“Gender is not about women: it is about relationship and about power.” Prof. Sheila Meintjies, Wits University.
It has been an intensive two days of presentations and deliberation at the National Gender Summit 2014 in Benoni, Johannesburg, which has brought together civil society, Government, the private sector, Section 9 institutions and UN Women to reflect on 20 years of democracy in South Africa. The Commission for Gender Equality has worked in partnership with a number of organisation and government departments, including the United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Women, the Department for Women, Children, and People with Disabilities and Oxfam, to engage a wide range of stakeholders and passionate gender activists to celebrate the gains over the past 20 years, as well as critically analyse the gaps and shortfalls, and strategise new ways of addressing the challenges to attaining gender equality.
The issues that have been raised range from the effectiveness of the National Gender Machinery, the lack of gender budgeting, gender-based violence (GBV), economic empowerment, HIV/AIDS, the role of public enterprise, climate change, sex work, the implementation of legislation, international and regional partnerships, women with disabilities, women’s political participation and representation, LGBTI, harmful religious and traditional practices, reproductive and sexual rights, and the challenges facing rural women, right through to the Millennium Development Goals and the post-2015 agenda. The perspectives provided have ranged from the global to the national, regional and individual.
I was fortunate enough to be part of a break-away group led by Lisa Vetten from the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research around GBV causes, impact and responses. Her presentation on the current situation in South Africa highlighted the hard facts: we are not seeing a reduction in the levels of rape and domestic violence, and can therefore conclude that our programmes are not having a significant impact. Intimate femicide – women being killed by their partners – now accounts for 57% of female homicides, and surveys are highlighting the significant under-reporting of rape and abuse. The many suggestions from the participants for ways forward included the need for robust research and impact analysis, and document and share best practice by civil society organisations. There is a need for increased community mobilisation, to develop family-based approaches, and for Government to provide content and substance rather than structures and events.
It has been unfortunate that a large part of the programme has been taken up with presentations, which have sometimes felt as if they have been hijacked by politicians as political platforms (perhaps unsurprisingly, with elections just around the corner), at the cost to the sessions designed for meaningful engagement and vigorous dialogue. There was a lot of frustration expressed by delegates on the second day of the Summit about the side-lining of dialogues around feminism and patriarchy, and the lack of time for in-depth discussion on key issues.
The programme will continue tomorrow as the different strands of discussion start to be woven together, and a Summit programme of action and declaration are formed. The powerful voices of South African men and women striving for equality and women’s rights – which are, we must remember, HUMAN rights – will hopefully come together to chart a way forward.