S.Africa’s new Gender Bill ruffles feathers with 50% women quota - CNBC Africa

S.Africa’s new Gender Bill ruffles feathers with 50% women quota

Southern Africa

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A group of business people walking side by side. PHOTO: Getty Images

“There are over 40 pieces of legislation that address women empowerment, or they address transformation, but women empowerment is one of the aspects that they have to address. However, all those [over] 40 pieces of legislation have not managed to empower women,” Mikateko Joyce Maluleke, special advisor to the minister in the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities, told CNBC Africa.

“When you look at [the] Statistics South Africa report from 2002 to 2010, where they were looking at vulnerable groups, women were the worst in terms of housing, jobs, health, every aspect of life. All those pieces of legislation that are in existence, we’re not saying they’re not good. We’re saying they’re sufficient to address women’s issues, but women are not prioritised.”

The Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill, which was introduced last year, aims to broaden employment, education and health opportunities for South African women.

Maluleke gave an example of the Mining Charter, which included human resource development, employment equity and other aspects, but majority of those aspects prioritise men more than women. It also aims to eradicate gender-based violence, discrimination and violence against women, children and those with disabilities. 

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The bill also includes the legislation of a quota of 50 per cent of women on all decision making structures such as in boards and in public and private bodies.

“[The bill] is trying to elevate women. For example, the Mining Charter provides that if you don’t meet certain requirements, the license won’t be renewed. [Currently] you can meet all the requirements and if women are not represented, you can still get the license. We’re saying women should be one of the priorities,” Maluleke explained.

South Africa’s mining sector in particular is increasingly dominated by men, but with a growing number of women engineers and miners, provisions will have to be made as soon as possible to allow women into the sector.

“Women are not [in the sector] because they didn’t want to be there, it was because of the protective discrimination laws that were there. Women were not allowed to be lawyers, not allowed to be engineers. Now, there are women,” said Maluleke.

For example, in the Defence Force, there were no women, now [there are]. In Judiciary, we have women sitting there. Not just engineering, but also underground, there are women. However, the [mining] sector is not used to women working there.”

The 50 per cent quota has however not been without criticism, and entities such as the Business Unity South Africa (BUSA) have argued that the quota target is unrealistic and unattainable.

BUSA added that the bill will subsequently criminalise employers for not being able to achieve what they believe to be the impossible.

“BUSA says it’s government’s responsibility to protect women [and] the responsibility to come up with laws that will protect women. Also, when we say 50 per cent, we take into consideration that in some areas, there are no women,” said Maluleke.

“The bill says the public, which is government and private sector, must develop and submit plans to the minister. We need something that tells us that everybody is taking this into consideration.”

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