August 31, 2020

Using the law to empower women

The empowerment and advancement of South African women is at the forefront of the challenges currently being faced in South Africa. History shows that some years back, women almost enjoyed no rights. It is this historical inferior position of women in society that has been a challenge for all women, which is aggravated by violence against women and various forms of gender discrimination. Fortunately, the development of the law aims to address these injustices by transforming our laws so that all women are protected and empowered.

The year 1994 marked the start of a different South Africa, one in which the law treated both men and women of all races equally. The newly adopted Constitution was aimed at addressing the injustices of the past and to protect the right to equality, equal protection of the law and not to be unfairly discriminated against. It is essential to achieve equality for all persons in South Africa and the Constitution also brought into existence the so-called “Chapter Nine Institutions”, for example, the South African Human Rights Commission and the Commission for Gender Equality. These institutions aim to rectify and prevent historical injustices and ensure that all South Africans are able to exercise their human rights.

With the principle that all laws must be in line with the Constitution, legislation is one of the most powerful tools in ensuring progress is made to address the past injustices against women. This can be done through the reformation of existing laws that prohibited women from participating in social, economic and political spheres, as well as the creation of new laws that aim to protect the rights of women and establish gender equality.

The following are a few examples of legislation providing equal protection of the law to women:

>          The Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act improves equality in a person's private and public life. It provides a framework to deal with harassment, hate speech and unfair discrimination.

>          The Domestic Violence Act recognises abuse in different forms, such as physical, sexual, emotional and psychological abuse. The Domestic Violence Act does not only protect women who are married, but extends to women who are in a relationship with someone or just sharing a living space with someone else.

>          The Maintenance Act provides women with the right to take legal action against the biological father of their children who refuses/fails to pay child maintenance.

>          The Employment Equity Act protects women against discrimination in the workplace through promoting equal opportunities and fair treatment of all employees, which includes the movement towards equal pay for equal work done.

Apart from the protective measures provided for in legislation, the Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities (“DWPD”) aims to support the advancement of women's socio-economic empowerment and the promotion of gender equality through various programmes implemented by the DWPD. The Government's National Development Plan 2030 (“NDP”) further identifies women as one of the most affected by inequality, poverty, and unemployment. The NDP aims to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality in South Africa.

Empowerment refers to the process of becoming stronger and more confident in knowing what rights one has and how to enforce those rights. Legislation, policies, programmes and organisations all aim to empower women by not only advancing them in all spheres, but also through creating a culture of educated women. Empowered women are less vulnerable as they will know when they are being discriminated against and how to exercise their rights. They have a sense of independence, armed with the protection of the law. Empowering women will be an ongoing process and will require all South Africans working together in creating and following through the mechanisms that aim to advance women.

Did you know…The progression and transformation of the law aims to empower and advance the women of South Africa.