The fourth Agenda Feminist Dialogue was held on 12th April 2013 at the Diakonia Centre in Durban. In welcoming participants Commissioner Janine Hicks of the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) and Chairperson of Agenda’s Board of Directors, stated that it was in keeping with Agenda’s aim of breaking down the walls of ignorance and providing an opportunity for women to learn from each other as well as to exchange information on issues of mutual interest and concern in the context of advancing gender equality. Agenda was in its 26th year of existence, and through holding forums strove to ensure that the research published in the journal is informed by women’s organisation on the ground and equally, that women’s organising is informed by research on feminist issues.
The fourth Dialogue would continue the tradition of raising awareness about new laws and policies that affect primarily women, who constitute a little over 50% of the South African population. Further, it would continue earlier dialogues on the need to create awareness amongst urban planners to create safe city and community spaces for women and men given the unacceptably high levels of gendered violence perpetrated against women. Another element of the Dialogue would be a report back on the outcome of investigations conducted by the CGE into allegations of sexual harassment of women informal traders, which were raised at Agenda’s first Dialogue, by Asiye Etafuleni, an organisation for street traders.
The programme for the Dialogue was thus two-fold, with the first half focussing on offering a feminist perspective and analysis of the Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill (WEGE), draft legislation introduced by the Ministry of Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities to advance gender equality, and the country’s recently launched National Development Plan (NDP), proposed by government as the blueprint for development between 2014-2030. The second half of the programme comprised two presentations that placed the focus on women’s leadership at community-based level in making their areas violence-free by attempting, amongst other things, to get the local South African Police Services (SAPS) to be more responsive, particularly in relation to violence against women cases. It also included a report back by the CGE’s legal officer in following up issues raised at the Agenda Feminist Dialogue held in November 2011.
The Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill (WEGE) (2012) and the National Development Plan (NDP)
(a) The Women Empowerment and Equality Bill
Devina Perumal and Willene Holness, both lecturers in the Faculty of Law, University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), presented a pithy analysis of the WEGE Bill. The Bill, they stated, has as its objectives, ensuring the equal participation of women in social, political and economic structures of society, by providing for women’s empowerment and gender mainstreaming in the public and private sectors and civil society, and eliminating detrimental cultural, economic, social and traditional practices against women. Basically, the Bill if passed into law, will oblige all “affected” bodies to take measures to empower women, including integrating ‘gender’ in all strategies, policies, programmes and budgets, as well as to ensure their economic empowerment and representation. Some of the notable aspects of the Bill that were highlighted included the strong punitive measures that are set out in the Bill that empower the Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities (the Minister) to penalise offenders of gender equality objectives as set out in the Bill. Clauses 7.5-8 and 13(3)-(4) and other legislation listed in the Schedule attached to the Bill provide the Minister with a virtually sole mandate to enforce compliance with it.
Clause 13(3) stipulates that any person guilty of contravening subsection 2
is liable to a fine, or in default of payment, to a period of imprisonment of not more than five years. In imposing a sentence, the relevant court must consider
as an aggravating factor, the fact that the offender deliberately disregarded subsection 2.
Both Perumal and Holness were unanimous in their view that the WEGE Bill is “ambitious” in its bid to promote gender equality, but was lacking in appropriate implementation processes and mechanisms. It does not recognise the multi-levels of discrimination based on race, class, and sexual orientation that women face, and how these intersect to create embedded disadvantage for women. Thus the rights of Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Intersex (LGBTI) persons, widows and disabled women are ignored.
Perumal stated that there are already laws in place that address gender inequality eg the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (PEPUDA), Act No 4 of 2000, which our courts have used. In the face of the “walls of indifference” expressed in the structural and systemic barriers that affect the implementation of all gender laws and gender justice for women, the WEGE Bill appears to be another “brick in the wall” which, far from addressing structural gaps in existing legislation, enacts “broad, vague and highly discretionary penalising provisions” that make the Minister a law unto herself. Holness and Perumal were in agreement with the following concerns raised by the Gender, Health & Justice Research Unit, University of Cape Town (GHJRU) in a submission on the Bill to the Ministry of Women, Children and People with Disabilities.
