Issued by the FW de Klerk Foundation on 21/08/2023


As we continue to commemorate Women’s Month and the ongoing journey towards gender equality, South Africa is making great strides through two transformative legislative initiatives: the Divorce Act Amendment Bill and the Draft Marriages Act. Both Bills not only uphold the constitutional imperative of equality, but also signal a profound shift in the legal landscape, fostering a new era of empowerment for women across the spectrum of law.

Divorce Act Amendment Bill: From Exclusion to Empowerment

On 10 August 2023, Parliament approved the Divorce Act Amendment Bill. The Bill seeks to bridge a longstanding gap by extending legal recognition and protection to all marriages that were previously excluded from the ambit of South African family law.

It will amend the 1997 Divorce Act to recognise and regulate Muslim marriages – a pivotal step towards inclusivity. By explicitly addressing religious rights and cultural practices, this Bill aligns with the constitutional provisions that safeguard religious freedom and protect against discrimination.

Beyond rectifying this historical oversight, the Divorce Act Amendment Bill also introduces mechanisms for safeguarding the welfare of minor or dependent children born of these marriages. Furthermore, the Bill endeavours to establish provisions for the equitable redistribution of assets in cases of divorce, ensuring a fair and just outcome for women and their dependents. This pivotal legislation underscores South Africa’s commitment to advancing gender equality by providing a comprehensive legal framework that guarantees women’s rights and dignity.

Draft Marriages Act: A Unified Vision of Equality 

Similarly, the Draft Marriages Act, introduced on 7 July 2023, echoes the nation’s commitment to fostering an inclusive and equitable society. This transformative proposal seeks to harmonise and modernise the legal landscape by consolidating the existing laws governing marriage. The draft Bill is a resounding affirmation of South Africa’s dedication to achieving gender equality, transcending gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs and cultural practices.

The Draft Marriages Act envisions a unified and contemporary Marriage Act, embracing a gender-neutral approach that empowers women to assert their rights within all forms of intimate partnerships. Furthermore, this legislation paves the way for the recognition and protection of LGBTQIA+ unions, aligning with constitutional provisions that enshrine the right to equality and freedom from discrimination.

Embracing Global Gender Parity: A Timely Reminder

The 2023 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report paints a sobering picture of the challenges that persist. Despite commendable efforts, progress towards gender parity remains slow, with the world gender gap improving by only 4.1% between 2006 and 2023. This report estimates that achieving 100% global gender parity could take as long as 131 years. Notwithstanding the high importance and priority placed by the ANC government on gender equality, the lived realities of South African women often deviate from these aspirational goals. This divergence is particularly evident among those who must navigate entrenched traditional gender hierarchies and grapple with disturbingly high levels of rape and gender based violence. The context of the draft Divorce Act Amendment Bill and the Draft Marriages Act underscores the urgency of legislative action to deal with these challenges and propel South Africa towards a future of genuine gender equity. 

This Women’s Month, let us unite in acknowledging that true gender equality is not just a national aspiration but an enduring global pursuit, a mission shared by South Africa and the world at large. 

You can track the Divorce Act Amendment Bill here, and comment on the Draft Marriages Act 2022 here.