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Cablegate: Gender Violence Campaign Highlights Conflicting

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.



E.O. 12958: N/A

1. SUMMARY. The South African Government's "16 Days of
Activism" gender violence awareness campaign brings into
focus the conflicting status of women in South Africa. South
Africa leads the region in the number of women at the
parliamentary, cabinet, and deputy minister levels. NGOs,
however, describe South Africa as a "war zone for women,"
singling out poverty, gender-based violence, and HIV/AIDS as
the biggest problems facing South African women. The chasm
between government's good intentions and limited legislative
success and the reality facing South African women is real.
This is a society in transition; while much progress has been
made, there is a long way to go. END SUMMARY.


2. Following President Mbeki's April 28 appointment of 12 (of
28) women ministers and 10 (of 21) women deputy ministers
(three more women ministers and two more women deputy
ministers than in the previous cabinet), South Africa leads
the South African Development Community (SADC) countries in
the representation of women at the parliamentary, cabinet,
and deputy minister levels. South Africa has not only
surpassed the minimum 30 percent target of the 1997 SADC
Declaration on Gender and Development -- with 33.4 percent of
its MPs, 42.9 percent of its ministers, and 47.6 percent of
its deputy ministers being women -- but it has also surpassed
the African National Congress (ANC) target of 33 percent.

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3. There are lower percentages of women at the provincial and
municipal levels of government. The third annual conference
of the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) in
2004 released a report saying the representation of women at
the local level of government was 29.06 percent, slightly up
from 28 percent in 2000. The report also stated that
political parties had few women candidates on their party
lists and deployed even fewer to decision-making positions.
Due to the perception of many delegates at the conference
that the 29 percent figure was too low, Cape Town Mayor
Nomainda Mfeketo said to loud applause, "The women in this
conference are saying they want 50 percent. They want 50
percent because they realize that they are mothers of this


4. Outside of government, Sheilah Meintjes, Professor at the
University of the Witwatersrand and a former Commissioner at
the Commission on Gender Equality, says two of the biggest
problems facing South African women are poverty and
gender-based violence. The majority of the 40 percent of
unemployed South Africans are women, and even those women who
are able to work often experience economic discrimination and
sometimes sexual harassment. In July, the Department of
Labor and the Commission for Employment Equity launched a
report showing that South African women have never held more
than 21 percent of top management positions and that they
earned an average of 76 percent of their male counterparts'

5. Meintjes calls gender-based violence "endemic" to South
African society, and she notes that it crosses class and
race. She says it is embedded in the idea of "men as
superior citizens" and forms a continuum from sexual
harassment to rape to murder. There are disputes over rape
statistics, but the University of Cape Town's Unilever
Institute of Strategic Marketing's 2004 gender survey
indicated that South Africa may have the highest incidence of
rape and wife battering in the world. The same survey
indicated that a women is raped every minute in South Africa,
and that one-third of South African women are raped at some
time during their lifetime.

6. The situation for many South African women, especially
those poor to begin with, is worsening due to HIV/AIDS and
the "collapse of NGOs," according to Susan Bazilli, an
advisor at the Center for Development and Population
Activities (CEDPA), making "rural women the worst off they've
been in ten years." The "feminization" of HIV/AIDS has led
to 20 South African women being infected for every 10 South
African men, where there are more people living with HIV/AIDS
in South Africa than anywhere in the world. HIV/AIDS is not
only killing women, it is also placing a larger burden on
them as they struggle to look after children whose parents
have died. Bazilli also blames the worsening condition of
rural women on the collapse of many NGOs due to donors' shift
of resources from NGOs to government following the
establishment of a democratic regime in 1994.


7. The three main bodies in the Government for dealing with
gender issues are the constitutionally-mandated Commission on
Gender Equality; the Office on the Status of Women and Gender
Equality in the Presidency; and the Parliamentary Joint
Monitoring Committee on the Quality of Life and Status of
Women. The first two, which are often viewed as rivals to
each other, spend their time -- according to Meintjes --
"tinkering and tailoring." They tinker to put policies in
place, to get a critical mass of women in prominent
positions; and they tailor organizations to make them gender
sensitive through training. But the Commission is swamped
with more complaints than it can handle, and the Office on
the Status of Women is mostly just an advisory body with only
a small budget.

8. The Parliamentary Joint Committee has seen through several
important pieces of legislation on customary law, domestic
violence, and child support. Connie September, a Member of
Parliament, thinks the high level of female representation at
the national level has made a difference to South African
women through making the law more gender friendly. For
example, South Africa is one of the few African countries
with a law specifically targeting domestic violence. In
addition, the Justice for Women Campaign has successfully
defended women for murdering their abusive partners. On the
other hand, Mmatshilo Motsei, a consultant for the Women's
Legal Rights Initiative, said South Africa needs to move from
the "victories" at the legislative and judicial levels to the
"realities" in the rural areas.


9. The "realities" speak for themselves: 80 percent of
female-headed households have no wage earners; 40 percent of
Black African households are headed by women; 60 percent of
female-headed households are poor; 70 percent of South
African children under six live below the poverty line; and
the majority of these children are living in households with
only one parent, where in most cases the parent is a woman.
But how, then, to move to "victories"? Some say changes need
to be made in government and the private sector's
institutional cultures, gender composition, and approaches
towards human rights. Motsei stresses that change can only
be accomplished through the revitalization of NGOs, and still
others say there needs to be more publicizing of the laws and
more cooperation from men.

10. Most analysts agree that on a deeper level societal
attitudes must change. This includes the way parents raise
their sons to be masculine protectors, who then become
frustrated by the realities of not being able to work or
otherwise support themselves or their families. This also
includes a broader acceptance of the higher levels of
education that women have achieved over the past ten years.
In this sense, the continuing gender gap and all the problems
that go along with it remain not an indication of a
schizophrenic society but of a society in transition. The 16
Days of Activism campaign, which President Mbeki says should
really be 365 days, is part of this slow transition.

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