The GHJRU, in their submissions to the Minister, state:
“1. The vagueness of the scope, ambit and powers of the Ministry inhibit meaningful implementation eg uneven applications of the Bill’s provisions could result as the list of entities the Minister will have to monitor is too large; there is no complaints mechanism for non-compliance nor any guidance on how the Minister will measure compliance, or how the Minister can evaluate whether an entity is compliant (GHJRU: 27).
2. The role of the Ministry as set out in the Bill, duplicates that of other existing mechanisms eg the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE). This is problematic as it blurs the lines of accountability and oversight responsibility and also amounts to an egregious waste of precious financial resources that could be used elsewhere to improve substantive equality for women and girls in communities across South Africa” (GHJRU: 28).
Perumal said that the Bill addresses two matters, essentially – women’s empowerment and women’s equality: it does not address patriarchy. She said that the question that needs to be asked is how do we as women find “the connection, match and synergy between what the State proposes and the lived realities and experiences of our (women’s) lives”.
(b) The National Development Plan (NDP)
Professor Amanda Gouws, a Commissioner of the CGE and member of Agenda’s Editorial Advisory Group, introduced participants at the Dialogue, to the NDP. The NDP, she stated, had featured strongly in President Zuma’s State of the Nation address earlier this year, confirming its acceptance by Cabinet and at the African National Congress (ANC) Consultative Conference at Mangaung in December 2012, as the basic document that would guide the Government’s future policy decisions in order to place South Africa on a “healthier development path from now heading towards 2030”. The NDP is the vehicle which will address poverty, unemployment and inequality.
Gouws charged that that the NDP was overall, gender blind, disregarding women’s gendered practical and strategic needs and concerns which, if taken into account, should lead to a redistribution of resources and economic growth. There is a single specific reference on page 43 of the NDP to women in the Plan; however, here women are described as a vulnerable homogenised group, with no reference to their diversity. Gouws said that as such, the Government “has missed a perfect opportunity to make a firm commitment to gender equality, which is a great disappointment given that 54% of the South African population comprises women who are far more vulnerable to poverty, social exclusion and inequality”. Gouws said that the NDP is a neo-liberal document geared towards growth, and like previous planning strategies has not addressed women’s gender specific contribution or needs within the economy or in development.
Referring to the work of a Carol Bacchi (2009) who has written on policy-making from a gender perspective, Gouws stated that policy makers normally approach policy problems without thinking that the way the policy problem is identified and presented, has a very specific impact on how that policy is made and implemented. In asking “What is the policy problem?” a discourse is created that is a way of talking about the problem that has material consequences.
A recent Human Rights Watch (2011) report has shown that South Africa which is a developed country in many ways, has a very high maternal mortality rate, higher than that of other African countries that are less developed than South Africa, flagging women’s reproductive health and choices as an area in critical need of attention. The maternal mortality ratio increased from 150 deaths per 100,000 in 1998 to 625 in 2007, with HIV playing a role in many of the deaths. The report notes that 4,500 women die each year in South Africa due to preventable and treatable pregnancy- and childbirth-related causes. Gouws said that women need access to contraception and should be able to space their children. She believes that the NDP should make provision for HIV positive women, for age-appropriate sex education and better marketing of the female condom. The NDP also makes no mention of the costs of gender-based violence to the health system and the need for the health system to address these needs. It needs to be calculated, as studies conducted elsewhere eg in New Zealand and Canada, indicate that the costs of domestic violence are very high to the state, including costs of policing, care and compensation of victims for loss of work.
Gouws went on to say that women are under-represented in the workplace, particularly in senior management. There is a great disparity between types of employment for women as opposed to men. Women predominate in positions that are insecure, low-paid and of inferior status and are more likely to be part-time or temporary workers. They are also more likely to be employed in the informal than the formal economy.
Public works employment programmes which are referred to as an essential element of Government’s employment strategy in the NDP, are ad hoc. While some of these have prioritised women as beneficiaries, and this provides a measure of income relief for women, no measures have been put in place to enable women-headed businesses to enter the formal economy, such as tendering for municipal services. There are no associated business training or capacity-building measures associated with these temporary employment programmes.
The NDP should include a section on creating an enabling environment for working parents, and call for improved labour legislation on maternity leave and benefits for working mothers and fathers, the provision of child care facilities in the workplace and the introduction of flexible working conditions.
