Does the new Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill fill the gaps?

Author: Maya Perez Aronsson
Intern, Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria

South Africa has some of the most progressive legislation on gender equality in the world yet there is a lack of de facto equality in this country. A new Bill has been put forth to further promote women empowerment and gender equality – will this be the solution?

In September 2012 the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities presented the Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill (the Equality Bill). The purpose of the new Bill is to establish a legislative framework for the empowerment of women and to provide an obligation to adopt and implement gender mainstreaming. The Bill includes detailed provisions regarding these issues such as encouraging the recognition of the economic value of the roles of women in various sectors of life, and the achievement of at least 50 % representation and participation of women in decision-making structures in all entities.

Photo: Theo Nkonki/EyeWitness News

In order for the Bill to add value, it needs to be seen as an opportunity to address and fill some gaps found in the existing legislation. It is also an opportunity for South Africa to further comply with its international obligations with respect to gender equality, such as the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (the Women’s Protocol), and to address some of the recommendations issued by the UN (United Nations) Committee on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in its Concluding Observations with respect to South Africa’s periodic report to the Committee which was considered in 2011.

The Bill should recognize, in accordance with CEDAW and the Women’s Protocol, the fact that women can belong to several disadvantaged groups at the same time and may, therefore, need special protection from multiple intersections of discrimination and inequality.  Examples of such groups in need of express inclusion in the Bill are widows, women with disabilities and the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Intersexed (LGBTI) –group.

The fact that widows’ are a vulnerable group in need of extra protection has been recognised in the Women’s Protocol. Some documented practices, which discriminate against widows in South Africa include sexual cleansing, widow inheritance and property grabbing. The coexistence of customary law alongside statutory law results in prevailing discriminatory practices, which contribute to the difficult position widows find themselves in. To overcome the above mentioned, widows’ rights must be addressed by laws and policies which are implemented effectively at grassroots level through sensitisation of traditional leaders and awareness raising campaigns. The Bill must be clear in its objective, to assist in the empowerment of certain groups of women, such as widows, who are particularly burdened.

When it comes to women with disabilities, they must be protected beyond the prohibition of discrimination on the ground of having a disability. It has been documented that African women with disabilities experience multiple and reinforcing layers of discrimination, disadvantage and social marginalisation, as well as being extremely vulnerable to gender-based violence. South Africa has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which means that the state is aware of the special ‘double’ vulnerability of these women, both as women and as persons living with disabilities. Hence, a special “double” protection must be recognised and developed further in this new Bill.

Another group requiring specific protection is the LGBTI-group. Even though South Africa prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, gender and sexual orientation in section 9 of the Constitution, LGBTI-persons still face abuse and violations of their human rights on a daily basis. There are several reported offences, such as ‘corrective rape’, and murders committed against women on account of their sexual orientation. This new Bill would be a great opportunity to really address these issues, but in order to do so they would have to be addressed more specifically.

In order to achieve substantive gender equality all laws dealing with discrimination and equality must develop detailed and specific protection for these three groups.

It is also of utmost importance to provide adequate resources, both financially and in the form of human resources, to ensure the efficiency of this Bill. There is, in South Africa today a lack of a well-coordinated framework, which stands in the way of both de jure and de facto gender equality. To obtain gender equality both in practice and in law behavioural change is needed and the legislation needs to be accompanied by adequate resources and awareness raising campaigns, school education, special training to communities and other law enforcement officials. Effective and comprehensive measures are needed to modify or eliminate harmful cultural norms, practices and stereotypes. There is also a need to highlight and specify, in separate provisions, the reality and rights of specifically vulnerable groups, such as widows, women with disabilities and LGBTI persons.

About the Author:
Maya Perez Aronsson has a bachelors degree in Development Studies and is currently doing a masters degree in Human Rights at Gothenburg University, Sweden. As part of that masters she is doing an internship at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria.

One Comment on “Does the new Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill fill the gaps?”

  1. Brenda-Grace says:

    Well its a wonderful stape forwad for women and the nation,but its not enough on paper if the practicality is not activated.Defacto is the most important instrument in any movement and it hyilds results.The activist must move to educate and inform the grassroot citizens, both parties should be informed of the development and the benefits of it to the society,otherwise they will not understand the bill and missuse or abuse it instade.There sre still some ignorent society out side the developing and developed ones.Senstiztion is key,so you will have to use a lot of out reach programms to the targeted groups

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