Statement by Minister for Women, Children and People with disabilities, Lulu Xingwana during the National Assembly Debate on SONA

18 February 2014

Chairperson,
Honourable Members

I want to agree with the unwavering assertion made by President Jacob Zuma during his State of the Nation Address when he stated that "South Africa [is] a much better place to live in now than it has ever been".

Indeed liberation brought for the first time, the promise of gender equality.

The path towards the mainstreaming of gender equality was paved by the late former President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela; who, 20 years ago, during his Inaugural State of the Nation Address, stated that ‘freedom cannot be achieved unless women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression`.

Madiba made a call that the condition of the women of our country must radically be changed for the better and that they must be empowered to intervene in all aspects of life as equals with any other member of society.

The realization of women`s empowerment and gender equality in South Africa remain guided by his words.

As a result, today, we can stand here and boldly declare that South Africa is a much better place to live in now than it has ever been. The establishment of the Ministry of Women, Children and People with Disabilities (DWCPD) stands as a testament to this commitment to promote, facilitate, co-ordinate and monitor the realization of the rights and empowerment of women, children and people with disabilities. This is an articulation of the Equality Clause in our Bill of Rights.

Women Empowerment:

The country has made great strides in addressing non-sexism and gender discrimination, and in creating institutions and mechanisms for women`s empowerment and gender equality, such as the Commission for Gender Equality.

International and regional instruments

Key instruments such as the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People`s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa in 2004, the African Union Heads of States` and ADC Declaration Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa in 2004, the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development was adopted by SADC Heads of States at the States Summit in August 2008. Since then, South Africa ratified this instrument in August 2012, these set new benchmarks and targets for governments to achieve.

In 2000, the South African National Policy Framework for Women`s Empowerment and Gender Equality was adopted by Cabinet and became the beacon guiding progress in this regard. It created a vibrant National Gender Machinery in the country, which comprised women from Government structures, Parliament, the Commission on Gender Equality and civil society structures.

Honourable Speaker

South Africa`s good performance on gender matters is evident both in international and regional indices. On the Social Institutions and Gender Index of the OECD, South Africa is ranked 4th out of the 87 countries in the 2012 index and was the top ranked country in Africa. On the SADC Gender and Development Index, South Africa ranked 2nd in 2012, with a score only slightly lower than that of the top performer, Seychelles. On the World Economic Forum Gender Gap Index, South Africa has consistently remained in the upper levels, reaching 6th position in 2011.

During South Africa`s participation in the 57th Session of the UNCSW, Ms Michelle Bachelet, former Executive Director: UN Women praised South Africa for the launching of the National Council against Gender Based Violence on 10th December 2012, acknowledging the strategic day chosen as it was International Human Rights Day.

The Executive Director also noted with appreciation the commemoration of International Day of Rural Women in South Africa, and urged that we continue to highlight the situation of rural women in the country and to work tirelessly in bringing their priorities to the attention of policy makers and custodians of budgets. She further recognized our pro-activeness on the Women`s Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill, adding that the success of the Bill lay in including all stakeholders especially the private sector.

Women representation at decision making levels

One of our greatest achievements as a fledgling democracy in 1994 was the remarkable representation of women in political and decision-making levels, which is a cogent manifestation of the high-level of commitment and political will for gender equality and women`s empowerment.

Before 1994, the South African Parliament had a mere 2.7% representation of women. Through the visionary leadership of former President Nelson Mandela and the ANC, women representation immediately increased tenfold to 27% following the 1994 elections. After 1997, having adopted the 30% target for women representation as ANC in the Mafeking Conference, we stood at 30% and 33% representation of women after the 1999 and 2004 elections respectively under the leadership of former President Thabo Mbeki.

In its Polokwane National Conference held in 2007, the ANC adopted the 50\50 representation. This increased the representation of women to 44% in Parliament and 42% in Cabinet under President Jacob Zuma.

Chairperson, the progress our nation is making is mainly due to the commitment of the African National Congress to women empowerment and gender equality. If the other parties in this august House followed suit earlier, we would have long reached the 50/50 target in SA.

The ANC, the only political party to do so, adopted the 50% gender parity principle which is articulated in the Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill tabled in Parliament in November 2013. Once enacted, the WEGE Bill will become a powerful instrument to advance the objectives of gender equality and women empowerment and enforce compliance on the empowerment of women on the existing legislative framework both within and outside the public service. This serves as warning to all opposition parties who are not taking the parity principle seriously. It will also address Helen Zille`s all male Cabinet.

We have a good story to tell about the gender transformation of the judiciary. Pre-1994 women were mainly confined to magistrate positions. No black woman held a judge position. Today, we are seeing more and more women judges in the judiciary. We now even have two women occupying seats at the Constitutional Court.