Gouws said there was no recognition in the NDP, of women’s contribution to the economy through unpaid domestic, child care and home-based care for the elderly and persons with disabilities. If this is not recognised and costed and state measures put in place to enable women to participate in income-earning activities, they will remain trapped in their situations of poverty.
All the chapters of the NDP have gender deficits, Gouws concluded. The CGE is writing up a gender analysis of the NDP and will engage with the Planning Commission about the gender-blind nature of the NDP.
WOMEN IN ACTION
(a) CGE Report back
Tarryn Powys, legal officer for the CGE in KwaZulu-Natal, reported on the investigation it undertook in pursuance of charges of sexual harassment and other instances of police intimidation of street traders, made by Asiye Etafuleni, one of the participants at Agenda’s Feminist Dialogues on safe cities for women held in November 2011. Participants requested the CGE to investigate the allegations. The confiscation of traders’ goods, demand for sexual favours to waive fines, allegations of gross police brutality, theft and robbery in respect of women traders’ goods have been regular charges made by street trader organisations against Durban’s Metro and SAPS officers, giving the City a dismal image when it comes to its handling of crime and the safety of women.
The CGE took up these issues with the Metro Police initially, but because they cannot prosecute, had to approach the SAPS. In response to CGE correspondence, SAPS conducted an internal investigation and apparently elicited the aid of the Durban Metro Police and the Ethekwini Business Support Unit. The SAPS sent a report to the CGE on the 11 May 2012. Their response was as follows:
• The Hawker Unit is attached to the Business Support Unit (BSU) within the Ethekwini Municipality. The latter is responsible for the approval of permits and the regulation and administration of the street trade industry.
• The Municipality makes regular efforts to regulate, administer and control the industry and an enforcement arm is active daily in the central business district (CBD). Actions and operations are instituted by the Hawker Unit supported by the SAPS.
• SAPS recommended that when traders feel aggrieved by actions taken by the Metro Police and the SAPS, avenues of communication should be opened to them to report their grievances. The BSU has an appeal process and complaints relating to the Metro Police should use this mechanism.
• Allegations regarding the SAPS should be directed to the Provincial Commissioner as well as the registration of criminal dockets if necessary.
The CGE met with Municipality stakeholders on the instruction of the Municipal Manager, on the 15 November 2012, for a joint dialogue on the way forward for all stakeholders to resolve these issues collaboratively. A detailed schedule outlining the issues and challenges of the street vendors and the action proposed to resolve this is available on the Agenda website (as an appendix to this report – www.agenda.org.za). The schedule highlights the extent of City planners’ exclusion of street traders’ and vendors’ rights in urban planning. Given that the majority of this sector is women, it also points to the entrenched patriarchy that exists within the Municipality, the Metro Police and SAPS expressed in the often violent behaviour towards women traders that has been reported. The schedule also indicates how painstaking the work of overcoming gender-based violence is.
(b) The Umbilo Action Group (UAG)
Vanessa Burger, chairperson of the UAG, addressed the Dialogue on the history and activities of this voluntary, community-based group in the Umbilo/Glenwood area of Durban. The UAG, she said, actively organises around promoting good governance, non-discrimination, social and environmental justice, women’s empowerment and human rights. It was formed in 2008 by Burger and others after they had noted the high level of sexual and drug-related crimes committed against users of a public path cutting through Umbilo Park, particularly against domestic workers. Their research indicated that “sexual crimes in the area had arisen by over 200% in the past 10 years, that reported rapes in the park was 1 in every 6 weeks over a period of 11 months, and that 30% of the people who used the park experienced serious crimes such as muggings, stabbings, rape and murder. The lack of police action in addressing violence and crime in the area required a strong unified community voice and action – something which the UAG sought to establish.
Burger pointed out the difficulties of mobilising a diverse community with “many cultures” and a socio-economic “divide” led to a “disjoint” and a lack of understanding about the respective circumstances of the community, so that for example, the security for people living on top of the hill (richer white class) is very different to that of the people living in Dalton Hostel (housing mainly Black workers).
