Public weigh in on the Commission for Gender Equality

Today over forty people gathered in Cape Town for the launch of the preliminary report on the 100 Days Monitor of the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE). The report was published by the CGE Monitor, a collective of organisations concerned with the effectiveness of the CGE. The CGE Monitor seeks to support the CGE and, by monitoring its performance, hold it accountable to its mandate.

The Commission for Gender Equality is a chapter 9 institution established by the Constitution. Its mandate is to be a watchdog body, ensuring that government processes, policies and structures practice gender equity. It is also charged with responding to complaints from the public and civil society in matters of gender discrimination.

The 100 Days campaign monitored the CGE’s activities in the first 100 days of office of its newly appointed commissioners. From June until October 2012, the Monitor followed all its activity including press by and about the CGE, its responses to complaints and its interactions with legislation and political affairs.

Cherith Sanger from Sonke noted the highlights of the report of the 100 Days campaign. Overwhelmingly the results showed that while the CGE appears to be trying to get back on its feet after years of poor performance and insufficient progress, it is still not doing enough, and is still not properly fulfilling its mandate.

Lisa Vetten gave the keynote address and discussed the political situation of the CGE – its internal politics, how it fits into the current scene of South African politics, and the politics of gender and gender equality in general.  Vetten noted that the big question right now in South African gender politics is “What is gender equality?”

She suggested that there needs to be a shift in how South Africa – especially its leaders – sees gender equality, from a descriptive view to a substantive view. A descriptive view sees gender equality when there are equal numbers of men and women participating in a given structure, but does not take into account that the very structure itself may be biased towards patriarchy, or that men and women are indeed different in some ways, and have different needs. Treating men and women in exactly the same may not in fact increase women’s empowerment or equality between the sexes. A substantive approach to gender equality acknowledges difference between men and women and places men’s and women’s needs as equally important.

Thank you to all the participating organisations in the CGE Monitor, to Cherith Sanger, Bafana Khumalo and Lisa Vetten for their addresses at the event. Thank you also to Mbuyiselo Botha for keeping everyone entertained in your role as MC.