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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 folderIV. GOVERNMENT POLICY
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View the documentSouth Africa
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South Africa

The South African Department of Justice is in the process of developing a Gender Policy as part of a broader transformation of the justice system that began with the end of apartheid. The department has been entrusted by the South African Government with the task of making the legal system truly representative and responsive to the needs of all members of South African society. In the introduction to its draft Gender Policy, the Department of Justice recognises the need for a full examination of gender issues, as the legal system has failed women in so many respects:

For many years South African women who work within the legal system have voiced their concerns about the laws and the legal system. NGOs providing services to women have identified problems with the laws on domestic violence, rape, maintenance, inheritance, and other matters which deeply affect women's lives. The reality is that women have largely been rendered invisible in the legal system. They tend to require legal remedies for problems and violence which occur in their private world - with their husbands, partners, children, other relatives or friends. But the laws upon which they must rely have historically been formulated and applied by men and are not informed by the genuine needs of women (Draft Gender Policy, at 4).

The draft Gender Policy outlines the Justice Department's plan for reforming of laws, changing the way the courts operate, improving access to justice, facilitating community outreach, training in gender sensitivity, and increasing the representation of women at all levels.

The Women's Convention is relied upon throughout the policy. At the outset, the Department of Justice notes that South Africa has ratified CEDAW without qualification, and the Convention is listed as one of the primary "guiding principles" that is to inform the transformation of the South African legal system.

Specific Convention articles are also drawn upon in the formulation of goals and strategies. For example, the policy takes its guidance from CEDAW article 11, on equality in employment, to propose the following: the implementation of an affirmative action policy; the requirement that hiring panels be composed of at least 40% women; setting a target of 30% female employment in management by 1999; the provision of gender sensitivity training at all department levels; and the formulation of a sexual harassment policy. Similarly, when the policy considers the revision of family law, CEDAW articles 2 and 16 provide the framework. The policy also recommends that the South African Law Commission should "draw on the provisions of CEDAW when investigating and making recommendations regarding the harmonisation of common law and indigenous law".

The women's NGOs who presented a shadow report to the CEDAW Committee in July 1998 identified the Department of Justice's Draft Gender Policy as one of the most positive recent developments in South African law.