COMMISSION ON GENDER EQUALITY

ADDRESS BY THE CHAIRPERSON OF THE COMMISSION ON GENDER EQUALITY TO THE JUSTICE PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE, 17 MARCH, 1999


It is a great honour for me, less than a month into my new job as the Chair of the Commission on Gender Equality, to address the Justice Portfolio Committee. I am aware that we have limited time, so you will forgive me for going straight into my opening remarks.

In the spirit of accountability to which the CGE is firmly committed, we have brought with us an advance copy of the CGE's annual report, a final version of which will be released early next month. I would like to draw your attention to a few of the key points in the final Chapter on Conclusions and Recommendations.

The report reflects the excitement and energy that we sense around us as we advance towards the achievement of gender equality. We are proud:
to have one of the most progressive Constitutions in the world with regard to gender equality;
that South Africa is one of the few countries in the world to have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women without reservation;
that we are signatories to the SADC Declaration on Gender and Development and
that we are one of the few, if not only, independent bodies in the world committed solely to advancing gender equality.

Yet, to quote the President, "the long walk is not yet over".

From paper guarantees to substantive equality.- The underlying theme of this report is that while we have come a long way in recognising and codifying what needs to be done, we must still make it happen in practice.

The CGE's audit of remaining discriminatory legislation, which we are also launching today, and on which we will be meeting with the Committee for the Improvement of the Quality of Life and Status of Women later this morning, points to some remaining glaring discriminatory practices.

The report also highlights the hidden discrimination which often requires us to go beyond legislative measures to ensure that equality actually occurs. For example, it is one thing to give men and women equal rights to access to land and quite another to ensure equality in land tenure.

The challenge to the CGE is thus to exercise far more rigorously its constitutional mandate not just of reviewing legislation and making recommendations; but of monitoring and evaluating policies and practices; investigating and exposing the structural barriers to the achievement of substantive equality; lobbying and ensuring that these are redressed. The CGE will work closely with government departments, independent institutions, and parliament, in ensuring the strongest possible gender provisions in the Equality legislation currently being drafted. It will also place a strong emphasis on legal education, to try and bridge the chasm between the existence and exercise of rights to gender equality. The CGE will be issuing an annual report card on governments performance towards the achievement of gender equality beginning on 9 August.

2. Getting the private sector on board: With the launch of major research projects on Gender and the Private Sector; Gender and Advertising; Equal Pay for Equal Work and Work of Equal Value as well as the gender audit of the Maputo Corridor the CGE ushers in this year an important new focus on the private sector. The combination of carrot and stick which will be required to break into this relatively new area of work will pose a major challenge to the Commission, as well as to its new partners in this field. We hope that the private sector will recognise that gender equality is a benefit, rather than a cost to society.

3. Costs and Benefits of gender equality.- We argue in the report that gender structures- to the extent that they exist- are under funded. The Under resourcing of the Office on the Status of Women in the Deputy President's Office is a particular case in point. We further argue that specific budgetary allocations are crucial to giving effect to the progressive new legislation that has been passed. For example, the Maintenance arid Domestic Violence Acts will remain just so many words unless the requisite infrastructure and human resources are provided by the Department of Justice to make these effective. The CGE will be monitoring and commenting on such budget allocations in the context of the government's overall budget prioritisation and allocations.

4. Partnerships and synergies: Mindful of fiscal constraints, as well as the importance of acting as a catalyst rather than trying to be an implementing agency, the CGE has sought to build a network of partnerships referred to throughout this report. The CGE has forged particularly close links with the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) and Public Protector. The SAHRC and CGE are sharing offices in the three provinces where they both have operations.

5. Independence: Among the unique provisions of our Constitution is the recognition of the need for independent watchdog bodies to buttress our democracy. It is our strong view that the effectiveness of Commissions is linked to the extent of their independence. Sadly, this independence is not always respected. An example of this is the way in which the budgets of independent bodies are allocated. Last year, we recommended that the budget of the Commission be directly allocated by parliament, rather than through the Department of Justice. This year we expressed alarm at the reference in the memorandum attached to the Treasury Bill that the accounting officers of Commissions report to the heads of the departments through which their budgets are allocated; a move we view as having the effect of weakening the independence of Commissions. We urge the government to respect the independence of Commissions through, among other measures, making them directly accountable to parliament for their work and their budgets. We further urge the Speaker to designate a specific committee/s to which Commissions would account.

6. Selection of Commissioners: The marginalisation of gender structures, and of the CGE specifically, is evident in the fact that it took a full year for the President's office to appoint new Commissioners, and a Chair, to the Commission on Gender Equality. The Commission still has one vacancy. We urge parliament to move expeditiously in filling this position; and in taking seriously the needs and requests of the CGE.

7. Do we need a Commission on Gender Equality? The CGE is still subject to regular criticism in certain quarters that it, and other Commissions, are a waste of tax payers money. We have sought to respond to this argument in deeds rather than in words by getting on with our work; avoiding a culture of ostentation and engaging in vigorous fund raising. When the Office of the Public Service and Administration recommended that the CGE's staff complement be increased from 42 to 78 over three years, the CGE argued that this increase should be staggered over five years. We shall continue to work tirelessly for the achievement of gender equality with what resources we have, and in the most cost effective way we can, in the year ahead.

I will now hand over to our Chief Executive Officer, Colleen Lowe Morna, to speak briefly about our programme and budget allocations, before we open the floor for questions.