Challenges to Mainstreaming Gender in Legislation and Governance

Challenges to Mainstreaming Gender in Legislation and Governance

South Africa

Challenges to Mainstreaming Gender in Legislation and Governance

Under President Zuma’s leadership, the Ministry of Women, Youth, Children and Persons with Disabilities has been tasked with ensuring the “the mainstreaming of gender and children’s rights into all programs of government and other sectors”.  While the establishment of a standalone ministry to address the concerns of marginalised groups has been met with both approval and skepticism from South Africa’s Women’s Sector, it also provides opportunities to strengthen the National Gender Machinery and the drive to engender government programmes.  The process of legislating the National Policy Framework for Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality Framework provides a first test case – for considering both the opportunities and threats that come with the elevation of women’s concerns to an executive level.

Both President Zuma and Minister Mayende-Sibiya have emphasised that partnerships with civil society are necessary for the empowerment of women and to ensure that women’s issues remain a priority in government’s agendas. Indeed, South African women’s gains to date have been the fruits of alliances between those in government and those in society. The mooted Gender Equality Act presents an opportunity for further engagement and partnership building.

In an attempt to stimulate this dialogue, the Heinrich Boell Stiftung together with the Gender Advocacy Programme and the Commission for Gender Equality hosted an event on “Challenges to Mainstreaming Gender in Legislation and Governance: Comparative Perspectives" in Cape Town on the 3rd February 2010. The roundtable brought together public representatives, civil society organisations and academics to engage with SA’s reconfigured Gender Machinery landscape, discuss international experiences of gender mainstreaming, and debate crucial questions on the country’s future approaches to effecting women’s empowerment. The overall purpose of the event was to identify ways in which the Women’s Sector could provide support to the reconfigured gender machinery.

The two lead questions for the event were:

  • Gender mainstreaming: Limitations and Opportunities of an approach. What has gender mainstreaming achieved in different contexts but what has it undermined? When and where has gender mainstreaming worked? Perspectives from South Africa and abroad.
  • South Africa’s Gender Mainstreaming futures: What does the new political and institutional landscape allow? What mechanisms and instruments will constitute future efforts in South Africa? What is the vision for the new ministry?  

The roundtable provided an opportunity for Advocate Memani-Balani (Special Advisor: Ministry of Women, Children, Youth, and Persons with Disabilities) to update the audience on developments in the newly formed Ministry, and for prominent gender activists and politicians including Hon. Lynne Brown, (Shadow Premier of the Western Cape) and Prof. Amanda Gouws (Professor, University of Stellenbosch) to reflect on gender power imbalances in South African politics, about the gains and disappointments of Women’s Representation and Gender mainstreaming in the South African context, as well as SA’s reconfigured Gender Machinery landscape.  Barbara Unmüßig (President, HBS) spoke abut lessons learned through international experiences of Gender mainstreaming and the reconfiguration of governance structures to address gender imbalances. Lisa Vetten of Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre spoke on challenges to Civil Society’s engagement to date and the scope for engagement in a reconfigured landscape.  


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