19 February 2009

South Africa: Gender Equality Placed High On Govt's Agenda

Cape Town — The National Gender Machinery launched its 50/50 national campaign, which aims to increase equal representation of women in decision-making positions, on Thursday.

The Minister in the Presidency Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, launching the campaign, said: "We are beginning a really big movement of 50-50 representation in decision-making positions."

Globally there are calls for 50/50 representation in political and decision making structures as well as at implementation level. However, it is not just about having the numbers.

"It is a platform from which women can influence meaningful change and make a difference to the lives of all women," she said.

The minister said that it had been consistently demonstrated globally that under-representation of women in decision-making positions had an adverse effect on national development as a whole.

She said the campaign wanted to put certain messages to women, such as women can rule and make decisions; and that a women's place is everywhere; and that young women will shape our future. "The last message is women are the backbone of society."

Ms Tshabalala-Msimang said she was motivated by the understanding that poverty had a "female face".

"Women must be able to participate in decision making positions, to talk and design poverty alleviation programs. If we don't do that I don't think we'll be able to reach our target, because the target is not just numbers it is about also the improvement of the quality of life of women."

The minister urged political parties to ensure they have equal representation of women and men on the list of candidates ahead of the 22 April general elections. This will be one way in which more women will be employed in top positions.

"Through this campaign women can start positioning themselves in the light of the coming general elections by voting for women as such, secure better balance in the way organisations transact business."

The minister said government had committed to at least 50 percent of the decision making positions in the public and the private sector by including the use of affirmative action measures.

She added that this could prove tricky as sometimes there were not enough women.

The minister urged support for those women who already hold decision-making positions.

"We also need to ensure that support structures are provided for women already in politics and decision making positions It's no use putting them out there and then not give them support. It is necessary though to continue to support them so that they can excel in their performance."

The 50/50 national campaign is a culmination of several consultative meetings held after the Protocol on Gender and Development was ratified at the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Summit in South Africa in August last year.

The Protocol was a ground-breaking document which put gender rights at the forefront of the SADC plan of action and provided a clear roadmap for the region's leaders to move towards gender equality.

The minister said the summit had identified a need for the accelerated call for the 50-50 quota to be implemented politically and in the private sector.

She explained that normally the protocol would be ratified by Parliament, but due to the elections being held soon, the National Gender Machinery could not wait.

"The national campaign is envisaged to meet the target that by 2014 at least all SADC member states should have a representation of 50-50, to ensure that all legislative measures are accompanied by public awareness campaigns which demonstrate the vital link between the equal representation and participation of women and men in decision making positions."

The minister noted that President Kgalema Motlanthe had committed to addressing gender imbalances in his State of the Nation Address earlier this month.

"He stated that there is a need to facilitate processes aimed at strengthening the machineries dealing with matters of gender equality such as 50-50 representation and decision making structures.

"The implementation of this commitment is critical in ensuring that transformation in general takes place, but more specifically that we are able to protect and promote the human rights and human dignity of the targeted groups," she said.

The National Gender Machinery is in the process of reviewing its 2002 national gender policy framework to ensure that it speaks to both the developments in South Africa and the challenges ahead.

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