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Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women considers Report of South Africa

Committee on Elimination of Discrimination
Against Women 21 January 2011

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has considered the combined second to fourth periodic report of South Africa on how that country implements the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Introducing the report, Lulu Xingwana, Minister for Women, Children, and People with Disabilities of South Africa, said that the South African Government had decided on five key national priorities for achievement by 2014 including: economic development, decent work and sustainable livelihoods; health; education; fighting corruption and crime; and rural development, land reform and food security. The role of the Ministry of Women, Children and People with Disabilities was to ensure the mainstreaming of a gender perspective across the five key priorities.

Ms. Xingwana informed the Committee that following the enactment of the Sexual Offences and Related Matters Act in 2007, the State had noted progress in addressing violence against women. The State had developed registers aimed at protecting women and children against sexual offences and abuse. Data contained in the Child Abuse Register would enable employers to vet applications and ensure that convicted child abusers were not employed in positions where they were in contact with children. The South African Police Services had re-introduced the Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Units to conduct specialized investigations and detection on all types of sexual offences, serious cases of domestic violence and child abuse and protection cases. Furthermore, the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation had been established to provide capacity for the special investigation of human trafficking. This included trafficking women and children for sexual and labour purposes.

Questions and issues raised by Experts during the interactive discussion included harmful traditional and cultural practices, sexual abuse and harassment of girls in schools, programmes aimed at rural women, sexual and gender-based violence in South Africa, the criminalization of sex work, access to healthcare and treatment for HIV/AIDS. Committee members also asked about the role of traditional courts and the treatment of women under customary marriage regimes, discrimination experienced by lesbian and transgendered women, and high rates of maternal mortality. The delegation was also asked about the participation of women in public and political life as well as participation in the private sphere, the wage gap between men and women and sexual harassment in the workplace.

In concluding remarks, Ms. Xingwana said the discussion with the Committee was a learning opportunity for the delegation and the Committee’s recommendations would be incorporated into the country’s policies and its next periodic report. Ms. Xingwana said that soon the State would have a national dialogue much like the one that was held here today that would allow women to learn more about the Convention and its Optional Protocol. The key issues highlighted here which they would give further attention to included: monitoring and evaluation; violence against women; financing for gender equality; and more efforts toward addressing stereotypes.

Also in concluding observations, Zohra Rasekh, acting Committee Chairperson, commended the State party for its multidimensional efforts to address discrimination against women through policy, education and legislation. However, the Committee was concerned and alarmed at the level of sexual violence against women and their exposure to HIV/AIDS. The Committee was also concerned about human trafficking, maternal mortality, and the situation of rural women. Ms. Rasekh encouraged the State party to redouble its efforts to combat these problems and said the Committee looked forward to the State party’s next report.

The delegation of South Africa included representatives of the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities, Department of Health, Department of Basic Education, Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, Department of Public Services and Administration, Department of Social Development, Department of Traditional Affairs and Cooperative Governance, Commission for Gender Equality, Department of International Relations and Cooperation, Limpopo Provincial Government, and the Permanent Mission of South Africa to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The next public meeting of the Committee will be on Monday, 24 January at 3 p.m., when the Committee will hear from non-governmental organizations and national human rights institutions regarding the situation of women in Bangladesh, Belarus and Sri Lanka. On Tuesday, 25 January, the Committee will take up the combined sixth and seventh periodic report of Bangladesh (CEDAW/C/BGD/6-7).

Report of South Africa

The combined second to fourth periodic report of South Africa (CEDAW/C/ZAF/2-4) notes that 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 promulgation of the Equality Act of 2000 sought to translate the legislative processes into practical measures relating to the empowerment of women in all decision-making processes and development. Of interest is the fact that each government department is mandated to ensure that this programme for the advancement of women is part of their respective mandates.

The empowerment of women in South Africa is about dealing with the legacy of apartheid and about the transformation of society, particularly the transformation of power relations between women, men, institutions and laws. It is about addressing gender oppression, patriarchy, sexism, racism, ageism, and structural oppression, and creating a conducive environment which enables women to take control of their lives. Furthermore, in South Africa, empowerment is seen as active citizenship and equal participation by women and men in all aspects of life.

