“The Gender Equality Bill will be an overarching piece of legislation that is going to ensure that we address the challenges that women face in the country. I believe that it will be a tool that will ensure that we build on what has been achieved thus far,” she told BuaNews.
While strides have been made in various sectors, men still occupy top management positions in the private sector at 63 percent while African women are at less than 3 percent and coloured and Indian women at 1 percent each. Analysis of various studies available indicate that if South Africa was to continue at the current pace of transformation, it will take almost 40 years to attain 50-50 gender parity.
Representation of women in the legislature increased from 25 percent after the first democratic elections in 1994 to 44 percent after the April 2009 elections. South Africa stands at number three in the world with the highest number of women in parliament. The number of women members of Cabinet (Ministers and Deputy Ministers) increased from 18 percent in 1994 to 40 percent post the 2009 elections.
The Gender Equality Bill is expected to be tabled in Parliament soon and could come into effect by the end of next year.
“The issue of equal play for equal work done has to be addressed. The 50-50 representation and participation of women in decision making structures is something that needs to go into the Bill. Broad based empowerment must also involve and benefit more women than it does currently,” she points out.
In addition, Mayende-Sibiya hopes the Bill will change mindsets in terms of understanding the important roles women play in all spheres.
“This will be a tool that will be overarching and in my view, it will be a mechanism that will ensure South Africa takes a courageous leap to affirm its women. We need to change society’s mindsets through awareness programmes, through engagement and through educational programmes for them to understand the importance of having a society that has women who are free, who are empowered and who are aware,” she said.
Mayende-Sibiya is hopeful the Bill will generate positive debate and support.
“It’s going to take us towards a particular direction - working together with other pieces of legislation and policies. We are working hard to ensure that we empower women and put them on the level they are supposed to be.”
Her newly formed department is currently working on developing an empowerment fund for women that will have a particular focus on rural women.
Mayende-Sibiya says the fund’s focus will be on a number of elements such as education, skills development and finance, among others.
“It’s in the process and once we have done what needs to be done, we will inform the country. It’s going to make a contribution towards the empowerment of women, especially those in rural areas. It will be a multifaceted fund that will give access to opportunities,” she adds.
She encourages women to stand together and unite beyond Women’s Month, adding that some of her Ministry’s key focus areas are the issues of poverty alleviation, particularly in women-headed households and boosting economic development for women.
“Poverty has increasingly become feminine, in fact, all the problems of society fall on the shoulders of the woman and poverty alleviation of women is what we will be focusing on during this month-long campaign.
“We must also ensure that economic empowerment includes women and the strategies we develop include them to ensure their full participation.”
She believes this month will give women an opportunity to reflect on how far they’ve come in their development and advancement.
“Women need to stand together and unite around a common cause,” she reflects. “Lets stand together, fight violence against women and children and ensure that South Africa becomes a safe country for our children. We must ensure that we deal with as many challenges as possible - the future is in our hands.” - BuaNews