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International Women’s day – a great time for South Africa to “step it up for gender equality” and advance the UN 2030 Agenda

8 March 2016 - Anna Moller-Loswick, Tamara Naidoo, Richard Smith , Molly Dhlamini, Showers Mawowa

Accelerating the United Nations (UN) 2030 Agenda, the new global development framework, is the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day on 8 March. This is welcome as the 2030 Agenda’s dedicated goals on gender equality and on peace, governance and justice provide an important tool to advance the gender, peace and security agenda within South Africa and through its international peacebuilding efforts.

South Africa has championed gender equality domestically and internationally and great advances have been made to increase women’s political participation and mainstream gender into the peace and security sector. Yet more can still be done to translate these achievements into peace gains for women on the ground in South Africa or in the greater continent. For example, the levels of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) remain disturbingly high with a female homicide rate six times the global average.

South Africans continue to benefit from the legacy of the women’s movement in post-Apartheid South Africa. Colonialism and apartheid saw women, particularly black women in South Africa, going through a triple oppression – race, class and gender – which perpetuated their socio-economic exclusion and vulnerability to violence. This propelled women to resist racial oppression but also to fight for women’s rights. The Women’s National Coalition (WNC), Women's Defence of the Constitution League, and women within the African National Congress (ANC) among others helped South Africans to form a progressive constitution that protects all women in the country.

The significant role of the women’s movement in the post-apartheid transition to democracy has made gender equality and empowerment of women a priority for the South African Government. Women’s representation in politics and the peace and security sector has increased and several progressive laws and policies protecting women’s rights have been adopted. In addition, South Africa has signed up to a range of relevant international policy frameworks related to gender, peace and security and is in the process of developing a National Action Plan (NAP) for implementing the UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 which seeks to mainstream gender into the security sector.

However, in spite of these gains, a number of obstacles to gender equality remain. One is the mismatch between the high number of women in the military and police sectors and policies and programmes on SGBV, and the actual security of women in the country as a whole. Sexual assault and female homicide remain remarkably high with 56,272 cases of rape reported between 2010 and 2011. Although SGBV figures in South Africa are disputed, the figures are especially disturbing in light of the fact that these crimes are always under-reported.

In addition, the patriarchal culture in the military and police remains a challenge, with men in the military often displaying negative attitudes towards women and with male peacekeepers and policing staff being implicated in sexual exploitation and abuse. Thus, South Africa’s domestic gender dynamics impact on its international engagement on peace and security. This is particularly significant as South Africa is a formidable actor in peace and security on the African continent.

The 2030 Agenda provides a global commitment to gender, peace and security and offers a comprehensive vision of conflict prevention. It also recognises women as key stakeholders in this quest and includes provisions to empower women and realise their rights in times of both peace and conflict. Indeed, evidence has demonstrated that conflict and gender inequality tend to be mutually reinforcing. Conflict can exacerbate gender inequality – for example, increases in gender-based violence and women’s double burden of productive and reproductive labour are seen during armed conflict. At the same time, patriarchal gender norms which lie at the heart of gender inequality can fuel violence and insecurity, particularly when militarised notions of masculinity are prevalent. Given the nexus between peace, security and development, a focus on peace, security and justice (under Goal 16), together with a focus on gender equality (under Goal 5), should mobilise civil society and government to take action on the gendered nature of conflict and insecurity and mainstream gender into peace and security interventions.

The 2030 Agenda also complements South Africa’s commitment to implement UNSCR 1325 by designing a National Action Plan (NAP). The 2030 Agenda should help strengthen the NAP, as well as advance the gender, peace and security agenda and address SGBV in South Africa. It is commendable that the South African government has begun designing a NAP and civil society should engage more with this process.

The global development agenda and the NAP offer an opportunity to civil society and government to find new ways of working together. Realising this opportunity will require the forging of cooperative partnerships that could turn the good intentions of policy into collaborative practice that makes tangible, material differences to the lives of both women and men.

Anna Moller-Loswick is Policy Officer, Saferworld. Tamara Naidoo, Richard Smith and Molly Dhlamini are with the Southern African Liaison Office (SALO) based in Pretoria, Dr Mawowa is with SALO and the University of Pretoria (UP).

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The 2030 Agenda provides a global commitment to gender, peace and security and offers a comprehensive vision of conflict prevention. It also recognises women as key stakeholders in this quest and includes provisions to empower women and realise their rights in times of both peace and conflict.

Anna Moller-Loswick