Top Ten Stumbling blocks that remain in the way of Women’s Empowerment in South Africa

By: Mfanozelwe Shozi

Our Mandate

The Commission on Gender Equality is established in terms of Section 187 of the

Constitution of South Africa, to strengthen and deepen constitutional democracy in South Africa.

The Commission on Gender Equality Act 39 of 1996 In June 1996 Commissioner for Gender Equality Act 39Of 996 came into operation. An independent Commissioner for Gender Equality [CGE] was established to deal specifically with the promotion of

Gender Equality, prevention of unfair discrimination in all spheres of society and to make an advise and recommendations on any Legislation affecting the status of women and men in South Africa


A society free from all forms of gender oppression and inequality.


Promote, Protect, Monitoring and Evaluation Of gender equality in South Africa.


CGE undertakes to treat each and every woman and men in South Africa with dignity and respect. Undertakes and account to be honesty, transparency and to be responsible.

How do we execute this mandate?

  • Monitoring
  • Investigation
  • Researching
  • Education
  • Lobby
  • Advise and report in parliament on issues concerning gender equality

1. Patriarchy

I must state that patriarchy is the source of all the impediments to gender equality. According to Millett, Patriarchy’s chief institution is the family and many other radical feminists have agreed that, contrary to the assumptions of conventional political theory, the family is indeed a central part of society’s power structure, as it both sustains patriarchal power in the public world and is itself a source of women’s oppression.  Far from being a natural arrangement or individual choice based on mutual love and respect in which the emotional, sexual and domestic needs of adult partners are met and their children cared for, it is a social institution in which women’s labour is exploited, male sexual power may be violently expressed and oppressive gender identities and modes of behaviour are learned.    

2. Poverty

Other than for the vague MDG goal of halving poverty by 2015, no coherent anti-poverty strategy with clear national goals has been implemented: Research revealed that:

  • Poverty is  higher in female headed households than in male headed households, with female headed households having a 60% chance of being poor while male-headed households had a 30% chance
  • Unemployment among women was higher than among men, at 28.3% for men and 30.7% for women.

3. Power sharing and decision making

Certain sections, including the media, continue to question women’s leadership.  If current trends persist, the goal of 50% women’s representation in public and private sector senior management will not be achieved.

4. Violence against Women

Violence against women remains a serious problem in South Africa. Personal safety and human dignity is of major concern for most women .Violence against women is understood to encompass, but not limited to, physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family and in the community, including battery , sexual abuse of female children, dowry-related violence, marital rape, female genital mutilation and other traditional practises harmful to women, non spousal violence, violence related to exploitation, sexual harassment and intimidation at work, in educational institutions and else where, trafficking in women, forced prostitution, and violence against women. ,   

Despite progress policies, violence against women is not showing any signs of abating. Levels of t are among the highest in the world. High levels of withdrawal of cases and low overall conviction rates. The killing of gays and lesbians presents itself a new form of gender based violence in South Africa. Xenophobic violence directed at women foreigners is also a problem.  There are examples of Violence against women which are Domestic violence, trafficking of women, Harmful traditional practise, Ukuthwala, Ukuhlolwa (virginity testing), female genital mutilation and Smanje.

5. Access to land and economic empowerment

In 2005/2006 financial year men comprised 92% of land. These figures have been marginally adjusted to 90% in 2009/2010.  Access to land is a major challenge with regard to gender equality, and that land reform and redistribution had not significantly reduced gender and racial disparities.

It is important to note that there are key gaps regarding economic empowerment for women which are:

  • Marginalisation of rural women
  • Poor levels of business growth, and penetration of the economic mainstream.
  • Inadequate finance and business rescue services, compounded by lack of strategies that specifically respond to women’s business patterns and needs
  • Unmediated negative impact of globalisation in sectors such as the textile industry the services sector

6. HIV and Aids, TB  and other Chronic diseases

HIV and Aids is by far a greatest threat to humanity in the post-modern society.  As with other societal devastations, HIV/AIDS infect and affect men and women differently. Due to many reasons, be it biological or social, women are the most burdened by the pandemic. The widespread occurrence of HIV and AIDS has a direct impact on local communities. Women mostly bear the burden of HIV and AIDS.  Women care for the ill, and the dying and their children.  Often their risk to HIV and AIDS is further increased as a result of exposure to gender Based Violence. The death of Breadwinner increases their financial vulnerability and places a greater burden on their already diminished income levels.   

Research on reproduction, HIV/AIDS, sexuality, etc, has shown that women have limited choices in the matter and are more vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases

7. Funding of Institutions promoting Gender Equality

The Gender equality structures are under resourced and always under from the Media. With the establishment of the Women’s Ministry, some people are arguing that there is no need for the CGE which is a fallacy because you need an organisation which is in the CGE calibre to monitor and over the work of government and private sector.  If NGOs and structures that promote Gender equality are under funded, few organisations will champion, train and empower women. 

8. Service delivery (Adequate housing, water and sanitation and electricity)

Women are the most affected by inadequate and/ or lack of proper housing, water, sanitation and electricity. Residential settlements often disadvantaged women by marginalising them further, by locating them at some distance from shops and economic opportunities.  Female –headed households are disproportionately found in informal dwellings and traditional structures.  Their poverty and marginalisation effectively excludes them from benefiting from many government programmes.  Greater attention needs to be paid to ensure their access to basic services, secure tenure and adequate shelter. 

9. Gender Equality, Culture, Tradition and the Constitution

Act number 108 of 1996 protects both cultural practise as well as the application of the system of indigenous customary law.  Cultures do not exist in a vacuum, but interacted with and were affected by social and economic conditions. Most of the indigenous cultural law practices discriminated against women for example the exclusion of women from the Institution of traditional authority, the barring of female succession (inheritance of property as daughters and wives) as cultural practises that contravened the Constitution’s equality provisions and created potential conflict.  

10. Involvement of men in Gender equality matters

Gender issues are not women’s issues alone. We need to understand that femininity does not exist in isolation from masculinity. The image of power of one determines the image and power of the other.  Women can be considered “inferior” only if men are considered “superior”.  Women can be and are subordinate only if men are willing and enabled to subordinate them.  For Far too long women’ organisations have taken the sole responsibility for issues like violence against women, as if men had nothing to do with them. This has to change. Men must assume their share of responsibility and join the feminist struggle against this and other issues that are social issues