The South African Commission for Gender Equality Addressing Challenges of Rural Women

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Pathways to African Feminism and Development Women’s Economic Empowerment
Over the years, empowerment of women has increasingly attracted huge attention in the scholarly world. Most of the scholarly works on empowerment seem to focus on pro-women policies, which appear attractive only on paper without critically paying attention to how those policies translate into reality. In South Africa, rural women continue to suffer despite the nation having one of the best constitutions globally. The South African Commission for Gender Equality (CGE), among other roles, is man dated to advance the concerns for the rural women. The main aim of this study is to investigate setbacks but also opportunities that the CGE encounters in fulfilling its mandate of addressing strategic gender interests of rural women. The paper also interrogates the social cultural challenges that those women face in accessing their rights through the CGE. The main geographical scope for this study is KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape provinces because they are the areas populated with the Zulu and Xhosa communities who are the main targets of social cultural complexities highlighted in this paper. The study arrives at its findings through a qualitative study where data was analysed and corroborated with CGE operational documents, provisions in the Constitution, policy documents, monetary and evaluation reports, minutes of proceedings and paper publications. The study argues that the CGE cannot effectively empower rural women when the link with other statutory bodies and Civil Society Organizations nationally is weak. Also, the study argues that for CGE to effectively empower rural women, it must directly relate with local rural African Women Studies Centre 72 1.0 Introduction Due to a concentrated focus on eliminating racial segregation, before 1994 South Africa paid minimal attention to the gender equality agenda. The concerns about gender equality emerged only after a series of engagements by South African women who indefatigably pushed for gender equality to be listed among the significant agendas for the nation. Thus, buoyed by a ray of hope after Rolihlahla Mandela’s ascendancy into power in 1994, South African women formulated a Charter that exhorted the nation to put the welfare of women to the fore. The document was presented to Mandela who made sure that gender concerns became a central subject in the negotiation process prior to the writing up of the Constitution. In order to ensure that women issues were not overlooked, the negotiators settled on avoiding a structure where there is a specific ministry/department of women. Thus, a NGM (National Gender Machinery) was instituted. The Machinery consisted of the civil society organizations, the executive, the legislature, and self-governing bodies (Rai, 2018; African Development Bank, 2009). The establishment of the NGM was for the advancement of the status of women. A number of international women’s conferences such as the 1975 Mexico Convention, the Beijing Conference, the CEDAW had called for the national states to put gender concerns at the centre of the policy-making process. The necessity for a NGM was accentuated first during the Conference in Mexico City in 1975 (Rai, 2018). The South African women constitute the highest share of underprivileged population in the country. This population is still affected by apartheid legacies (racism, sexism, authoritarianism, male chauvinism).The Commission on Gender Equality (CGE) aims at fixing those ‘ghosts of the past’ (as Ramphele, 2008 calls them) which are enmeshed in policies that engender marginalization of women. In spite of South Africa ratifying international protocols, I argue that the gender policy agenda is still far elusive as those neo-apartheid elements are still prevalent. Thus, this paper seeks to address these principal theoretical questions: women and consult them from the grassroots and not solely rely on “elitist women” who risk misrepresenting or even ‘under-representing’ women interests.
Commission for Gender Equality, Constitution, South Africa, Women, Women Interests