Challenges facing South Africa in relation to Gender Equality

By: Mfanozelwe Shozi


It is important to note that South Africa is a signatory of the main International Conventions relating to Gender Equality and the protection of women:

  • Convention on the elimination of all forms of Discrimination against women (ratified in 1995)
  • Declaration on the elimination of violence against the women ratified in 1996
  • Beijing Platform for action which was ratified in 1995
  • Millennium Declaration and Millennium Development goals (MDGs, ratified 2000)
  • Protocol to prevent, suppress and punishing of trafficking in Persons especially women and children, supplementing the UN Convention against transnational organized crime.

South Africa has ratified the following Regional Gender equality commitments

  • Protocol to the African Charter in Human and people’s Rights of women in Africa ratified in 2004
  • SADC protocol on Gender and Development ratified in 2008
  • Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa ratified in 2004

In line with some of the above conventions, protocols, and treaties South Africa has developed a range of legislation which addresses specific issues linked to gender equality. These are

  • The Constitution and the bill of right, 1996
  • Promotion of Equality and prevention of unfair Discrimination Act (PEPUDA) which gives CGE powers to get involved in the equality court matters
  • Employment Equity Act
  • Recognition of Customary Marriage Act (1998)
  • Civil Union Act (2006) South Africa is the fifth country in the world, the first in Africa and the second outside Europe to legislate on same sex marriages
  • Domestic Violence Act
  • Criminal Law (sexual offences and related matters) Amendment Act 2007 (Sexual, Offences Act
  • The choice on Termination of Pregnancy and Amendment Act 1996/2008
  • The Children’s Act 2007

The constitutional mandate on gender equality is clear, and the legislative process is providing the building blocks for a gender equitable society. The government does however face major challenges in ensuring that constitutional , legislative  and policy imperative on gender Equality and Women’s empowerment are translated into substantive improvements in the lives of women and girls.

Gaps and challenges

With the establishment of the Ministry for Women, Children and Persons with disabilities, there is a great need to restructure the national gender machinery. There is a need to amend the gender policy Framework as it does not clarify the role of the Ministry.

The LGBT issues (Lesbians, gays, Bisexuals, and transsexuals) are not addressed properly. There is still stigma and hatred directed at these individuals. There is no adequate education awareness and this particularly caused by autocratic styles of religious and traditionally communities. Government should design programmes in schools that will raise awareness about these rights.. CGE has realized that communities regard awareness of LGBT rights as promotion. They accuse structures like the Commission for gender Equality as structures that promote Gays and lesbian practices as opposed to promoting respect for rights of Gays and Lesbians.  

The report prepared by the UNDP that maps gender equality progress in South Africa (2010) states that “women outnumber men in higher education. In the past 5 years there has been a steady increase in the number of graduating female students and more women than men graduate. However the total number of graduates graduating from Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) students remains significantly low, as compared with the need to address South Africa’s scientific and technical skills shortage.” Government needs to draw up programmes to deal with this anomaly in order to change gender demographics in SET.

It is also critical to note that the drop out rate of girl children is not decreasing particularly due to pregnancy. Women still remain the majority of those who cannot read and write. CGE understands that there is Kharikhude programme running and the other state run ABET initiates but these programmes seem not to revolutionarise the skills and close the skills gap. SETAs have not been robust in empowering women as the Sector.  Development agencies need to come up with a clear programme that will articulate the skills development of women particularly women who live in rural areas and informal settlements.

The new phenomenon that is beginning to engulf South Africa is xenophobic attacks. There are gendered aspects of xenophobia and differentiated implications for it. During 2008 xenophobic attacks, in almost all the centres that CGE visited, CGE found women who were in advance stages of pregnancy who were affected by the levels of dislocation and distress. Women who were not accompanied by male relatives, husbands or partners were obviously more sexually vulnerable then those

who had male protectors. There was evidence to show that women and children were vulnerable to sexual harassment and rape.

Despite progress in addressing the primary health care needs of all South Africans, and in particular women and girls, there is still major challenges on the impact and feminization of HIV and AIDS and the fiminisation of poverty.  The caring of HIV and AIDS patients is most likely to be performed by Women. The uneven distribution of care work between men and women is something that civil society organizations , chapter 9 institutions (particularly Commission for Gender Equality, Human Rights Commission,  Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities and the Public Protector and South African Government need to seriously consider and put it on the agenda . An aggressive programme is required to deal with feminization of Poverty, HIV and AIDS.

South Africa experiences high levels of violence against women and girl children. CGE welcomes the fact that the government has identified the combating of violent crimes against women and children a priority. But CGE is concerned that the availability of gender statistics are still not satisfactory in South Africa. It is further disturbing that the statistics on gender based violence/violence against women are not sufficiently documented.  Furthermore CGE recently released report on the South Africa’s compliance with the Beijing Declaration and platform for Action (March 2010) which states that lack of provision of comprehensive health services for survivors of Gender Based Violence is a concern. This report further states that policies are not backed up by enough allocation of resources.  

CGE agrees that the introduction of Thuthuzela Care Centres is a good initiative, but the number of these centres per province is insufficient taking into consideration the vastnesses of the provinces.  The Employment Equity Commission reports (2006/2007, 2007/2008) findings reveal that women are more represented in administrative vs. decision making functions. The CGE Beijing report states that most women are employed in the informal sector; there is still a challenge to move them into the formal sector. The reports further state that moving women from subsistence level economic activities to growing their own businesses and improving their liquidity is still a challenge.  This clearly depict that women still occupy lower positions in the labour market. 

To ensure that gender equality is attained, working men is critical.  Working with men in policy interventions to transform gender norms is largely on small scale and is not documented, but shows tremendous potential.  Men’s behavior, attitudes and mind sets can and are beginning to change in some contexts due to interventions, policies, social trends, individual and local circumstances.  Working with men is essential more

particularly to attempt to change men’s thinking about reproductive rights, violence against women and decision making.


In conclusion South Africa faces a plethora of challenges regarding Gender equality but the most urgent ones that need to be addressed as a matter of priority are, feminization of poverty, feminization and impact of HIV and AIDS to women, Violence Against Women and the alleged reemergence of xenophobic attacks.