Durban - South Africa has made great strides towards the emancipation of women, and recognising their key role in society, President Jacob Zuma said during the main national Woman’s Day event, in KwaZulu-Natal, on Saturday.
But he warned that more needed to be done to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals which, among other things, push for the promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women.
Zuma said it was imperative that laws governing equality in the workplace were tightened.
The passing of the Employment Equity Act 16 years ago, and now the promulgation of the Employment Equity Amendment Act on August 1, marked a turning point in the country’s history in terms of opening up opportunities.
“We had to amend the Employment Equity Act because, in spite of all the efforts, remnants of unfair discrimination still persist in the labour market,” he said.
Women at work still experienced discriminatory practices based on gender, including pay inequality, sexual harassment, and discrimination against pregnant women workers.
“One of the key achievements for women through the Employment Equity Act amendment is the new provision calling for equal pay for work of equal value. Unequal pay based on gender and other listed grounds in the constitution and the Act is unfair discrimination, and is illegal,” said Zuma.
He listed as another achievement that the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) had now been given more power to not only resolve unfair discrimination matters, but to arbitrate on them as well.
“This is a gain for workers, in particular women. Another positive development in this law is that all sexual harassment cases, irrespective of the level of pay, can now also be lodged with the CCMA for arbitration,” he said.
Zuma also boasted of the level of women representation in the National Assembly, saying it had increased from just 2.7 percent pre-1994 to the current 41 percent.
“We are also moving closer to our target of having more women in cabinet and the national executive as a whole. We have 20 men and 15 women ministers, as well as 20 men and 17 women deputy ministers as of May this year,” he said.
In 1994, the judiciary included two white women, but there were now 61 women judges, 48 of them black women.
South Africa also had women pilots and in senior positions in the military and the police., he said.