Violence against women has received the most consistent and profound government attention and resources. Most resources have gone towards implementing the Domestic Violence Act, 1998 (Act 116 of 1998), combating sexual offences, raising public awareness, building capacity amongst service providers and perfecting an integrated response to this social scourge. There has been specific focus on violence against the girl child particularly in response to rape, domestic violence, child pornography, trafficking in women and girls and in all public awareness measures and human rights programmes. However, violence against women and children continues to pose a serious challenge for the Government.

The Government’s Poverty Alleviation Agenda and the Skills Development Programmes have opened numerous avenues for women to enter the labour force and have also broadened opportunities for career changes. Women’s employment chances have also been strengthened by employment equity legislation and other employment and labour laws which, amongst others, have strengthened women’s retention in the labour force, particularly in the cases of pregnancy and balancing work with motherhood.

The poverty programme also targets income-generating activities for women. However, South Africa acknowledges the many challenges in this area; particularly the increasing gendered nature of poverty, the fact that the condition of women has not improved measurably, despite government interventions and infrastructure injection, the lack of funding for women’s programmes, and the fact that rural women, children, people with disabilities and older persons remain the most vulnerable.

Presentation of Report

LULU XINGWANA, Minister for Women, Children, and People with Disabilities of South Africa, in presenting the fourth periodic report of South Africa, pointed out that the issue of women’s empowerment was an absolute priority of the South African Government. In pursuance of this objective, in 2008 the Government assessed the effectiveness of its institutional mechanisms for advancing women’s empowerment and gender equality in the country. Consequently, in 2009 President Jacob Zuma announced a range of measures, including the establishment of the Ministry for Women, Children and People with Disabilities. The mandate of the Ministry was to promote women’s empowerment and gender equality and it had prioritized the issue of the advancement and development of rural women and women with disabilities through coordination, monitoring and evaluation. The Ministry intended to progressively realize women’s rights over the next few years and to find a balance between culture, rights and gender equality. The establishment of the Ministry was heralded as one of the major victories for women in the country in promoting human dignity for women and girls.

The South African Government had decided on five key national priorities for achievement by 2014 including: economic development, decent work and sustainable livelihoods; health; education; fighting corruption and crime; and rural development, land reform and food security. The role of the Ministry of Women, Children and People with Disabilities was to ensure the mainstreaming of a gender perspective across the five key priorities. In order to accelerate service delivery and the attainment of the above priorities, the Government had reconfigured its national strategic approach by establishing the following new departments and institutions: Rural Development and Land Reform; Performance Monitoring and Evaluation; National Planning Commission; Higher Education and Training; Basic Education; National Youth Development Agency; and Inter-Ministerial Committee on Xenophobia.

Ms. Xingwana said South Africa was committed to ensuring that women’s access to land initiatives continued to be high on the Government’s agenda through a specific focus on rural development and land reform. This commitment was based on the fact that women formed the majority of the population in rural areas. In this regard, the Ministry had prioritized advancement and development of rural women through encouraging income generating programmes, and increasing access to opportunities for empowerment and social benefits such as inheritance and user’s rights. Furthermore, South Africa had particularly prioritized the eradication of poverty, especially poverty of women. The War on Poverty Campaign was achieving success in that conditions of the poor were improving and that poverty levels had declined steadily. However, women remained poorer than men. A study conducted by the Government on poor areas showed that from 2006 to 2008 urban poverty rose and rural poverty declined.

Ms. Xingwana told the Committee that South Africa had also made strives in increasing the activity of women in public and political life. Women made up 44 per cent of the legislature, 43 per cent of cabinet posts, 26 per cent of higher court judges and 40 per cent of lower court judges. Despite this steady progress, Ms. Xingwana acknowledged that challenges remained as evidenced by the latest Employment Equity report which indicated male dominance at the management level in the private sector and the persistent remuneration discrimination on the basis of gender, among other things. The Government was in the process of consultations on legislative amendments to the Employment Equity Act that sought to improve monitoring, compliance and to enforce higher penalties for violators.

Educational programmes focused on gender equality had been implemented by the Department of Basic Education to educate boys and girls about gender equality. President Zuma had also launched a national campaign to promote HIV counselling and testing urging all citizens to know their HIV status. Pregnant women who were HIV positive were given treatment and 20,000 women were treated between April and September 2010.

