Legislative Reforms

At the outset of the new democratic government that was formed at the end of apartheid, numerous legislative measures addressing the status of women were passed:

  • • In 1993, the Joint Standing Committee on Justice met to consider legislation promoting equality between men and women and the prevention of family violence.
  • • The 1996 Constitution of the Republic of South Africa recognized and protected the right to equality, including gender equality.
  • • In January 1996, the government ratified the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). This legally bound Parliament and the Executive Office to work actively toward the abolition of gender discrimination in the governance of the country.
  • • In September 1997, the heads of state of the governments of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), including South Africa, signed a declaration committing their governments and countries to ensuring the equal representation of women and men at all levels of their decision- making structures, as well as in SADC structures; to promoting women’s full access to and control over productive resources; to the repealing and reforming of all laws and the changing of social practices that subject women to discrimination; to enhancing access to quality education by both women and men and removing gender stereotypes from the curriculum, career choices, and professions; and to taking urgent measures to prevent and deal with the increasing levels of violence against women.54

The South African government also established, as mandated in the constitution and the Commission on Gender Equality Act of 1996, (1) the

Commission for Gender Equality (CGE), (2) the National Gender Forum, and, in 1997, (3) the Office on the Status ofWomen (OSW) to support efforts by higher education to become more inclusive and equitable.55 As one of its major initiatives, the OSW prepared a Gender Policy Framework that the Office of the Presidency, which has jurisdiction over the national gender program, proposed the Cabinet adopt in 2000. That framework outlined South Africa’s vision for gender equality and how it intended to realize that ideal. A key recommendation of the OSW was the creation of an National Gender Machinery (NGM) for the purpose of providing a structure that would support gender empowerment and equality initiatives and laws throughout all layers of government and civil society.56

Other Legislation Supporting Women

The South African government passed additional legislative measures to protect women and children. They included:

  • The Maintenance Act no. 99 of 1998, which recognizes the legal duty of both parents and, in some cases, family members to support their children and governs all the legal procedures used by Maintenance Courts, their officers, and investigators to ensure payment of maintenance by parents.
  • The Domestic Violence Act 116 of 1998, which provides legal protection under the law from domestic abuse and introduces measures to ensure relevant entities of the state support and enact the law.
  • The Recognition of Customary Marriages Act 120 of 1998, which makes valid customary marriages, monogamous or polygamous, prior to the enactment of this law. Marriages contracted after the establishment of the act are recognized if the spouses are both 18 or older and have both consented to the marriage, and neither are already married under the Marriage Act or Civil Union Act of2006. However, the age requirement may be waived by the special written permission of the Minister of Home Affairs or their delegate.
  • The Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Draft Bill of 2000, which prohibits unfair discrimination by the government, private organizations, and individuals and forbids hate speech and harassment. It lists race, gender, sex, pregnancy, family responsibility or status, marital status, ethnic or social origin, HIV/AIDS status, color, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth as “prohibited grounds” for discrimination.
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