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close this bookBringing Equality Home - Implementing the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (UNIFEM, 1998, 45 p.)
close this folderI. CONSTITUTIONS
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South Africa

South Africa made the transition from an apartheid state to genuine democracy in the early 1990s, and the creation of a new constitution was a key component of this transformation. A broad coalition - composed of women's NGOs, academics, women politicians, and women's trade union groups - worked to ensure that women's human rights were given proper constitutional recognition and protection.

They presented their demands in the form of a charter of women's rights, which incorporated the concerns and issues of women across the country. The coalition drew on the Convention's overall conceptualisation of women's equality as requiring the integrated guarantee of political, civil, economic, social, and cultural rights. They stated, in the charter's preamble, "We set out here a programme for equality in all spheres of our lives, including the law, the economy, education, development and infrastructure, political and civic life, family life and partnerships, custom, culture and religion, health and the media." CEDAW also provided a useful framework for specific rights, and a number of the provisions of the women's charter parallel the rights set out in the Convention. For example, article 2 of the charter states that "women shall have equal legal status and capacity in civil law, including, amongst others, full contractual rights, the right to acquire and hold rights in property, the right to equal inheritance and the right to secure credit" (CEDAW articles 13 and 15).

The coalition's advocacy efforts were highly successful. The South African constitution contains a number of significant provisions guaranteeing women's equality. In the section entitled "Founding Provisions," which set out the fundamental values underpinning the new democratic State, non-sexism is listed alongside non-racialism. The constitution's Bill of Rights prohibits discrimination on the basis of "race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth." The constitution also includes an important provision which, like CEDAW's article 4, states that temporary special measures may be taken to accelerate equality between men and women, and that such measures will not be considered discriminatory.