Too Little, Too Late: Ministry of Women Races to Report on Beijing+20

Just three weeks before governments around the world gather in New York to review progress on the Beijing Platform for Action, South Africa’s Ministry of Women hosted a meeting in Kempton Park on 16 February 2015 for civil society organisations to give input into South Africa’s official report to be presented at the 59th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW). The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action are documents that state parties negotiated and agreed to at the Fourth United Nations World Conference on Women in 1995 in Beijing, China.

This year, the UNCSW will review implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action twenty years after its inception. A report on South Africa’s progress was submitted to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) in June 2014. However, by the Ministry’s own admission, the report was not widely consultative. While we commend the Minister of Women for withdrawing the initial submission to the UNECA, we are deeply concerned with how the consultative process was handled. We cannot, with good conscience, endorse a process that claims to be inclusive but only amounts to the contributions of approximately 80 people. At the meeting on Monday, attendees were handed copies of South Africa’s Beijing+20 report and split into small groups to try to fill in the gaps. The few hours given to do this was not nearly enough to even scratch the surface. If the final product is to be a true reflection of the status of women in South Africa then sufficient time must be set aside to garner meaningful engagement.

“We are struggling to locate the experiences of South African women within this process,” said Jabu Tugwana of People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA), “The integrity and complex nature of South African women’s experiences and interpretations of their experience is missing.”

The need for wide consultation and legitimate engagement was raised by representatives of COSATU and the ANC Women’s League (ANCWL). In response, the Minister of Women, Susan Shabangu acknowledged the late timing of the consultation and offered attendees a week’s grace to submit further comments. Furthermore, the Minister tried to remedy the problem by saying that the consultation process was not only about the UNCSW or “a trip to New York”, but a long-term discussion with the nation that will continue when the official delegation returns to South Africa. However, despite Minister Shabangu’s efforts, more doubt set in when it was discovered that there were at least two versions of the country report doing the rounds at the meeting.

Elizabeth Petersen from the South African Faith and Family Institute (SAFFI) was part of the break out group (“commission”) at Monday’s meeting focusing on the “Human Rights of Women, Violence against Women and Armed Conflict”. She shared her disappointment in the slow progress made, saying, “at the dawn of our democracy, violence against women (VAW) was a national priority but today very little time was given to thrash out VAW issues and even less civil society voice was heard on this matter in our commission.”

Although the Minister of Women has said that discussions will continue after the UNCSW, a report is going to be presented on the status of women in South Africa at the UN global platform next month and that report will not show the realities that South African women face. Things cannot continue in this manner.

The National Strategic Plan (NSP) for Gender-Based Violence Campaign partners continue to demand fully consultative processes for all issues relating to women and particularly issues addressing and assessing violence against women in South Africa. It is our hope that the South African government will honestly reflect on where we are as a country as we seek to find healthy partnerships between government and civil society on this critical matter. We will not be forced to to rush our own processes to catch up with the global discourse at the expense of countless women who experience violence and abuse in both the private and public spaces.

NSP Campaign Partners: Access Chapter 2, Amnesty International, Community Law Centre, Disability Sector, Eastern Cape AIDS Crisis, Embrace Dignity, Emtonjeni CBO, ESSET, FEDUSA, Gender Dynamix, Gender Links, Grassroots Soccer, GRIP, JAW, Love 167, LRC, Masimanyane, Matrix Men, MOSAIC, MSF, NACOSA, NAMKO, New World Foundation, PACSA, Positive Women’s Network, POWA, Progressive Women’s Movement, Project Empower, Rape Crisis, SA Council of Churches, SACWF, SAFFI, SANAC , Sekwele Centre for Social Reflection, Sisonke Sex Workers’Movement, Social Justice Coalition, Sonke Gender Justice, SWEAT, TAC, TB/HIV Care, TEARS, Thusanang, TLAC, TVEP, University of Pretoria Centre for Human Rights + Centre for Study of AIDS, WC Network on Violence Against Women, Women on Farms and World AIDS Campaign International.