Initially, the Community Policing Forum (CPF) was seen as a mechanism which would make it easier for the community to take on the police, the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) and all the institutions that are allegedly there for the community’s benefit. However, they soon discovered that the CPF was a ‘PR’ exercise for the police; it was being co-opted by the police to do its bidding. When the group started criticising the police and asked for accountability, this became an issue and their representative within the CPF who “was effective and demanding the rights of victims” would be targeted, undermined and even intimidated at times. It became obvious that to be effective, they had “to be outside the structure for the CPF”.
The UAG subsequently learnt that the Umbilo Police Station was among the worst performing police stations, a statement that seemed to be endorsed when they began to work with a volunteer in the Umbilo SAPS victim support centre to counter the abuse of rape victims’ rights. In theory, the police stations are supposed to provide a room where victims of sexual crimes can be taken, counselled by community volunteers, assisted with the lodging of cases, and taken to a district surgeon for examination. However, the UAG found that volunteers were intimidated when they demanded justice and proper service for victims, creating conflict because they were supposed to be working with the police on the one hand, but obliged to “maintain victims’ rights on the other”.
Burger cited many instances of police indifference and neglect in dealing with the cases of rape victims eg a lesbian rape victim who was stabbed and robbed, was ignored and kept waiting in a corner for hours before she was eventually attended to and taken to a district surgeon who did not have sufficient staff to assist him. Another victim had to sit in the charge office for six hours having only a piece of towel to cover herself. Prior to this, the UAG had demanded the installation of a CCTV camera in the pertinent area-a process which took two years before fruition. However, when the group demanded the CCTV footage as evidence in the case of the lesbian victim, they were told that such footage is retained for only 30 days; that it is destroyed unless the police request that it should be retained. Further investigation by the UAG as to whether this negligence was attributable to the SAPS or CCTV monitors, revealed that some of the police were not even aware of the CCTV camera and had obviously not requested the required footage. She said that this was the pattern in 32 cases stretching over a period of 13-14 months.
In all their work, the UAG was consistently resisted by the police who said the information they required was “classified”. Working with police from other areas and departments, they discovered that a serial rapist had been active in the Umbilo area, with the Umbilo SAPS apparently unaware of this. The statement of one of his victims, a year after her complaint was lodged with the ICD, that she had had no feedback from the investigating officer, that she didn’t want to have anything to do with the police and will never report anything to them again, captures the disillusionment people have about the police; the sense that they do not “have the commitment to deal with people’s complaints, that accountability has gone out the window”, said Burger. However, at the same time, because of the information dissemination by UAG to decrease the “communication and unity gaps” amongst Umbilo’s diverse communities, more people are starting to take action and are approaching the UAG for assistance “whether it is for counselling or access to information and services”. She said that the UAG’s strategy has changed as well: “Now when we go to the police station, we don’t go as one person; we go as a unit and as an organisation. We take reporters with us and we even have police joining us at protest actions.”
(c) South Durban Community and Environmental Alliance (SDCEA)
“Age does not matter …. Even ‘little old ladies’ can change things!” So said Shirley Petersen, the sprightly vice-chairperson of SDCEA in introducing the subject of women’s leadership in the environmental justice organisation based in Wentworth in the South Durban Basin area. SDCEA, which was formed in 1996 is known both locally and internationally for combatting two major oil companies, Engen and SAPREF, the paper mill giants SAPPI and Mondi, as well as about 300 other small industries in the area, which have degraded and polluted the South Durban Basin environs and impacted on the health of its communities. These reportedly have some of the highest incidences of respiratory diseases in the world. Petersen has been part of the SDCEA since its inception but prior to this, she was part of a women’s committee in Wentworth that took up the issue of the poor upgrading and renovation of housing provided by the Municipality. Eventually, they formed the Austerville Action Group which took up a number of community issues, including violence against women and campaigning for jobs.
Petersen recalled how calls to “rank and file” police were fruitless. A lesson the group learnt, was to call on those “higher up” the chain of authority, and persistent calls to the Superintendent of the Police of the area, were more successful. Drawing on these experiences, Petersen said that activists, particularly women activists, had to be “persistent, never give up or sit back, and recognise the value of the ‘vast knowledge’ they had”. One of the strategies they used to mobilise the community, was to enlist the assistance of the local children who were asked to drop notes in people’s postboxes, inviting them to attend meetings where “we are going to sit and discuss our dissatisfaction at (service delivery, for example)”.