Ms. Xingwana said that a number of measures had been enacted to increase access to justice for all. The South African Law Reform Commission was also looking into the development of specific legislation to prohibit the harmful traditional practice of “Ukuthwala”, where young girls were abducted and forced into marriage. The Government was also in the process of amending the Refugee Act and Immigration Act to incorporate the rights of women. Seven Refugee Reception Offices had been established to assist refugees throughout the country.

Ms. Xingwana informed the Committee that following the enactment of the Sexual Offences and Related Matters Act in 2007, the State had noted progress in addressing violence against women. The State had developed registers aimed at protecting women and children against sexual offences and abuse. Data contained in the Child Abuse Register would enable employers to vet applications and ensure that convicted child abusers were not employed in positions where they were in contact with children. The South African Police Services had re-introduced the Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Units to conduct specialized investigations and detection on all types of sexual offences, serious cases of domestic violence and child abuse and protection cases. Furthermore, the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation had been established to provide capacity for the special investigation of human trafficking. This included trafficking women and children for sexual and labour purposes.

Ms. Xingwana said that the Government had also made progress in terms of addressing the challenges faced by women offenders in correctional centres. Counselling services for women offenders as well as offenders who committed crimes against women and children were being provided. The Government also ensured that women offenders with children were now able to stay with them in the correctional centres and that these facilities were child friendly to encourage the development of children.

In closing, Ms. Xingwana said that following the xenophobic challenges of 2008, South Africa held social dialogues with participation from foreign nationals, civil society, government and business. This forum identified issues of prevention, protection and reintegration. The Government was committed to addressing issues of internal reconciliation and national identity and decided not to establish refugee camps, but to integrate all legal foreign nationals and create an environment where the communities would respect their rights.

Questions by Experts

In a first round of questions, Committee Experts asked what steps had been taken for the dissemination of the Convention in South Africa and whether the judiciary and law enforcement officials were trained on the Optional Protocol, the general recommendations of the Committee and the concluding observations of the Committee. The delegation was also asked what was being done to address the cultural, religious and social beliefs that remained barriers to women’s empowerment and gender equality.

Was there a specific bill on gender equality? The Committee was aware that there was a proposed bill, but asked for further information on the status of this bill. What measures were taken to raise awareness around the Optional Protocol and to promote it so that it enjoyed more visibility at the national level?

What was the hierarchy of laws in terms of the Convention and domestic laws? Did the Convention enjoy supremacy and could it be directly applied by the courts? What was the national machinery for women’s equality in South Africa and how was it funded? Had the response to women’s issues been diluted because they were now overseen by a ministry that combined the needs of women, children and people with disabilities?

Did the offices responsible for women’s empowerment and equality have adequate funding to meet their mandates? Were civil servants and government officials trained in gender mainstreaming and gender equality so they could apply these principles in their everyday work?

Response by Delegation

In answering the first set of questions, the delegation began by stressing that South Africa was a new democracy and coming from a highly patriarchal, sexist and racist society so they had made great strides since 1994, but many challenges remained.

The national gender machinery included the Office on the Status of Women, national departments with gender focal points and the Gender Commission. This machinery worked closely with non-governmental organizations. These organizations were becoming better staffed and better funded, although there was still a debate about whether the Ministry of Women, Children and People with Disabilities was needed and whether it should have focused solely on the fight for gender equality and women’s empowerment or whether it should include vulnerable people in general. Officials needed to be trained and capacity needed to be increased, but they were at the beginning and they were going to build their structures and capacity and strengthen their functions.

The Law Reform Commission had been asked to look at the gender equality bill so they could then take it to parliament, so they had not forgotten about this bill. A booklet had been developed for the judiciary and other officials outlining all the international human rights instruments to which South Africa was party and their obligations under them. A new training institute had been set up for judges, and prosecutors, lawyers and administrative personnel would also go through trainings about these laws. Judges were already invoking and applying these international human rights laws in cases. There was also a project to harmonize the existing laws to ensure that all laws were in accordance with gender equality.

