Burst The Patriarchal Bubble
In November 2005 the African Union's Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa came into force.
Not only does the declaration support the spirit and the letter of the United Nation's Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, it endorses the protocol to the African Charter on Human and People's Rights on the Rights of Women. The African Union (AU) has undertaken to work towards parity between men and women in sociopolitical and economic reality of each country.
In June of each year the heads of state of the AU member states are required to report on progress made in terms of the Solemn Declaration, the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women. Each year the AU commissioner for social affairs dutifully reports progress made and the collective efforts of the continent are noted with dignity and solemn respect. But underneath the protocols, conventions and resolutions the reality for women in many countries on our continent has not been great progress.
South Africa stands out as a country with a very progressive stance on the representation of women in decision-making structures. The ANC has taken decisions to have parity between men and women in structures where the ANC is represented. At its Durban conference in 1990 when the topic of a quota of at least 30% representation by women in the structures of the ANC was introduced, and agreed to, the debate did not find itself without robust opposition.
Debating the rights of women as a Western feminist idea that has no place in African social and political life was at the core of those who did not agree. Thankfully, the tradition of the ANC is that once a decision is reached through debate and consensus, disciplined cadre will implement it.
We still face the daunting prospect of managing the reality that the emancipation of women goes beyond a right to vote in an election. The emancipation of women is the continuation of a struggle to have the rights of women actively recognised as human rights.
Our country has achieved a great deal. And in terms of representation in government, the ANC-led government did better than the original 30% quota with the average representation in Parliament being 32.7%, women in Cabinet representing 42.8% of the ministers and 47.6% women who are deputy ministers. At local government level the ANC -- while having more women than any other political party -- had reached an average of 23% women as councillors. It is at this level that women find it difficult to break the glass ceiling and yet it is at this level that the service delivery is the most critical.
At its Polokwane Conference, the ANC adopted 50% parity in all ANC structures where the ANC is represented. This will change the demography of all spheres of government. For some in our society this is seen as a battle for women to take "control" of decision-making structures.
Human rights and the equality clause in our Constitution fall away when the places of power have to be shared and the historical role that a patriarchal society has designated to men is threatened.
Few real chances
We have a Constitution that entrenches equality and yet we still have attitudes, beliefs, myths and traditional practices that inhibit the freedom of women.
The AU and Southern African Development Community (SADC) have adopted declarations and protocols that "work towards parity of women with men in all member states". The SADC Declaration on Gender and Development adopted in 1997, called for 30% of women in political and decision-making positions in the regional structures by 2005. South Africa, Botswana and Namibia have to a large degree surpassed the SADC target. But the promotion of women's full access to and control over productive resources to reduce poverty among women is still elusive.
The reason for this can be accounted to the lingering patriarchal structure, the nature of our economies and the requirements to procure loans, which leave women without property devoid of any real chances of making the first break. There are no special instruments supported by government to provide loans to women. It is departmentally based in certain sectors, such as agriculture, and by default the hospitality industry.The provision of supportive funding depends very much on the goodwill of the minister in charge.
When the future of the continent is discussed, male civil servants are in the majority. The Nepad programmes envisaged by the heads of state seldom heard the voices of women with the initial development; the voices of women were truly sought only when the African Peer Review process was conducted to test the efficiency of the continent's commitment to development.
Women understand the problems, but are seldom in the position to change and redirect resources towards solving the problem. When it comes to how services are delivered our voices are sought, but seldom on how to deliver services. This patriarchal mindset needs a sharp challenge.
When the atrocities of war are discussed be it in the UN or at the AU, the voices of women are barely audible. Rape in conflict situations has become a part of the armoury and Africa is not alone in this; Bosnian and Croatian women suffered similar violent crimes, as did women in Darfur, Rwanda, Congo and Zimbabwe. Rape has yet to be declared a crime against humanity and it is the one violent crime that is not fully recognised as a war crime.
Where the rights to equal pay for equal work is discussed in the International Labour Organisation the voices of women are again less than audible. Protocols do not change attitudes, but mobilising people to recognise the rights of women does make a difference.
The South African Gender Commission under the stewardship of Nombuniso Gasa has the best chance of success that it has had in the two decades of its existence to bring the issues that impact on the lives of women into the daylight with constructive criticism which examines the structures of government and goes beyond the technical examination of compliance with the Equity Act. Relying on patronage and the goodwill of the male-dominated financial establishments needs to be challenged.
Micro lenders boast that women are the best payers, but micro lenders are the best exploiters in terms of interest rates, so to give effect to meaningful participation of women in the economy we need one courageous formal bank to have one courageous loan product for women entrepreneurs. Going beyond the right to vote and going beyond the ANC decision to have 50% parity in ANC representation between men and women in government structures is the next struggle to be fought.
We applaud the ANC's decision to give effect to the equality clause in our Constitution and to recognise the energy that women bring to development.We also have to ensure that women who take on decision-making positions do not close the door behind themselves and create an atmosphere that develops women who may wish to follow in their footsteps. While taking a girl child to work once a year is a good symbolic action, women policymakers must be women activists who go to the communities and encourage younger women to become future leaders.
The protocols, conventions and declarations space for debate are helpful, but mobilisation of women on particular issues will make a difference.
We need to bring the social needs of women to the table wherever we can. We need to trespass where we are not invited and table the need for substantive change. We need to get commitments that are time-lined and guaranteed to provide financial resources to women's programmes. We need a woman's machinery with the instruments, power and resources to make changes happen faster.
The women's movement in our country has to find common cause across ideological lines so that all cases of domestic violence, rape, femicide and poverty can become common ground. Working together, we can do more.
Jessie Duarte is a member of the ANC's national executive committee and national spokesperson