Another strategy to get the various small neighbourhood local committees formed, was to go through the area with a loud hailer urging people to attend meetings. It was the effectiveness of these strategies that drew male activists such as Desmond d’Sa, President of the SDCEA and Bobby Peek of Groundwork, also an environmental justice organisation, to approach her group to find out “how they did things”. Pointing in the direction of her heart, Petersen said “the will to change things must be here”.
Part of her mission in the SDCEA has been to motivate women, both young and old, to be involved in their communities. The frequent SDCEA protest marches against environmental racism and for environmental justice, always feature many women activists -“mothers as well as the elderly” – who make sure they find the time to engage in protest. Many of SDCEA’s project officers are women. SDCEA’s strength, said Petersen, lay in the realisation that they need “large numbers” of people – hence the mobilisation of all members of the community, including women. The gathering of information on the pollution by the various industries and the many accidents that occur, are meticulously recorded. The media has also proved to be a crucial ally in SDCEA’s various campaigns and have been used increasingly and effectively over the years. Further, unlike the Umbilo SAPS, the police in the South Durban Basin are generally supportive, as many of them are members of the community. Other local struggles, such as that of local fisherfolk’s struggles around their livelihoods, for better air quality in the area, proper disaster management procedures, and people’s health issues have also been incorporated into SDCEA’s programme of action for change. All their actions are premised on the belief that people should “never give up”, concluded Petersen.
In summing up the various presentations and ensuing discussions, Janine Hicks said that the following key issues had emerged :
• the significance of spaces, both public and private, in women’s lives and their safety and security in these. Women street traders and vendors exemplified this connection and the need for planners to integrate these factors into their spatial planning to create safe cities for all their citizens, including the working poor, particularly women.
• the general indifference and lack of gender sensitivity of the police in responding to complaints of violence against women and the urgent need for accountability from them. This pointed to the need for a broader critique of the Sexual Offences Act and other similar legislation intended to deal with violence against women. Police required a higher level of education about such laws and their implementation
• the effects of harmful corporate activity on communities and the practical responses of the communities, especially of community-based women, to this.
• The presentations on the WEGE Bill and the NDP raised serious concerns as to how they connect with and address the issues identified above. This is critical given the flaws inherent in them eg the lack of gender analysis in the NDP and the overweening role of the Ministry to enforce compliance with provisions of the WEGE Bill and the disconnect with ordinary women’s experiences of gender inequality. How do “ordinary” women access information about these documents?
• There had been no ‘national’ debate on the Bill. Could it be “reformed”? A more constructive approach might be to demand public hearings on it. Similarly, with the NDP, women should demand hearings on its implementation in relation to women’s relevance as a particular sector of the population and the inclusion of gendered targets and practices in addressing poverty, unemployment and inequality, and engage with the National Planning Commission on it. Participants should make submissions regarding the Bill and the NDP and also demand accountability.
The Dialogue had been valuable in highlighting the importance of organising across the diversity of race, class, gender, age, and geography. It had also profiled the efficacy of local action, persistence (not giving up), the need to understand the systems and institutions created for women and using them, using the media, including the social media effectively, drawing in and working with “champions” of our (women’s) causes within the police and ministries, working with lawyers and the Chapter 9 institutions, raising awareness, and not fearing “legal language” and legal documents.
In short, women should not be silent. Lebo Moletsane, a member of the Agenda Collective, said that many strategies are used to silence women eg being told that one is “angry”. In response women should say, “Yes, we are angry because of all the anti-women actions that we have to endure!”.
Finally, participants were unanimous that Agenda’s feminist dialogues should continue! It was also agreed by participants to write an Open Letter to the Ministry of Women, Children and People with Disabilities to formally raise the concerns raised in the presentation at the Feminist Dialogue on the Women’s Gender Equality and Empowerment Bill.
Bacchi C (2009) Analysing Policy: What’s the Problem Represented to Be?,
Australia: Pearson Education.
Gender, Health & Justice Research Unit (2012) Submission to The Ministry of
Women, Children and People with Disabilities on The Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill, by the Gender, Health & Justice Research Unit, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, 28 September.
Human Rights Watch (2011) ‘“Stop Making Excuses”: Accountability for Maternal Health Care in South Africa’, Human Rights Watch.
Report compiled by Anathi Teyise and Asha Moodley