In terms of developing a unified family court, the delegation said they were not in the process of doing that because under apartheid religion and custom were the basis of discrimination so for example black and customary marriages were not recognized. So when the new constitutional regime took over, people were asking for the recognition of religious and customary laws and rules because they had not been recognized under apartheid. In this light, equality had to be seen as being inclusive of this religious and customary diversity and keeping in mind that women who entered into these marriages had to be protected as well, which was one of the aims of the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act.

To clarify some language, the delegation said that in terms of the use of the word equity versus equality, the aim was for gender equality and in reaching that goal they would also strive for equity. Within the Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act the definition of discrimination according to the Convention was used, so while there was no definition of gender equality used in existing legislation, there was a law containing the definition of gender discrimination. The Gender Equality Bill would seek to fill these gaps as they found them and the timeframe for passage of this law was two years. It was a draft bill at the moment and would take two years to be tabled before parliament.

The delegation gave an overview of the national gender machinery which included parliament, government, the Commission on Gender Equality and civil society with a comprehensive coordination framework. With the introduction of the Ministry for Women, Children and People with Disabilities this coordination framework might change. This machinery enabled a concrete and close working relationship with a number of stakeholders including non-governmental organizations, trade unions and other bodies.

The State was in the process of assessing gender mainstreaming training that many public officials had undergone. The gender mainstreaming manual needed to be included in the training of every government official who worked for South Africa. The role of gender focal points was to transmit all the training that people received at the national level to the local and district level. This was to help build capacity and to ensure that people were trained on gender issues throughout the country.
The delegation acknowledged that the budget for the Commission for Gender Equality was half that of the South Africa Human Rights Commission, so they needed to continue the fight for budgeting. The Commission for Gender Equality was an autonomous body and thus served the role of an independent watchdog with the right to subpoena people and hold hearings.

Regarding the victims’ charter, the delegation said this was developed in compliance with the United Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power and in compliance with the victim empowerment programme. The whole process was to ensure that the criminal justice system was victim sensitive, while protecting the rights of the accused as well.

In terms of the equality courts, a survey of the cases filed there found that most of the complainants that appeared there were about sexual orientation and there was only case of gender discrimination that had been filed. In order to increase the number of women filing cases with these courts, the State was educating women about their rights contained in the Equality Act so they understood their rights and were aware that they could file complaints in the equality courts. In terms of harmful cultural practices, including polygamy and virginity testing, the delegation said these issues of religion and culture took time to change and one could legislate until they were blue in the face, but you had to change people’s minds to make these laws effective.

The Committee members had pointed out that there were many progressive laws, but implementation was still a challenge. The delegation said this would be addressed by an implementation plan in which specific indicators would be monitored throughout the Government to ensure that all of the legislation related to women’s empowerment and gender equality was implemented. There were also other measures being developed such as a Women’s Empowerment Fund.

Several Experts asked for clarification on the status of the gender equality law and the delegation said it was a draft green paper and open to discussion by civil society at this point. The purpose of the law was to entrench the rights of women so that no matter which party was in office women’s rights would be protected.

Questions by Experts

In another round of questions pertaining to articles 4 to 6, Experts asked why the number of women participating in public life seemed to be dropping. There was evidence that previously marginalized women, namely black women, were falling out of the quota and temporary special measures systems. What was being done to ensure substantive equality, particularly for these previously marginalized groups? There was a tremendous need to have more women in the court system and to encourage more women to access the justice system. What was being done to encourage this?

A 2007 study on gender-based violence found that the country’s history of colonization and apartheid created a culture in which people saw resorting to force as normal. This was exacerbated by poverty, a weak criminal justice system, the availability of firearms and poor socialization of youth, which made violence seem normative and legitimized its use. Armed with this information, what was being done to address this issue, considering the State party had one of the highest gender-based violence rates in the world? Were the special sexual offences courts that were piloted in 2010 established throughout the country or only in certain areas?

How did the State party work with local and religious leaders to raise awareness about gender stereotypes and gender-based violence? Were there campaigns in school to raise awareness about violence against women? Was protection provided to the victims of trafficking? Were there shelters for women who were victims of trafficking and violence and were police given special training in dealing with these victims? What was being done in terms of rehabilitation of these victims? When was the strategy for combating trafficking launched?