Honourable Speaker
Economic Empowerment

Progress has been noted in many areas in particular addressing the economic empowerment of women through establishment and creation of women cooperatives, support of women in agriculture and farming, in energy particularly in green economy projects and solar energy, mining, Expanded Public Works Programmes and grants and funds through the dti, DED, DRDLR, IDC, SEDA, and other agencies.

Strides are also being made in the employment of women within different areas of work with marked emphasis on the training and learnerships and internships for young women. These cover mainly areas previously dominated by men.

The country has also initiated some programmes towards ensuring that girls and young women are encouraged to take up science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields of study. The Technogirls programme is the case in point where girls in their final years of schooling engage in job shadowing. The private sector, parastatals and government has been very cooperative in this project and we look forward to engaging with other sectors.

Access to health

There has been a demonstrable increase in women`s access to reproductive health care services in South Africa since 1994. Improved reproductive health services have resulted in a reduction in illness and death amongst women. For example, the percentage of women in South Africa whose live birth occurred in a health facility increased from 76.6 % in 2001 to 94.1 % in 2009.

In 1997, South Africa enacted the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act (CTOP) 92 of 1996 that allows for the termination of pregnancy. Pursuant to the CTOP, a pregnancy may be unconditionally terminated within the first 12 weeks of the pregnancy

However, with the enactment and operation of the CTOP Act, women`s access to safe termination of pregnancy services has improved considerably. Mortality from unsafe pregnancy terminations has reduced significantly.

Protecting women`s rights

South Africa has adopted significant legislative reforms and has developed policies and programmes based on the National Constitution and its Bill of Rights (Act 108 of 1996) which seek to promote and protect women`s rights in the home, in the community and in the workplace.

  • The Domestic Violence Act, 1998 (Act of 116 of 1998)
  • Prevention of Family Violence Act, 1993.
  • The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and related Matters Amendment
  • Act) 2007 commonly referred to as the Sexual Offences Act
  • The Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act, 2000 (Act 4 of 2000)

In a bid to integrate gender equality and prioritize violence against women in the prosecution of crime, the Sexual Offences and Community Affairs (SOCA) Unit was established within the National Prosecuting Authority in 1999.

Within the judiciary, the Sexual Offences Courts have been created to particularly deal with cases involving sexual offences.

The re-establishment of the Sexual Offences Courts in will help to accelerate the conviction for rape and other sexual offences as we address gender-based violence.

South Africa, under the auspices of the National Prosecuting Authority` Sexual Offences and Community Affairs Unit established 24-hour one-stop centres called Thuthuzela Care Centres(TTCs) for rape victims and victims of sexual and domestic violence.

The Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act, Act 7 2013 also have the effect of domesticating the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons.

Prior the Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act was enacted, South Africa`s laws used to prosecute traffickers did not prohibit all forms of trafficking.

In 2009, a review of the implementation of the Domestic Violence Act 1998 was finalised. Further to this Act, we also have the enactment of the Protection from Harassment Act in 2013, which covers issues over and above the Domestic Violence Act.

Honourable Speaker,

To address the scourge of gender-based violence which cuts across race, class, disability, sexual orientation and even age such that babies are being raped and killed, the country has introduced multiple programmes and campaigns such as annual awareness raising programmes in the 16 Days Activism Campaign, through the 365 Day Plan of Action on ending Violence, the establishment of an Interdepartmental Task Team on Hate Crimes, and even an IMC to identify root causes of gender-based violence. The Department launched the National Council against Gender-Based Violence in December 2012 bringing together key multi-stakeholder base to begin to holistically address the scourge.

Honourable Speaker

Last week`s conviction in the Ukuthwala case in Cape Town is a good story to tell, where it recognizes this practice as harmful to women and young girls, including trafficking and rape of the minor girl. The 22 year sentence handed down shows that we will no longer tolerate such adverse practices that violate women`s rights and dignity.

The development of children

In the course of the past two decades the ANC government has given priority to addressing the poverty and inequalities experienced by the majority of our children marginalised by apartheid policies.

We have sought to achieve this through, inter alia, policies, laws and budgets relating to education, health, child protection and social security. As a result, there has been a reduction in child poverty and inequality as well as an improvement in the living conditions of children living in poverty.

In 1996, when the final South African Constitution was adopted, it was not surprising to find that children`s rights and wellbeing were very firmly entrenched in Section 28.

South Africa under the inspirational leadership of Madiba, ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1997 and in 2000 the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. We have also ratified other UN Optional Protocols. You can read more about these treaty reports in the recently published Country Reports that we have completed last year for the submission to the UN and AU Committees.

These reports, bear evidence that considerable improvements in children`s access to rights, services and benefits, as well as reduction in their poverty levels and inequality have been made under the ANC Government. Allow me to share some of these briefly here.

I will start with measures to protect and promote children`s rights to birth registration, a name, nationality and the preservation of identity. At the start of the decade these rights were frustrated for many children, especially those affected by HIV and AIDS and those living in poverty and in rural areas.

