SA Human Rights Day: A female citizen asks: are my rights a priority?

Date: March 17, 2011
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“Mummy I am so mad!” These were recently the words of my almost 15-year-old daughter (out of respect for her assertion that she is not 14 based on the scientific deduction that she is closer to 15). She had called to tell me that her dad’s female friend had told her she would have difficulty finding a husband.

The female friend thought my daughter would encounter this problem because she thinks women and men are equal. Very few men in the world would want a wife who wanted to be independent and could change a tyre. My daughter pointed out that she was brought up to do things for herself, and to be independent.

Said female friend posited the view that men who sew and want to be with babies were “moffies”. My daughter noted that her male cousins loved her two-year-old baby brother and that was good because it meant they were caring people. Anyway, she continued, she wanted to support herself.

I wanted to pop champagne, dance around the room and toast my strong, opinionated girl. This mother had reason to celebrate! It starting me thinking, though, as we have just celebrated the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day and are about to observe South Africa’s Human Rights Day on 21 March: what do I, female citizen X, have to celebrate in 2011?

There are two key events in February that set the tone for the politics of the upcoming year. The President traditionally makes a State of the Nation Address and the Minister of Finance makes the budget speech. These two speeches identify government’s priorities for the year ahead and the money that will be allocated to these areas.

As I recently reviewed the State of the Nation Address and the Budget speech I was struck by a sense of unease. There was distinct gender blindness evident in both. In the State of the Nation Address, issues relating to women were mentioned twice.

The two references were: (1) “We will continue to prioritise crimes against women and children and to provide support through the provision of Thuthuzela Care Centres.”

(2) “Given our emphasis on women’s health, we will broaden the scope of the reproductive health and provide services related to amongst others, contraception, sexually transmitted infections, teenage pregnancy and sanitary towels for the indigent.”

There are 25 Thuthuzela Care Centres in South Africa set up to respond to the needs of women and children who have experienced sexual violence. In the recent Gender Links Gauteng Gender Based Violence (GBV) study we found that 51.3% of women in the sample had experienced GBV at least once in their lifetime. An astonishing 75.5% of the men in the sample said they had perpetrated GBV at least once in their lifetime.

Later in the Address the President makes reference to crime statistics and the decrease in certain crimes, including armed robberies, housebreakings, business robberies and contact crimes such as murder. No mention is made of the crime of GBV.

While the reference to women’s health is commendable it reduces women to their biological functions. Providing sanitary towels to the indigent does not change their condition.

As a nation we need to address the conditions that feed into gender equality. One of the main drivers of gender inequality is women’s and men’s disparate access to the mainstream economy and the lack of recognition of women’s work in the informal sector, community and domestic arenas.

Unfortunately this is not something that Pravin Gordhan, Minister of Finance, addressed in his 2011 Budget speech. The only reference to women is in reference to unemployed youth. Gordhan states: “Young men and women in cities, informal settlements, towns and villages may not have jobs, but they have skills in life.”

The speech is gender blind in its entirety. The Minister uses three examples of successful small businesses in his speech, all of whom are men. Mlondololozi Kosi has set up a small ICT Training Centre in Willowvale; Norman Pedi who has a thriving juice making business and Antonio Pooe who runs a fraud solutions company. Are there no successful small business women? The use of these examples by a voice of authority perpetuates the stereotype that women have little to contribute to the economy.

There is no reference to the informal sector. Gender Links, in partnership with Ecumenical Service for Socio Economic Transformation (ESSET), has been training women traders over the last six months on gender, media and ICTs. As part of the training the women traders wrote their stories. Nomathemba Linda Nxusani wrote:

“I started trading on the street where I gained a lot of experience in cooking as I was selling food. Even though it was difficult to start my business because traders do not have access to loans, I started. In 2006 I went to trade at Soccer City as it was being rebuilt. Business was good until 2010 World Cup. The metro police closed my business and took everything I owned.”

Women traders and others in the informal sector need to be an integral part of South Africa’s economic growth. Strategies to build a sustainable economy will not be successful if the informal sector is not supported.

Notwithstanding all of the above perhaps the most shocking omission in both the State of the Nation Address and the Budget speech was HIV and AIDS. I spent a while ruminating on why this was the case. As a nation are we comfortable that HIV and AIDS is being effectively managed?

Could it be because the HIV and AIDS discourse has shifted and the emerging issue is the burden of care placed on women and girls in homes and communities looking after those affected and infected by HIV and AIDS? The absence of any engagement both at a strategic and budget level on women’s burden of care particularly relating to HIV and AIDS is cause for concern. Like GBV, it severely compromises women’s ability to live their right to equality.

As female citizen X my uneasiness about how issues of gender and women’s rights are prioritised within the South African government is growing. The lack of specific initiatives and budgetary allocations to advance women and gender is concerning. How are my human rights as a woman being advanced?

So as I prepare to exercise my vote in the upcoming local government elections I will ask myself: What do the different political parties have to offer me as a woman and what is their track record on delivering on women’s rights and gender? A question all women voters, 12 970 042 or 54.9% of the voters roll, should ask.

Kubi Rama is Deputy Director of Gender Links. This article is part of the GL Opinion and Commentary Service, bringing you fresh views on everyday news.

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