The Committee had received information that women had a very heavy load to carry at home due to paternal irresponsibility and that in rural areas even though men were around they did not live with their children. How did the Ministry for Women, Children and People with Disabilities approach this issue in the scope of its work? How did the Ministry deal with the issue of multiple discriminations against women?

A Committee expressed the hope that South Africa would be as successful in combating sexism as it had been in combating racism, which would include sending a clear message that the State had a zero tolerance policy regarding sexism. How could the Committee assist in changing these social norms and cultural attitudes?

What was the status of the anti-trafficking bill? South Africa was a destination and transit country. What was done in terms of training of border guards? Sex work and sex workers had been criminalized, but had the clients been similarly criminalized? Did the State party have statistics on trafficking of children? Also, what was being done to combat poverty, which was often a reason families sold their children or children fell prey to trafficking?

Response by Delegation

Responding to those questions, the delegation said despite the introduction of quotas there was a concern that there was a decrease in the number of women in public life. Consolidating these gains depended on a strong women’s movement, so as they moved forward they had to strengthen these organizations to fight for their rights, but also to build leadership capacity and develop a strong women’s lobby. They had to apply pressure to political parties to run women candidates and women had to use the power of the vote and be well organized. Violence against women in the country was a scourge just like HIV/AIDS, and they needed the will, resources and strong measures to combat it.

Regarding violence against lesbians, the delegation said there had been a number of young men who had taken it upon themselves to do “corrective rape” against lesbians and the State had undertaken awareness raising campaigns and the police and courts were arresting perpetrators and prosecuting these crimes, which were in violation of the constitution. This was homophobia and not to be tolerated.

There was a Child Protection Week with a focus on orphaned and vulnerable children to raise awareness throughout the country about violence against children. Non-governmental organizations and religious leaders were also involved in this campaign.

The new Sexual Offences Act of 2007 criminalized the sex buyer, seller and pimp but the Law Reform Commission was debating whether to change the law so that sex work was regulated or decriminalized or the law was left as it was currently written, which focused on criminalization.

Training in human trafficking was offered to police officers through Interpol, foreign law enforcement agencies and other organizations because this crime encompassed a number of other crimes including murder so it was very important to work across borders and in conjunction with civil society and non-governmental organizations. All children who were victims of trafficking were offered a basket of services, regardless of whether they were a South African child or a foreign child. The child was not necessarily taken back to the country of origin; it had to be determined whether it was safe for the child to be returned.

There were certain persistent stereotypes, especially in rural areas, one of which held that if you were old, female and black you were a witch. Women had been attacked on this premise and the State was working with rural and traditional leaders to raise awareness of women’s rights and that everyone would be old and ugly one day and that did not mean they were witches. They were also working with the media, which often showed programming with women in stereotypical, objectifying roles, to stress the importance of educational programmes.

Questions by Experts

In a further series of questions and comments, Experts asked how many trials and convictions had been carried out for rape cases and what the sentences were for those convicted. What was done to ensure victims’ access to justice?

An Expert commented that it should not be women and women’s groups who had to be vigilant in applying women’s rights, but men should also be brought into the movement to empower women. What was being done to draft men to the movement?

Response by the Delegation

The delegation responded that magistrates and other court authorities had undergone training to deal with rape cases and victims of rape, but it was an ongoing process. They were also fighting to add more women to the judiciary through various measures such as training programmes and to speed up the prosecution of rape cases. There were 37 comfort centres that provided integrated police, health and prosecution services for victims of rape. The number of these comfort centres would increase to 51 by the end of the year. In terms of sexual offences statistics, the conviction rate was around 60 per cent for 2009 for the dedicated courts, but with normal courts the conviction rates were very low, less than 1 per cent in 2010.

The delegation said that the State was doing very well in terms of increasing representation of women in the public sector, but the private sector remained a challenge as less than 10 per cent of chairpersons or CEOs of companies were women, so the private sector remained a huge challenge.

Questions by Experts

In additional questions and comments, Experts wondered what the obstacles were to attracting more female judges. Had the State considered criteria other than seniority for the appointment and elevation of judges?

