Human rights have a long way to go

The constitutional mandate on gender equality is clear, and the legislative process is providing the building blocks for a gender-equitable society. But government faces major challenges in ensuring the law is translated into real improvements in the lives of women and girls.

With the establishment of the ministry for women, children and persons with disabilities, there is a need to restructure the national gender machinery and amend the gender policy framework because it does not clarify the ministry’s role.

  • The issues lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals (LGBT) face are not properly dealt with. Government should design programmes in schools to raise awareness on LGBT rights.
    The Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) has realised that communities regard awareness of LGBT rights as “promoting” gay and lesbian practises rather than simply protecting the rights and dignity of people in the LGBT community.

  • A United Nations Development Programme report that maps gender equality progress in South Africa states that “women outnumber men in higher education. In the past five years, there has been a steady increase in the number of graduating female students and more women than men graduate. However, the total number of graduates from science, engineering and technology, remains significantly low as compared with the need to address South Africa’s scientific and technical skills shortage.”
    Government needs to draw up programmes to change gender demographics in these subjects.
    It is also noteworthy that the drop-out rate of girl children is increasing, particularly because of pregnancy. Women still remain the majority of those who cannot read and write.

  • The state-run adult basic education and training initiatives, such as the Kha ri Gude programme, do not appear to have closed the skills gap. Sector education and training authorities have not been robust in empowering women and development agencies need to come up with a clear programme that will speed up the skills development of women, particularly those in rural areas and informal settlements.

  • There are indications that there are gendered aspects to xenophobic attacks in South Africa. During the 2008 attacks, in almost all the centres the CGE visited, we found heavily pregnant women affected by dislocation and distress. Women who were not accompanied by male relatives, husbands or partners were more sexually vulnerable than those who had male protectors.

  • There are still major challenges when it comes to the effect and feminisation of both poverty and HIV/Aids. Women are most likely to be the ones who care for HIV/Aids patients. The uneven distribution of care work between men and women is something civil society organisations, chapter-nine institutions and government need to consider seriously.

  • The CGE welcomes the fact that the government has made combating the high levels of violence against women and children a priority. But we are concerned that the availability of gender statistics in South Africa is still not satisfactory.
    The lack of provision of comprehensive health services for survivors of gender-based violence is of concern and indicates that policies are not backed up by enough resources.

  • Employment Equity Commission reports show that between 2006 and 2008 women were more represented in administrative than decision-making functions.

The CGE report states that most women are employed in the informal sector, and that moving women from subsistence-level economic activities to growing their own businesses and improving their earning power is still a challenge. Women still occupy lower positions in the labour market.

Working with men is critical to attaining gender equality. The involvement of men in policy interventions to transform gender norms is on a small scale, but it shows tremendous potential. Men’s behaviour and attitudes are beginning to change.

Mfanozelwe Shozi is the acting chairperson of the Commission for Gender Equality

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