10 August 2001

SOUTH AFRICA: Battle for gender equality goes on

Exactly 45 years to the day yesterday, August 9th, 20.000 women marched on the Union Buildings in Pretoria, then the administrative seat of apartheid. Their protest drew attention to some of the most debilitating forms of gender and racial discrimination. More than four decades later, the challenges facing South African women, and more broadly our fledgling constitutional democracy, are not very different from 1956. No doubt, at an institutional and legislative level, progress towards gender equality since April 1994 has been formidable. Women are now guaranteed constitutional protection against all forms of discrimination. Underpinning this constitutional protection against discrimination is a battery of legislation, most significant of which are labour laws and the Domestic Violence Act. To some extent the consequence of this progress finds expression in the growing number of women in leading political and business positions.

Beyond that, the country still has a long way to go before realising the objectives it has set itself. That much is evident from the official “Time-Use” report released by Statistics South Africa this week. The report shows that despite progress recorded in the last seven years, gender inequalities continue to deepen under the weight of the apartheid legacy. It is obvious from the statistics that for the majority of ordinary working women, especially those in rural areas, the constitutional and legislative progress has made little difference. They are still employed to do the worst and lowest-paid jobs. The liberation of women will remain incomplete for as long as they are tapped in this dire social and economic environment. Without addressing this reality, non-sexism will remain an elusive objective. And so will the ideals the 20 000 women marched for in 1956 (Sowetan).

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