Socio-Economic Rights for All
There are still persistent patriarchal attitudes and practices that negatively impact the socio-economic empowerment of women. This came to light when when the Department of Women briefed Parliament on the country’s Fifth Periodic Report on the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The report provides an overview of the problems facing women and the effectiveness of laws, policies and programs implemented by the government to address these challenges.
The report acknowledges that levels of maternal mortality remain high, a key challenge for the health sector. Various factors contribute to this challenge. These range from the uneven quality of public healthcare service delivery, inadequate health infrastructure, inadequate human resources for health, delayed health seeking behavior by women, violence against women and girls including high levels domestic violence and rape; substance abuse, lack of accountability by professionals and a high burden of disease particularly HIV and AIDS.
The lack of adequate access to economic opportunities and finances for women remains an ongoing concern. Women are still paid lower than their male counterparts. Further, the Department conceded that there is inadequate monitoring and implementation of legislation concerning women’s rights – there were still problems with land and property ownership in relation to inheritance, and there was a lack of gender – disaggregated data.
Despite this, there were some positives on women’s empowerment and gender equality in the areas of political and decision – making positions, provision of basic services, inclusion in economic activities, poverty reduction, gender based violence and prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV and AIDS. Human trafficking was addressed through enactment of legislation. Along the same line legislative amendment, the Employment Equity act was amended to incorporate the concept of equal work equal pay which protect women from desperate wages.
The National Task Team had addressed gender – based and sexual orientation – based violence perpetrated on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) and developed a strategy to address corrective rape, an issue which had become an increasing concern in South Africa. A program called Kha Ri Gude (Tshivenda for ‘let us learn’) had been implemented to improve particularly the literacy of women who lived in rural areas.
MPs complained that what was presented and what was actually being done on the ground were often very different, and that Parliament should ensure that implementation of plans and polices was actually happening. They also raised secondary victimisation of women who tried to open cases of sexual violence at police stations.
The Portfolio Committee on Labour invited the Departments of Home Affairs and Labour to brief it on work permits granted to foreign nationals, particularly those working on farms. This follows the Committee’s visit to farms in Mpumalanga where it found many foreign nationals working in appalling conditions with expired work permits.
The Committee called on the departments to attend to the exploitation of foreign nationals. The Chairperson said that “locals would never work in those conditions. They know their rights and they can easily run to trade unions for protection, but the foreign nationals do not have that”. The Department of Labour agreed there is a need to protect every worker, whether illegal or not. Every worker is supposed to enjoy all the rights provided for in the Constitution.
Being illegal did not reduce their rights. In some instances the foreign workers were not employed by the farm owners. They were recruited by labour brokers and loaned to farms and transported from one farm to another. The problem was dealing with employers who provided substandard work conditions. The migrants were deported, so when the case went to court, there were no witnesses so magistrates tended to dismiss the case and the farmers got off scot free. South Africa’s justice system could drag on for a long time and one of the solutions suggested was the establishment of special courts. There were ongoing discussions around this.
MPs asked what monitoring took place when work permits had expired. During the oversight visit, foreign workers told the Committee that they struggled to extend their permits of get permission to extend their employment. As a result, some of them were on the farms for more than 20 years. The Department of Home Affairs stated that it did conduct raids; however there were only 800 or so inspectors nationally, to do all the inspections and follow ups on visas that had expired. To make matters worse, it was difficult to catch any wrongdoing even when raids were unannounced as farmers communicated with one another and, there was only an impact on the first farm.
MPs probed why farm owners hired foreigners instead of South Africans as farm labour was not a scarce skill. The departments replied that if there is motivation from DoL, DHA is allowed to process work permits for foreign nationals, even if it is for general work purposes. A DHA official said a survey of farms close to the border found that South Africans are not interested in farm work.
DoL senior official refuted this and said this was the perception that continued to be propagated by farm owners. There was no official research that confirmed this. If one had to ask a South African why they did not want to work on a farm, they would say the conditions were bad. There was nothing wrong with farm work, the only problem was the treatment of workers. This perception that South Africans did not want to work was what some farmers were using as an excuse. At the end of the meeting, the Department of Home Affairs committed to inspecting the farms and reporting to Parliament within three months.