In relation to keeping our babies alive, South Africa has made substantial progress in preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV. According to the Department of Health and UNAIDS, pregnant HIV-positive women receiving antiretrovirals increased from an estimated 32,500 in 2004 to 250,100 in 2010. We have also seen a substantial decline in the maternal mortality and child mortality levels.

In addition, the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) remains one of South Africa`s success stories with regard to primary prevention of communicable diseases. Since it came into effect in 1995, significant strides have been made to increase coverage. Over 89% of children had received full routine immunisations by one year of age in 2010/11.

Education

The ANC government`s focus in the post-apartheid years has been on improving educational access for the majority of children that were historically excluded; some of our achievements include the following: Access to ECD facilities (not including Grade R) almost doubled, from about 16% in 2001 to approximately 30% in 2011. Grade R enrolments have also doubled from 300,000 in 2003 to 705,000 in 2011. A near-universal primary school enrolment rate of 98% was already attained in 2010, with gender equality largely achieved. Retention rates have also improved: 88% of learners completed Grade 9 in 2010 compared to 80% in 2003. Government is consistently working on strategies to fight poverty, inequality and unemployment such as the Child Support Grant (CSG). Social security systems have contributed a lot towards cutting down child poverty in South Africa.

Protecting our children

Various legal developments, such as the passing of the Children`s Act and Child Justice Act (2008), have brought the regulatory framework in closer alignment with the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

A key achievement to advance the delivery of children`s rights in this decade was the establishment of the DWCPD in 2009. The Children`s Rights and Responsibilities Programme, executes its three strategic objectives - advocacy, institutional support, capacity building, monitoring and reporting in partnership with national government departments and the Offices on the Rights of the Child in all nine provinces.

Through several key mechanisms and tools as such the National Plan of Action for Children which was adopted by Cabinet in 2013 and the National Child Rights and Wellbeing Monitoring Strategy the work of the DWCPD has strengthened inter-sectoral coordination improved monitoring and reporting on the status of South Africa`s children.

Significant challenges remain and in response to these, within the context of the National Development Plan: Vision for 2030, and the global post 2015 Agenda for Children, greater investments are being made in health, education and the protection of vulnerable children.

Honourable members,
Persons with Disabilities

South Africa has done well post democracy in recognising the rights of persons with disabilities through the enactment of the country`s Constitution in 1996 and the subsequent release of the Integrated National Disability Strategy (INDS) in 1997, and other pieces of legislation.

We were one of the first countries to sign and ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and its Optional Protocol without reservation in 2007, thereby committing the SA Government to respect and implement the rights of persons with disabilities as documented in the various Articles.

Our experiences over the past 20 years of democracy have taught us that the right to self-representation holds the key to breaking barriers and opening doors to the creation of a participatory democratic society. Once again, it was the African National Congress which, in 1994, walked the talk and became the first party to have a disabled MP, the late Hon Maria Rantho, who went on to become the first disabled Public Service Commissioner. Parliament today boasts 16 MP`s with disabilities and altogether we have 96 public representatives with disabilities in the country.

Children with disabilities were by-and-large not welcome in ordinary schools prior to 1994. If a school principal decided he did not want a child with a disability in his or her school, the parent just had to accept this. The only option was to send the child off to a special school far away from home. Very few children with disabilities got into these special schools, so they remained uneducated. It was simply not compulsory for children with disabilities to attend school, unless they were white.

Today, all children between the ages of 7 and 15 have to attend school by law. This includes children with disabilities. Our education policies make it clear that children with disabilities should be accommodated in the local schools, and that they need to be provided with the support they need to learn.

As a result, we know that by 2010, approximately 94% of children with disabilities aged 7-15 years were enrolled in school, compared with 73% in 2002. This does not mean that there are not still major challenges in improving both access to education, as well as the quality of education learners with disabilities receive, but we are well on the road to realising the right to education for ALL our children, including children with disabilities.

Accessible transport is perhaps one of the most important enablers for persons with disabilities in accessing education and work opportunities. The cooperation received from and the sterling work being done by the Department of Transport in institutionalizing universal design across the travel chain in the roll-out of the BRT programmes at municipal level, needs to be commended.

These gains in South Africa positively influenced development on the African Continent with 1999-2009 being declared the African Decade of Disabled Persons. The Decade was subsequently extended by the African Union to 2010-2019 and South Africa continues to play a pivotal role in establishing the disability rights machinery for the continent.

We are currently finalizing the National Disability Rights Policy, which constitutes the first step towards domesticating the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities across government.

The confidence of the international community in our commitment was once again illustrated in our successful application to the United Nations Partnership to Promote the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Multi-Party Fund to join the first intake of beneficiary countries. Our participation in this initiative enables us to benchmark our policies and processes at international level, but also to contribute to global disability rights knowledge.

The road ahead may be long, but when we look back, despite the many challenges, the evidence that South Africa has a good story to tell is overwhelming and it confirms that South Africa is a much better place to live in now than it has ever been.

I thank you.