SA: Women’s rights top priority in pandemic

SA: Women’s rights top priority in pandemic

Date: March 9, 2021
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By Colleen Lowe Morna

Johannesburg, 9 March: The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the challenges faced by women worldwide, said ambassadors, other government officials and civil society leaders at the Gender Links Women’s Voice and Leadership Awards ceremony on International Women’s Day yesterday.

It is a year since Covid-19 sent nations across the world into various forms of lockdown, with the first anniversary of South Africa’s official lockdown coming up on 27 March. The pandemic has caused social and economic upheaval across the globe.

Christopher Cooter, head of the Mission of Canada to the European Union, said at the ceremony that reinforcing women’s rights organisations so that they were “strong and sustainable” would ensure that there was progress towards solving issues affecting women, because these issues would be kept on the political agenda.

Canada is addressing some of the issues women face through its Women Voice and Leadership Fund, which is managed in South Africa by Gender Links. The United Kingdom has joined the fund, contributing cash of its own.

Fiona Clark, social development adviser for UK-South Africa Development Partnerships in the

UK’s Foreign Commonwealth Development Office, said gender equality was “front and centre” of the UK’s approach to tackling the Covid-19 pandemic, in the UK and internationally. It was important to ensure women’s rights organisations continued to be able to do their work, Clark said, as this ensured that women would have access to the services they needed.

Ambassador of The Netherlands to South Africa, Han Peters, congratulated Gender Links on its upcoming 20th anniversary. He said while the pandemic had caused a “time of crisis”, it also held within it a chance to “build back better” and also to “build back equal”, ensuring greater equity in the economies of tomorrow.

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa had often spoken of the “twin pandemics” faced in South Africa – Covid-19 and gender-based violence, said Gender Links executive director Kubi Rama.

However, she warned, governments were better at signing pledges and agreements than implementing them, or properly funding organisations, and even their own departments, that address issues such as women’s rights. Rama said she was “encouraged” to see that the first goal listed by the Gender Equity Forum was ensuring that women’s organisations were well funded.

The forum is a global civil society gathering, convened by UN Women and co-hosted by the governments of Mexico and France with the aim of securing a set of “concrete, ambitious, and transformative commitments to achieve immediate and irreversible progress towards gender equality”, according to the UN Women website. The forum will bring together governments, corporations and change to define and announce ambitious investments and policies.

South Africa’s Deputy Minister in the Presidency for Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities, Hlengiwe Mkhize, said governments should use the Gender Equity Forum to find ways to collaborate, and to hold each other accountable for the promises made via the forum. The forum focused on the 15-year-old girl because, by 2030, she would be an adult.

Gender equality is one of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, a set of 17 goals aimed at ensuring the world’s human population enjoys peace and prosperity by 2030, while protecting the planet.

Patriarchy was still well-entrenched across society, regardless of country, race and class, said Tamara Mathebula, chairperson of South Africa’s Commission for Gender Equality. Covid-19 had exacerbated South Africa’s “triple challenge” of poverty, inequality and unemployment, Mathebula said.

The commission is a so-called Chapter Nine institution – these are a group of organisations established in terms of Chapter 9 of the South African Constitution to guard democracy.

Gender Links grant recipient Zintle Khobeni of non-governmental organisation The Great People of South Africa said 2021’s International Women’s Day was “a rallying cry”, especially for the eradication of gender-based violence.

Fellow grant recipient Thenjiwe Ngcobo of non-governmental organisation Incema called on the South African government to take women’s rights organisations seriously and to give them the assistance they needed to effectively implement their aid programmes.

Several organisations were awarded prizes for their work in championing women’s rights in South Africa.

Colleen Lowe Morna is  Gender Links Special Advisor. She serves as Special Advisor to the GL Board on Sustainability). 

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