superior positions. There had been acceleration of equality between women and men.

Furthermore, the report stated that gender based stereotyping and prejudice was rooted in the gender discourses of masculinity and femininity. Society had prescribed norms and attitudes that led to discrimination and gender based violence. The report cited the need to suppress trafficking and exploitation of women and girl children. South Africa’s strategic response to trafficking in women and girls was outlined. Also included in the report was the representation of women in political positions as of 2007. International representation and participation of women in missions abroad was found to be progressive, as the number of women deployed in South African missions abroad had increased. The issue of nationality and reframing of citizenship, where women who were married to foreigners had their citizenship questioned, was raised.  Polygamy and inheritance for remaining spouses of a deceased mutual-spouse was also dealt with in the report. Women’s access to education was seen to have improved as compulsory education had greater impetus. The report seemed to suggest that South Africa was upholding the best practices in terms of the CEDAW Report Framework as there was proof that gender equity was advancing.

Challenges outlined in the report included the reduction of unemployment for women between the ages of 15 and 34, and the need to increase the funding for women in small businesses. There was also the challenge of increasing the effort to deal with violence against women.

The Chairperson said she never heard about provincial gender points in the report and added that mandates of the report should be clear and in line with those of the African National Congress.

The Chairperson said there should be a shift of focus from administrative issues to more practical issues that dealt with women’s interests.

The Chairperson indicated that most people did not know about the OSW, as it did not have any campaigns to sensitise the public. She said that female genital mutilation and forced marriages were still practiced in places like the Limpopo Province, as women did not know where to appeal for help in dealing with such matters.

Professor Salojee said different provinces had different issues and this created splits in dealing with their issues.

Mr F Maserumule (ANC) said rural municipalities were structurally incapacitated to deal with gender issues though that was where the majority of women and girls were residing. These women and girls unfortunately did not capture the attention of the media or the lawmakers and decision makers. He said women in rural areas were faced with numerous challenges, and that young women would prefer to start having babies rather than attend school.  Water shortage was another problem in rural areas, and he said that resources should be set aside to deal with the situation. He asked what mechanisms were in place to deal with such gender challenges in rural areas.

Ms Ranji Reddy, Director, OSW, said there was a need to check why the gender machinery was not active. She said there was no women’s movement and that the institutional arrangement was not functioning in that regard.  She said there had to be more implementation of mandates and that the Committee’s help was needed to deal with gender equity.

Ms B Ntuli (ANC) said the report should outline which customary practices were violating women’s rights. She added that the issue of polygamy needed a lot of research, to understand how those who practised it would benefit. She noted that most institutions dealing with women’s issues were made up of urban residents who had no idea what was going on in the rural areas, thus excluding rural victims.

The Chairperson said the Zuma case had been left for too long, noting that it was taken over by political opinions. She said something was wrong in the way it was handled. She said that women in the ANC had been given responsibility to deal with gender equality but that it was difficult to address the situation when violation came from among their ranks. She said the South African judiciary was poor at handling gender issues. She believed that the ANC Women’s League should be vocal in these cases.

The Chairperson added that education of males about gender equity should be used instead of protests. This should begin with male colleagues in parliament.  She said gender budgeting was not identifiable. The Department of Social Transformation had failed, as there was no special budget for women.  Moreover, she said the gender issue was fading into the background because women were not doing what they were supposed to do, and that sometimes it was ideologically connected to politics. She said women could agree on issues in private but that it would be different once they got into the public domain.  She also said gender equity courts were not functional and that a lot was being neglected. 
The meeting was adjourned.

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