SOUTH African women should make use of constitutional and other mechanisms which exist to address issues of unemployment, domestic and sexual violence, and poverty, the public protector, Advocate Thuli Madonsela, said yesterday.
Madonsela was speaking to delegates who attended a Democratic Alliance Women’s Network (Dawn) provincial rally at the Pieter Rademeyer Hall in Algoa Park, Port Elizabeth.
Madonsela said while great strides had been made in gender equality since 1994, the government still had a lot to do to assist the many women who were still battling to rise above issues like poverty.
"According to the National Planning Commission, South Africa is one of the most unequal countries in the world. While poverty levels have improved, the gap between the rich and poor has increased.
"Nineteen years into democracy women, particularly black women, remain the poorest,” she said.
Madonsela said the National Planning Commission also found that female-headed households were most likely to be affected by poverty while children from those households were the most likely to go hungry.
The majority of the unemployed were women between the ages of 15 and 34.
Madonsela said there was pressure on girl-children to head up households that had lost parents due to HIV/Aids and also pressure on grandmothers to take care of children who had lost parents to HIV/Aids. She said children from these households were unlikely to break free from poverty.
"Many of these girl-children run the risk of contracting the virus themselves as they sleep with older men in exchange for money and food.
"According to the Institute of Race Relations, of the 11% of the population that have HIV/Aids, 53% are women. The burden of HIV/Aids is being carried by young women between the ages of 15 and 49.” She said while gender equality had improved in the workplace, especially in the public sector, women still lagged behind men when it came to leadership positions in the private sector. "Only 5.3% of women hold chairmanships while 15.8% hold directorships. There are only 35% in senior managerial positions.”
She said rape and sexual and domestic violence were also still a huge issue, with thousands of cases reported each year. Many cases resulted in the perpetrators walking free because the justice system often failed the victims.
Madonsela said these women should make use of various mechanisms, such as the courts and oversight bodies like the public protector, to hold government accountable and put an end to maladministration.
Juanita Douglas, a resident of Ward 49 in Uitenhage, said she had been begging the municipality to rectify her defective RDP home for years, without success. She said she had also written about her problem to the public protector’s office.
Madonsela commended Douglas and domestic abuse survivor Avril Gordon for being brave enough to talk about their plights.
"There must be consequences for those who commit acts of violence against women, and it is because of maladministration and corruption that we are not where we should be after 19 years of democracy,” Madonsela said.
Dawn provincial chairwoman Celeste Barker said Madonsela was a good example of a South African woman who was strong, independent and not swayed by politicians.
She said the organisation would support Douglas and would continue to support Gordon in her legal case against her husband.