Still Lip Service?

In 2003, as part of my Honours degree in Gender Studies, I submitted a dissertation entitled, ‘Lip Service? Women and the Communal Land Rights Bill.’ Within this, I analysed the ways in which the proposed Communal Land Right’s Bill could affect women if it were to be implemented, and the limited degree to which is was likely to fulfil its mandate to promote gender equality.

At that time I wrote, ‘In South Africa at the moment, and regarding development in particular, gender issues have gained a relatively high profile. While this gender awareness is a good starting point, much more will be required before gender issues are successfully integrated into development practise.’

What became clear to me during my research was that the liberal framework of ‘equal rights’ can both enhance and inhibit the promotion of women’s equality in real terms, and the ideology of rights needs to find practical application within all legislation, and have very clear lines of accountability within implementation, if it is to have a tangible positive impact.

Tonight, as I was researching material on the recently-passed Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill in my preparation for the upcoming National Gender Summit, which is being convened by the Commission for Gender Equality, I was saddened but unsurprised to come across an article by Lisa Vetten on the Mail & Guardian online entitled ‘Gender Bill fails to offer women anything new’, in which she writes,

“Rural women’s security of tenure on communal land also remains ambiguous. Their claims were not clarified by the 2004 Communal Land Rights Act, declared unconstitutional in 2010, and are again subject to the Interim Protection of Informal Land Rights Act.

And although some rural women are able to negotiate security of tenure, this is always within the context of patriarchal chiefly power, which in other localities is not open to negotiation.”

While in many ways it feels as if the more things change the more they stay the same within the ongoing struggle to move Gender Equality from a theoretical framework into to practical reality, I am excitedly looking forward to the interesting discussions to follow soon at the Summit, which comes as South Africa celebrated 20 years of democracy. The Summit aims to provide a platform for critical debate on the attainment of Gender Equality in South Africa, celebrating what has been achieved whilst examining all the challenges that we as a country still face in this regard, and it brings me a deep sense of fulfillment to be engaging in these crucial discussions once again.

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