Despite progressive legislation, gender inequality and abuse remain challenges. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/ African News Agency (ANA)
Cape Town - Although South Africa has the most progressive legislation in the world, gender inequality, women abuse and societal attitudes remain challenges.

Ahead of Women’s Day on Thursday, several gender activists and experts spoke out on the uphill battle still ahead while acknowledging that some progress had been made.

Tina Thiart, chairperson of feminist organisation Women’sNet, said legislation alone did not have the desired effect.

“We have jail sentences for assault, but this does not stop perpetrators. We have equal pay for equal work and still women earn less than men in some careers. We have incentives for companies to appoint women in leadership positions and still only 29% of senior roles in South African businesses are filled by women. So no, enough is not being done.”

Stellenbosch University (SU) Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology’s Karen Graaff said that while South Africa had “progressive legislation with regards to gender-based violence” and similar issues, implementation of these laws must still be worked on to solve the issues still affecting gender equality.

Asked who held the power to make these changes, Thiart added: “I really believe it is the responsibility of every South African. To have a true productive and happy society we need to advance the rights of women and girls.

“In addition our schools need to have non-sexist subjects and classes and encourage girls to engage with all subjects. The media is also responsible to support and profile women as equal to men and in leading positions.”

According to Elisabet le Roux, research director at the Unit for Religion and Development Research at SU, a lot of lip service was paid to gender equality but there was no real prioritising for changes through the state budget to bring about gender equality.

“Not enough resources are allocated to caring for survivors and the implementation of laws that protect women and survivors (of violence or sexual crimes). We see MPs and ministers acting in ways detrimental to women’s equality; how many examples of that did we have in the last year?

“With gender inequality, we are not nearly where we want it to be. We need to look at resource allocations and what government are spending their money on. Structural issues that sustain gender equality and patriarchy need to be addressed,” said Le Roux.

Le Roux said a positive aspect in striving for gender equality, was increasingly seeing women being vocal in reacting to unequal treatment in their interpersonal relationship and the public space through whistle blowing.

SU Business School associate Anita Bosch agreed with Le Roux and said women were much more aware of their rights and more confident in asserting their place in the workplace.

“Women, especially young black women at university, are more vocal and aware of their rights. In South Africa we have more woman-headed households than households headed by men.

“Women are prepared to take up any type of work, and when they become economically slightly stronger than men, we see manifestation of gender violence. We have made massive strides, but many women are not yet able to see a bit of that, and are not able to take up their lives as equals to men,” said Le Roux.

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Cape Argus