South Africa: Draft Women's Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill addresses women's representation and participation from politics to the workplace
If adopted, South Africa's all-encompassing Draft Women's Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill will be a vehicle to achieve substantive equality. It addresses women's representation and participation from the political sphere to the workplace. The bill, led by the Minister of Women, Children and People with Disability Lulu Xingwana, is an example of women in politics making a difference.
The draft legislation has been approved by cabinet and is currently undergoing public consultations. The draft sets targets and milestones to be achieved by 2015 in line with the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development.
Its main objectives are to give effect to the letter and spirit of the Constitution, in particular the values of human dignity, the advancement of human rights and freedoms, non-racialism and non-sexism, by providing for women's empowerment to achieve gender equality and gender mainstreaming in the public sector, private sector and civil society.
The bill details legislation that will be affected, ranging from political to societal, education and workplace laws. Most notable, Chapter 3 Section 9 stipulates that:
"All entities to whom this Act applies, must, within their ambit of responsibilities achieve at least 50% representation and meaningful participation of women in decision-making structures by 2015, by developing plans on -
(a) setting of targets for such representation and participation;
(b) building women's capacity to participate; and
(c) developing support mechanisms for women within one year of the date of commencement of this Act."
This in line with Articles 5, 12 and 13 of the SADC Gender Protocol on affirmative action and the target of 50/50 women representation by 2015. It is the first national legal framework in the SADC region that goes beyond political representation to govern the public and private sectors.
On empowerment, Section 8 provides for the following measures to be undertaken by all entities to eliminate discrimination by putting forward a number of strategies. These include:
• Changing the conditions and circumstances which hinder achievement of sustainable, substantive gender equality;
• Mainstreaming gender in all strategies, policies, programmes, plans, budgets, training and activities;
• Ensuring reasonable accommodation of the needs and interests of women;
• Putting the necessary measures in place to recognise and support the reproductive, productive, family and community roles of women in various sectors of life; and
• Enforcing gender equality legislation, policies and strategies within their mandate.
The bill stipulates enforcement, offences and penalties measures for non-compliance. The Minister of Women, Children and Persons with Disability may use any and all dispute resolution mechanisms, including parliamentary procedures and court processes, to address gender discrimination; and non-compliance with, contravention, or breach of any provision of the act.
Adverse effects are deemed practices of male or female dominance over women, which have, or are likely to have, an adverse effect on the wellbeing and equal enjoyment of their rights. Anyone who conducts such practices is guilty of an offence and on conviction is liable to a fine or to imprisonment. There is yet to be a proposal for the period of imprisonment.
If enacted, the Draft GE bill will go a long way to ensure that women are able to realise their full potential in both their public and private lives in line with the SADC Gender Protocol. South Africa would need to move fast to ensure it is enacted in time to realise the 2015 deadline. There are only two years remaining to achieve the targets.
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