Response by the Delegation

The delegation said that it appreciated the support and solidarity it had received from friends all over the world because the war against apartheid was an international war. They appreciated the help they had received at a time when leaders like Nelson Mandela were still called terrorists.

In terms of how to involve men and to ensure that women’s rights were not just a women’s issue, the State had held programmes to teach boys that real men did not rape or abuse women and they worked with traditional and religious leaders to raise awareness about gender justice, gender-based violence and women’s empowerment among men.

Regarding women and the judiciary, they were trying to increase the numbers of women on the bench, but it took time because judgeships were positions in which people stayed until they were very old so it took some time to add women to the ranks. They had made a good start, but they would keep pushing to improve those numbers.

Questions by Experts

In a further round of questions, Committee members noted that for many girls getting to school could be dangerous and violence, rape and sexual harassment were widespread in schools according to a report by the Special Rapporteur on the right to education. Did the delegation think that the measures outlined in the State party’s report went far enough to address the issue? The measures targeted school management, but was this management largely male and could they be implicated in the sexual harassment of students? Were these acts by teachers criminalized or were they simply dismissed from their jobs? If they were dismissed, were they able to apply for new jobs at different schools?

On the issue of child headed households, were they headed mainly by girls and what was the impact of this on education for these girls? The report of the Special Rapporteur said that these girls often resorted to prostitution to feed siblings. What was the policy on re-entry to school after pregnancy? Lack of childcare was listed as a major obstacle in girls returning to school after giving birth. Were there any measures in place to address that obstacle?

What were the actual duties of the Commission on Employment Equity? How did it monitor and evaluate employment laws and address issues such as wage discrimination and the pay gap? How did the Employment Conditions Commission enforce labour laws? What was being done to address women in the informal sector and to facilitate access for women entrepreneurs to credit, raw materials and other resources?

A Committee member asked how gender, religious and traditional stereotypes affected women’s health. What were the treatment regimes for HIV/AIDS and what was done to ensure continuity of treatment and treatment in rural areas? Maternal and child mortality seemed to be high, although the figures were not clear. What measures were being taken to address weaknesses in the health system that was one of the reasons for maternal and child mortality? What steps had the Government taken to prevent female genital mutilation in South Africa? What was being done to improve access to healthcare as well as the number of female healthcare providers? Many doctors left the country so there was a brain drain. Why was this the case? Did the delegation have any information on mental health for women and how many women suffered from depression or post traumatic stress disorder due to the violence they had experienced?

Were elderly, rural and disabled women covered by social security as well as women who worked in the informal sector?

Response by the Delegation

Responding to these questions and issues, the delegation said there was a social security system which assisted families, people with disabilities and people living with HIV. It had a huge impact because it enabled women to move out of the cycle of poverty using the assistance that they received. The micro-credit system gave grants and credit to women.

On the question of legal aid for women, they received assistance in cases of violence or abuse. Women often withdrew their cases when their husbands or boyfriends apologized and the Government could not press the cases if the women did not testify.

In 2009 the Department of Rural Development was set up, in part to help women in these areas. There were no economic resources there so young women who finished their education could not find jobs there and men often left for the cities, so poor elderly women were left behind, usually raising children who were orphaned due to HIV/AIDS.

In terms of healthcare, the delegation said the Committee had to understand that South Africa was coming from a history in which all the services of the country were reserved for 10 per cent of the population, white South Africans. So they had embarked on a process of building hospitals and training more doctors and they were experiencing a brain gain because the economic crisis had led many South African doctors to return home from abroad. There was access to health in the poorest areas, with mobile clinics that went to areas where there no clinics. There was counselling for abused women and women with HIV/AIDS for their mental and physical needs. There was also a campaign to prevent transmission of HIV/AIDS from mother to child so the State was encouraging women to get treatment early in their pregnancy or before they became pregnant because many children were born HIV positive in South Africa.

The delegation said that teachers who sexually assaulted children were arrested and they were registered as child abusers and removed from the register of teachers so they could not get another teaching job. Children were encouraged to report abuse in schools and there were manuals to empower teachers, parents and school administration. The Government was also implementing a policy of no school fees to encourage children to go to school, including children in child headed families. There was also social help provided by non-governmental organizations.

