Implementing the MDGs for Women and Girls

Implementing the MDGs for Women and Girls: Conclusions from the Commission on the Status of Women

The 58th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) took place from 10 March 2014 to 21 March 2014 at the United Nations in New York. The aim for this year’s session was to examine the challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for women and girls.

Late on the final day, one particular conclusion was agreed upon; that those of us present can only hope to make a meaningful impact on the lives of ordinary women.

In general, at events as big as these, it is no easy feat to reach agreement on certain conclusions, but in this instance, there was a general concern about the overall lack of progress made in respect of women and girls in the implementation of all the MDGs.

MDG 3, which seeks to promote gender equality and empower women, was identified as a paramount goal, as it impacts on the success of all of the other goals. It was made clear that this is the goal that countries, including South Africa, battle with the most.

South Africa has made slow progress towards realising gender equality. We have recently seen the introduction of the Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality (WEGE) Bill into Parliament. It is interesting then to note that the conclusions reached at the Commission identify exactly what is wrong with the WEGE Bill and its proposed implementation; specifically through pointing out that a substantive approach to women’s rights is necessary for real change to happen.

A substantive approach accepts that women are not all the same, and that measures taken must address specific and targeted issues. These measures must recognise that women experience increased vulnerability and marginalisation due to multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and inequalities.

Government must implement concrete and long-term measures to transform discriminatory social norms and gender stereotypes, including those that limit women’s roles to being mothers and caregivers, and eliminate harmful practices, such as forced marriage (Ukhutwala) and virginity testing, in order to empower women and girls and achieve the full realisation of the human rights.

The agreed conclusions of the CSW also emphasised the need to increase and cement effective financial resources across sectors.

In order for the agreed conclusions to mean anything for ordinary South African women and girls, government must begin to understand the difference between a formal equality model and a substantive equality model. The government must recognise that it cannot simply address the end results of discrimination, but that it must focus on the root causes (such as patriarchy and women’s unpaid work) of gender inequality.

This will not be done through legislation that prescribes policy development for women in the formal economy. Neither will it be achieved when government promises no additional financial resources will be extracted from the public purse in order to implement it. A commitment to eradicate gender discrimination and empower women must be aligned with a financial policy that ensures proper and adequate financial resource allocation. Until there is a real understanding and commitment to gender equality, the agreed conclusions of the Commission on the Status of Women will have no real impact on the lives of ordinary women, and government will continue to fail in its implementation of the Millennium Development Goals.

By Charlene May

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the Realising Rights bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of the Legal Resources Centre. The Legal Resources Centre is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the bloggers.


The Silent Scream: Sexual Violence and Xenophobia

“If you do not leave tomorrow you will be raped[i]

Literally translated, xenophobia is the fear of foreigners. While it is not a phenomenon unique to South Africa, the country has been under intense scrutiny both nationally, as well as internationally, as a result of the continuous attacks on foreign nationals within its borders. Although the South African government has consistently denied that the attacks are hate- or fear-inspired, but rather opportunistic crimes, it is women that continue to bear the brunt of violence.

During the 2008 xenophobic attacks that started in Alexandra and spread to the rest of the country, there were an estimated 20 000 people displaced internally. A handful of brave woman were willing to come forward and tell a story of not only being physically assaulted as they were chased from their communities, but also being subjected to rape and sexual violence. It is believed that this brutality was enacted based solely on their status of being a foreigner.

Xenophobia and sexual violence are thought of as two distinct and separate issues. Sexual assault is viewed as a crime, a domestic problem and a secret that should not be made public. In South Africa, xenophobia has the political face of exclusion or inclusion and access to resources. Yet the two overlap violently when experienced by foreign women.

It is widely acknowledged that rape is often used a tool of punishment and control. This has certainly been the case in countries experiencing conflict, where rape is often used as a weapon to humiliate, punish and afflict harm on women from different ethnic backgrounds, religions or nationalities. In part, this flows from the patriarchal belief that a woman is the property of the man who heads her household. Once she is defiled through the act of rape, she becomes unwanted and her male family members are shamed by her defilement.

Research conducted indicates that women fall prey to xenophobia and related sexual violence as they are perceived to be central to the settlement process. While men are perceived as migratory, the inclusion of women and children are indicators of a sense of permanence and settlement. This may result in the belief that the man is prospering, as he is able to bring his family to South Africa and support them in the country. It is this element of male prosperity that leads to hostility and resentment, which is played out through violent xenophobic attacks.

The intersectionality between rape and xenophobia remains unexplored in South Africa as a result of the rape of foreign women going underreported and undocumented. The lack of reporting by foreign women is not unexpected. These are women who experience some form of sexual or other violence in their countries of origin or during their flight to South Africa. They are not well-versed in the laws of the country and are often fleeing countries where little or no laws exist that seek to protect women and advance gender equality. The reception they receive from government departments, such as the refugee reception offices,  is sometimes hostile and the South African Police Service carries a public reputation for being unfriendly towards foreigners. These factors all contribute to an environment that deters foreign women from reporting crime.

In recent months there have been reports of rising violence directed at foreign nationals. As in previous attacks, the face of the crimes becomes those of the men who perpetrate them and the men who are subjected to the violence. The face and the voice of the women who suffer are absent and deafeningly silent. More must be done to allow women the peace that they were looking for when they fled their home countries. We all carry this responsibility.

By: Charlene May

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the Realising Rights bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of the Legal Resources Centre. The Legal Resources Centre is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the bloggers.

[i] Marsh, M. 2008.  A Rapid Inter-Agency Assessment of Gender Based Violence and the Attacks on Non-Nationals in South Africa, UNICEF.