Minister Bathabile Dlamini Picture: Ntswe Mokoena/GCIS
In March this year, together with the world, South Africa observed International Women’s Day under the global theme Press Forward in Uniting Women’s Movements Globally Towards Gender Parity. This clarion call to #PressForChange is a universal challenge for the collective assertion of women’s basic rights to exist equally to their male counterparts.

More specifically, and led by the United Nations, the focus for 2018 gender equality discourse follows under the theme: Time is Now: Rural and Urban Activists Transforming Women’s Lives. This draws attention to the rights and activism of rural women who, despite encompassing over a quarter of the world’s population, are nonetheless left behind in the majority of development processes. It also highlights the urgent need to unite voices across rural and urban landscapes in the quest towards gender equality.

It is also on this theme that UN member states, including South Africa, converged for the 2018 Commission on the Status of Women, or #CSW2018. The annual gathering afforded all participants the opportunity to discuss progress and analyze gaps in the implementation of key policy documents on gender equality. The CSW is also a platform on which we can deliberate and agree on further action to accelerate the transformation of global and local gender relations -and power positions therein.

Ours as the Department of Women is to prioritize this theme in the conceptualization and implementation of our mandate of mainstreaming the socio-economic empowerment of women across all sectors of society, and in all dominant public discourse. While participating in transnational forums such as CSW2018 is an integral aspect of our work, the primary agent informing our contribution remains the advancement of the status of women in South Africa.

Two main factors are central to our quest: (1) traditionally gendered social norms and beliefs, and their impact on the differential political, social and economic circumstances of women and men; and (2) the institutions that systematically maintain and reproduce the status quo. The continual reinforcement of gendered inequalities by both factors perpetuates the subordination of women and promotes a conducive environment for patriarchy to thrive. “Pressing forward for change” requires transforming individual and group mindsets, as well as the systematic hierarchies that sustain gendered power imbalances.

A sustained and transformational response to these two main challenges depends on a strong women’s movement, united across all sectors of society. This includes the State and its entities, political formations, civil society organizations, the private sector, community-based organizations, academic institutions and individuals. 

It is the culmination of our separate-yet-common efforts that will unite the national women’s movement, which in turn will strengthen our national contribution in global gender discourse. As stated by the Minister of Planning Monitoring and Evaluation, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma at the ANC International Women’s Day Workshop on 8 March, “the group is as powerful as the will of the individuals”.

As the department located in the Presidency for the purpose of representing women’s policy concerns, our contribution to the national and global women’s movement is primarily through the reform of legislation and public policy. Importantly, recognizing that it is through the fiscus that the state advances its legislative, policy, and programmatic agenda, we are developing a framework with which to ensure that such reform delivers the socio-economic emancipation of women. Once finalized, the framework will compel each state institution to ‘gender’ their annual budgets by determining how much of its available funds will be utilized for the socio-economic empowerment of women.

The idea of gender budgeting, which is a central feature of the 1995 Beijing Platform of Action, denotes the “use of fiscal policy and fiscal administration to advance gender equality and women’s development.” The rationale is that availing adequate funds for women in the fiscus has the potential to radically accelerate women’s economic empowerment.

The notion of gender budgeting, however, does not limit itself to state institutions. In addition to being a transformational policy tool, it is also an imperative ethos for all sectors of society. To united women’s voices, it is critical for all members of the women’s movement to advocate for the insertion of a gendered discourse into their institutional and individual budgetary plans.

It thus becomes an imperative duty for all concerned with gender imbalances to ask ourselves how changes in the GDP and the growth of the national economy benefit women specifically. In all major areas of economic growth - be it land, natural resources, the oceans, construction and infrastructure, and others – the question we should ask ourselves is how women and men are differently positioned to benefit.

Towards this, our participation in global platforms like the CSW2018 allows us -together with civil society, the private sector and other groups- to draw on intra- and international experiences in our national determinations of gender budgeting. Platforms such as the CSW2018 and other multi-national gatherings are an opportune environment to share ideas and learn from global experiences - from those within the continent like Nigeria and Uganda, and those outside, from the Latin Americans to the Eastern Europeans.

And as we collectively clamour towards gender transformation here in South Africa, the interconnectedness of global gender movements present meaningful opportunities for us to not only learn but to also strengthen our course towards a gender equal world. Moreover, international financial institutions are periodically producing updated research results on the impact of gender budgeting on the status of women. Through such output is we can comparatively measure and track the correlation between focused resource allocation on women across local, provincial and national state institutions.

It is our responsibility to learn from and share our own practical experiences, successes, and challenges in conceptualizing gender budgeting. When we form alliances and networks between state institutions and women’s movement actors locally, nationally and internationally, the outcomes are likely to lead to success. Indeed, the #TimeIsNow to #PressforChange and ensure women’s radical access to economic, social and psychological emancipation – in rural and urban landscapes.

* Bathabile Dlamini is the Minister in the Presidency Responsible for Women.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.