South African gender experts call for a change in attitudes as the world commemorates International Women’s Day

By | 7 March 2008

Pretoria – Several South African gender experts yesterday called for more investments in programmes that create “changes in mindsets and attitudes” in how men and women relate to each other if South Africa was to improve on recent gains scored in gender equality. Speaking at an event organized by the United Nations in Pretoria to commemorate the International Women’s Day, the experts expressed outrage over recent incidents involving attacks on women by taxi drivers for wearing miniskirts in the streets of Johannesburg.

“There is a gap between policy and practice or rhetoric and reality,” and between the quality of opportunities on the one hand and quality of outcomes on the other, said Coleen Lowe Morna of the Gender Links, a Johannesburg-based advocacy group, referring to the attacks. She acknowledged that while the gap was closing at some levels, there were still larger gaps “if one probes a little further.”

In a statement read by the acting United Nations Resident Coordinator in South Africa, Dr. Stella Anyangwe, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon expressed concern over the “serious gap between policy and practice in many countries” as “reflected in the most telling way of all: lack of resources and insufficient budgetary allocations.” “This failure of funding undermines not only our endeavours for gender equality and women’s empowerment as such; it also holds back our efforts to reach all the Millennium Development Goals.” He said.

Bafana Khumalo from the Commission on Gender Equality said while there was some considerable progress towards the advancement of women as evidenced by more girls entering and remaining in school, more women taking science and mathematics subjects, challenges still remain. He lamented the prevalence of gender-based violence and the inadequacy of personal safety and security for women as well as the devastating effects of AIDS, particularly among girls and women.

Speaking on this year’s theme, “Investing in Girls and Women”, Mastoera Sadan from the South Africa Presidency noted the progress made in the number of people benefiting from government social grants. The number of beneficiaries rose from 34,000 in 1999 to 7.8 million in 2007, a “remarkable success story towards alleviating poverty,” she noted. She however recognized the need to emphasize institution building rather than policy-making since institutions were the ones that champion gender equality.

Angelino Pino from the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation said there was need to empower civil society organizations by providing them with the resources to deal with gender issues. “We need more investments in projects that emphasise social change” and more leaders speaking out against abuses of women and girls”, she added.

A representative from Cell C, one of South Africa’s mobile companies, said her company was concentrating on empowering women through the “Take Girls to Work” programme. According to Mercia Maserumule, more than 600 companies are participating in the programme, which is held on 29 May to encourage parents to bring their daughters to work. “We want to give girls the power of choice and see what choices they make if they are empowered,” she said.

Karen Stefiszyn from the Centre for Human Rights University of Pretoria said investment should be made in programmes, particularly health, “that keeps women alive”.

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