Our country’s women

Our country’s women have a good story to tell.

Gabi Khumalo

Since 1994, South Africa has seen several women taking up leadership positions in areas previously dominated by men. One of the success stories of our democracy is the representation of women in political decision-making positions.

Now as we celebrate National Women’s Month and Women’s Day on 9 August, we can proudly say that very few countries can claim to have done better than what democratic South Africa has done to empower its women.

In 1994, women constituted a mere 27.8% of the 400 seats in the South African parliament. That figure had increased to 44% in 2009. Similarly, the representation of women in provincial legislatures rose from 25.4% to 42.4% respectively. The Speaker of Parliament and Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces are women. Women CEOs are heading many of the state-owned entities and top blue chip companies in the private sector.

This progress was again highlighted when Minister in the Presidency responsible for Women Susan Shabangu tabled South Africa’s country report at the 59th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW59).

The UNCSW is an entity of the UN Economic and Social Council dedicated exclusively to gender equality and the advancement of women. It’s an important platform dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.

Beijing Platform for Action

At a time when women are increasingly taking centre stage in global affairs, the two-week long gathering in New York as expected took centre stage. This year’s session was of particular importance as it marked the 20-year review of progress that countries have made in the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action.

The Beijing Platform for Action is an international declaration of women’s rights established at the UN’s landmark Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995. It covers 12 key critical areas of concern, which include women and poverty, violence against women and access to power and decision-making.

The summit also came at a time when global attention was placed firmly towards the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals and the shaping of a post 2015 Development Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals.

But how has South Africa fared as a country and what did we tell the world regarding the empowerment of women and gender equality? If statistics are anything to go by, it’s safe to think Pretoria had a fairly good report to table in New York. Progressive legislation has been implemented to create an enabling environment for women, to ensure they are protected and to promote their participation in the economy.

Access to formal employment for women is facilitated through the Employment Equity Act where employers are legally required to work towards more equitable representation based on gender, race and disability. The Gender Equality Bill was introduced to accelerate the empowerment of women and attain 50/50 gender parity for the country. In 2009, a Ministry for Women, Children and People with Disabilities was created to strengthen the country’s response to women empowerment.

On the fight against women abuse, we will demonstrate in New York that our campaigns such as the 365 Days of Activism against Women and Child Abuse continue to raise awareness and confront the scourge of women abuse. The National Crime Prevention Strategy of 1996 elevated violence against women and children as a national priority. The Commission on Gender Equality is mandated to monitor, evaluate and research women’s rights and gender equality.

State of readiness

Minister Shabangu was upbeat about South Africa’s participation in the CSW59. She said following broader consultations, the country report had been compiled, informed by inputs from various stakeholders which reviewed how far the country had come in advancing women issues in the past two decades.


“This report provides a comprehensive account of South Africa’s progress on critical outcomes adopted by the UN Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. It contributes to a better understanding of how gender equality and the empowerment of women can be strengthened in a Post-2015 Development Agenda.

“It is envisaged that this national-level review will contribute in understanding and engagement of how gender equality and the empowerment of women can be strengthened in a Post-2015 Development Agenda,” she said.

The South African delegation to the CSW59 included several Cabinet Ministers who participated in various panels and also representatives from the Commission on Gender Equality, as well as civil society organisations and business.

Mandisa Monakali, founder of Ilitha Labantu, an organisation that deals with violence against women, and human rights, said the meeting in New York came at the time when civil society organisation were reviewing progress that had been made since Beijing. “For us Beijing +20 was not about UN, it was about our daily lives as South African women and you could see what was happening now in the country. The number of women we have in construction for instance has increased,” Monakali said.

Looking to the future

She expects CSW59 to come up with strategies on how the developing countries in particular can implement the 12 critical areas and link them to UN’s Sustainable Development. “You can’t talk about sustainable development without looking at women and poverty, without looking at violence against women, women participation . . . you have to link them direct with sustainable development.”

Dr Namane Magau, a member of International Women’s Forum of South Africa, highlighted a need to look closely on how women are remunerated as compared to their male counterparts. She also said women-led enterprises still needed more support as they continued to lag behind.

“They also need more opportunities of growth and we are hoping that the country will continue to grow women’s participation in the economy, be it in business, communities and also be they in professional settings,” Dr Magau said.

Meanwhile, a number of key activities will be taking place around the country as women celebrate Women’s Month. – SAnews.gov.za