Caption: Taryn Powys, Provincial Legal Advisor for the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) KwaZulu-Natal, spoke on the CGE and the Ministry for Women, Children and People with Disabilities which are constituted as the gender machinery to advance gender equality.

The Agenda Feminist Dialogue held on 25th November, noted with dismay that invited guest, the Manager of Ethekwini Safer Cities Unit was not present to respond to the legitimate questions raised by women and women’s organisations around whether the Unit is preventing gender violence from taking place in the City and whether it is addressing the problem of gender violence and if so how. As an estimated 17 percent of attacks against women and girls take place in public spaces, schools and hospitals, Agenda had hoped to be briefed by the City on its approach as part of marking 16 Days of No Violence Against Women.

A presentation to the Feminist Dialogue by the NGO Asiye Etafuleni, revealed that the many women traders working in the Warwick Markets in Durban confront an array of problems which included, open potholes, lack of maintenance and exposed electrical cables, inadequate cleansing services and amenities (water and toilets for women), sexual harassment and impounding of goods by police and inability to take their problems to the South African Police (SAP) as a result of fear of harassment. The market traders have started organising their own cleaning and have a well-functioning organisation that prevents crime, Traders Against Crime.

The meeting had expected that the Safer Cities Unit would make an official representative available to respond to both the broader question on how the Unit allocated budgets, tracks gender violence and seeks to prevent these unacceptable crimes from recurring and the specific issues that were raised regarding the Warwick traders work conditions. It was agreed by the women and representatives of organisations present that the Commission on Gender Equality (CGE) in its mandate as a watchdog organisation of gender equality should formally request answers to the questions that had been raised and also in response to the unacceptable neglect of a sector of the city, where the majority of the workers are urban poor women. It was noted that the city is not occupied by one class or sector and belongs to all who work and live in it. It was further noted that traders are required to pay rental in advance and that there is a need for accountability on how the revenue generated from rental income is spent by the city. Moreover, it was noted that during a recession, the cultural and economic contribution to the local economy by women’s informal work needs to be valued and respected and governed by a rights culture and consultation, and the practice of subjecting women to the risk of danger of arrest, sexual harassment and lack of amenities resulting from municipal neglect must be replaced by one which respects all women alike in the City. There is a need for vigilance so that we create conditions in which we as women contribute to making the City safe for women to work and live in.

It is disappointing that far from being able to engage the City’s Safer Cities Unit in dialogue and question where research may be needed to identify how a safer City for women in Africa may be created and reduce the incidents of gender violence, the Unit had not seen the question as important enough to respond to.

Despite the failure of the Safer Cities Unit to attend the Dialogue, more than 25 people attended the meeting: writers, gender researchers, and representatives of women’s organisations. A lively and engaging debate took place during the morning session on creating women-friendly African cities, chaired by Agenda Board member Lee Stone. During lunch two issues of the journal ‘Marriage – a safe or risky place?’ and ‘The politics of water” were launched. Guest editors and writers, Devina Perumal, Lliane Loots and Dudu Khumalo spoke to the feminist concerns raised in the issues.  In the afternoon Taryn Powys, legal advisor to the Commission on Gender Equality in KwaZulu-Natal, briefed the meeting on how the CGE and newly constituted Ministry on Women, Children and People with Disabilities can work together as part of the gender machinery formed under the Constitution of South Africa to address gender inequality. The session was chaired by Asha Moodley, member of the Editorial Committee and Agenda Board and questions were raised on the different and overlapping functions of the CGE as a Chapter 9 organisation, and the Ministry as part of the government. The Dialogue concluded with the launch of the two issues of Agenda, “Gender and Rurality” and “Feminisms Today”. Shakila Reddy, a writer, and Sithabela Ntombela a guest editor, discussed the feminist issues which the respective issues addressed. A live tweet-out of questions and issues arising from the discussion was held during the Feminist Dialogue to share the debate with virtual social networks.

Report by Lou Haysom, Managing Editor of Agenda