Commission for Gender Equality must begin to deliver to SA women
THIS week, Parliament holds public interviews to fill the long-vacant seats of commissioners in the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE).
The CGE has been in disarray for years and has failed to deliver on its mandate to promote gender equality. It is an organisation with a budget of R60 million and weighty powers vested in it by the constitution that should be used to advance the quality of life of women.
It is essential new commissioners are appointed with the vision, capac- ity and drive to turn the institution around and ensure that it delivers on its mandate to the people of SA.
Nearly 20 years after the first democratic elections, SA women face some of the highest levels of domestic and sexual violence against women found anywhere in the world. Women in SA are also more likely than men to be unemployed, earn less for similar work and encounter greater barriers to their career advancement.
Women also bear the brunt of poor service delivery and are disproportionately affected by the spread of HIV/AIDS.
In short, there has been far too little progress towards achieving gender equality and ensuring that women in SA can access the rights guaranteed to them in the constitution and laid out in the laws of the land.
The accomplishments of the Public Protector over the past year serve as an important reminder of what a determined Chapter 9 institution like the CGE can achieve when it fully exercises its powers as an independent watchdog.
SA needs the CGE to be strong, proactive and fearless in the execution of its duties.
It needs its new commissioners to be inspired leaders in the struggle for gender equality.
The CGE’S wide array of legal powers, including the power to subpoena any person, including government officials, and to initiate litigation in its own name, could be highly effective in advancing gender transformation in our country.
Instead, the CGE has been reticent. It is mired in financial impropriety, maladministration and internal power struggles, which was documented in reports of the auditor-general, the Office of the Public Protector, and by the late Kader Asmal in his 2007 review of Chapter 9 institutions (which has yet to be reviewed by the National Assembly).
In advance of this week’s interviews, gender equality organisa-
Body is mired in financial problems and internal power struggles
tions are coalescing to demand that there be a line drawn in the sand.
The CGE is too important an institution for South Africans to tolerate its current paralysis. We need new commissioners who have a deep understanding of gender issues, a track record of gender activism, a vision for capturing the potential of the CGE, and skills and experience to enable them to effectively lead the commission.
It is crucial that the ad hoc committee of Parliament appropriately applies itself to selecting new commissioners.
SA has a strong history of gender activism. Gender advocates like ourselves look forward to opportunities to work with the new CGE commissioners and support all efforts to strengthen the CGE.
It is vital that civil society continues to monitor the institution’s work and demand that its commissioners be held accountable for delivery on its mandate.
We have put forward questions to Parliament that we suggest should be asked of all potential commissioners and used to judge their suitability. We will follow the interviews scheduled for January 25 and 26 with great interest.
This is a critical test for Parliament. It’s a chance to demonstrate its commitment to advancing gender equity in the country, as well as its support for the constitution and the independent role of Chapter 9 institutions. Both of these have been called into question by actions over the past 12 months.
Keehn, Jewkes, Lesejane and Peacock are members of the Board and staff of Sonke Gender Justice.