Today there was over 90 per cent access to water throughout the country and 80 per cent access to electricity in rural and urban areas. They were committed to universal access of electricity and water by 2014.

Female genital mutilation was not practiced in South Africa, but perhaps people who came from other countries practiced it, but it was not something they did there. In terms of anti-retroviral drugs, children received these drugs for free and they also received cooked meals because children could not take these drugs on an empty stomach.

Questions by Experts

In a series of follow-up questions and comments, an Expert asked about the link between AIDS and sexual violence. Men were reluctant to use condoms and a survey of college aged students showed that they thought sexually violent conduct with someone they knew was not considered rape.

A Committee member pointed out that in many countries the State could pursue domestic violence cases ex officio and press charges even if a woman withdrew her statement or complaint.

Response by the Delegation

The delegation said that the State did not link AIDS with violence. They did not believe that HIV was transmitted only through violence. In South Africa in the case of rape they always did the necessary tests, treatment and counselling and gave support to the victim.

The National Prosecutor’s office could charge the case ex officio if they had evidence such as pictures, but if they were relying on the testimony of the victim and she was a hostile witness they would lose the case.

In terms of the ratification of certain International Labour Organization conventions, the delegation said that the State had researched this and determined that the cost to business of ratifying certain conventions would be too much so they would continue to discuss this issue and revisit it. The Employment Equity Act was being amended to better enforce its application.

Questions by Experts

An Expert asked about the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act which endeavoured to bring about equality between men and women in customary law. These marriages were now placed on an equal footing with civil marriages. The Expert asked whether a woman actually benefited from a customary marriage, how did the registration of property take place, and was the first wife’s property protected when the husband married additional women?

Would the Government consider passing national legislation to provide recognition and dissolution of Muslim marriages so that women were not forced to seek redress from religious leaders? Lesbian women were finding it increasingly difficult to access services and same sex couples regularly encountered discrimination. How was the Government addressing this?

Response by the Delegation

The delegation said the issue of customary marriages was a complex one and they had tried their best to address. Their primary aim was to protect the rights of women and children of such marriages. Most of the women of South Africa were against polygamy. The legislation was not there to promote polygamy, but rather to protect the rights of women who were already in these unions. If women wanted to take in these marriages, the State could not stop them so legislation to protect their rights was important.

In cases of division of property in a polygamous marriage, property became communal property rather than a man owning everything, which was the case before the new customary marriage law was adopted. If a man married a second woman he would have to write a contract detailing the division of property and if he did not the second marriage would be deemed invalid.

Cultural and religious laws were very difficult to deal with so as much as the State had advanced they still had to grapple with some difficult issues in complying with the provisions of CEDAW. In terms of Muslim and Hindu marriages, religious rights were protected in the constitution so it took time to develop laws surrounding these marriages. The Muslim Marriages Bill had been tabled by parliament on December 2010, it was now open to public discussion, and it would most likely be passed this year.

Concluding Remarks

In concluding remarks, LULU XINGWANA, Minister for Women, Children, and People with Disabilities of South Africa, thanked the Committee for the open, frank and interactive dialogue they had. The day had provided a unique opportunity and they hoped to continue the exchange of views in other relevant UN fora. The exercise was a learning opportunity and the Committee’s recommendations would be incorporated into the country’s policies and its next periodic report. Ms. Xingwana said that soon the State would have a national dialogue much like the one that was held here today that would allow women to learn more about the Convention and its Optional Protocol. The key issues highlighted here which they would give further attention to included: monitoring and evaluation; violence against women; financing for gender equality; and more efforts toward addressing stereotypes.

Also in concluding observations, ZOHRA RASEKH, acting Committee Chairperson, congratulated the delegation for the constructive dialogue which had provided further insight into the situation of women in South Africa. Recognizing that South Africa was a new democracy, the Committee commended the State party for its multidimensional efforts to address discrimination against women through policy, education and legislation. However, the Committee was concerned and alarmed at the level of sexual violence against women and their exposure to HIV/AIDS. The Committee was also concerned about human trafficking, maternal mortality, and the situation of rural women. Ms. Rasekh encouraged the State party to redouble its efforts to combat these problems and said the Committee looked forward to the State party’s next report.

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