2017 marks the 26th year of this 16-day Campaign, which hardly needs an introduction. The Campaign culminates on International Human Rights Day, which falls on 10 December annually. The 16 Days is directed at raising global awareness about the plight of women and girls when it comes to violence. This group is already marginalised in the classroom, in the boardroom, in private spaces, and in addition, must also fear for their bodily and mental integrity.
The struggle for women to live their daily lives whilst feeling safe has never been highlighted more than it was this year. One only has to consider the plethora of sexual harassment and abuse allegations levelled at high profile individuals, both domestically and internationally, to understand the severity of the problem. There is a wealth of information on the effects of this Campaign. The golden thread that runs through the criticism of it, however, is that the effects are not sustained. For 16 days the world wears orange, takes to social media in solidarity, but thereafter, the problem is arguably benched.
October 11 is commemorated annually the world over to shine the spotlight on issues of gender inequality facing young girls, as well as their access to human rights. The Day was first commemorated in 2012 and finds its origins in the United Nations (UN), which noted the need to highlight discrimination against girls. According to the UN, there are over one billion girls in the world. This commemoration provides an opportunity for society and organisations to raise awareness about the challenges faced by girls based simply on their gender. This year’s theme is “EmPOWER girls: Before, during and after conflict”.
On 26 September 2017, the Pretoria High Court (the Court) brought great relief to an elderly woman facing eviction by her brother from the house she had been living in and maintaining for over 32 years.
The Mantshabelle Mary Rahube v Hendsrine Rahube matter (Rahube) raised the constitutionality of section 2(1) of the Upgrading of Land Tenure Rights Act of 1991 (the Upgrading Act). The Upgrading Act provides for the upgrading and conversion of certain rights to property (afforded under apartheid) to ownership. The Court agreed with the applicant (Mrs Rahube) that despite its well-intended purpose, section 2(1) of the Upgrading Act, which automatically converts land tenure rights to ownership without any notification to occupants and other affected parties, is unconstitutional. The Court held it violates the constitutional right to equality by perpetuating discrimination based on gender and access to Courts by failing to provide a legal mechanism to dispute the entitlement.
The Constitutional Court confirmed in Laubscher N.O. v Duplan and Another, the constitutionally enshrined right to equality and freedom from unfair discrimination on grounds such as gender and sexual orientation. The matter concerned the right of a permanent same-sex life partner to inherit intestate from the deceased’s estate. It sheds light on the rights of unmarried same-sex partners in a permanent same-sex partnership in which reciprocal duties of support have been undertaken.
The point of contention is whether the applicant, Dr Laubscher, the deceased’s brother, or the respondent, Mr Duplan, the deceased’s permanent same-sex partner, is entitled to inherit from the intestate estate of the deceased. The Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) was granted access as a friend of the court as part of its mandate to promote respect for gender equality.
The facts briefly are that the respondent and the deceased neither solemnised nor registered their partnership in terms of the Civil Unions Act (CUA). At the passing of the deceased, no children had been adopted to whom his estate could pass. In the High Court, the respondent relied on Gory v Kolver NO, previously heard by the Constitutional Court prior to the enactment of the CUA in 2006. In that case, section 1(1) of the Intestate Succession Act (ISA) was declared unconstitutional because it did not permit individuals in same-sex permanent partnerships to inherit intestate. To remedy this constitutional defect, the Constitutional Court read in the words “or partner in a permanent same-sex life partnership in which the partners have undertaken reciprocal duties of support” after each appearance of the term “spouse”. This ensured that permanent same-sex life partners were protected. Based on the above, the respondent argued that regardless of the absence of legal formalities in terms of the CUA, he was entitled to inherit intestate from the deceased’s estate.
It is vital that all citizens participate in the election of their representatives to guarantee government by the people under the Constitution – not only in Parliament but also in crucial institutions, such as the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE). The CGE is currently in the process of filling several vacancies and in the interests of public participation and representative democracy, the Centre for Constitutional Rights (the CFCR) will provide the public with more information about the CGE, the selection process and the prospective candidates.
Public participation in the appointment process of CGE candidates gives effect to the notion of representative democracy, a cornerstone of the Constitution, which ensures that members of the public are given the opportunity to take part in decisions that affect them. This further gives substance to the principle of accountability. In the Constitutional Court case of Doctors for Life International v Speaker of the National Assembly and Others the Court emphasised that “participation by the public on a continuous basis provides vitality to the functioning of a representative democracy…It encourages citizens of a country to be actively involved in public affairs, identify themselves with the institutions of government and become familiar with the laws that are made.”
The uThukela District Municipality (the Municipality) in KwaZulu-Natal Province has established a “Maidens Bursary” to fund higher education for young women. That is laudable. But, that is not all. Sixteen young women who are the beneficiaries of the scholarship, are reportedly examined regularly to ascertain their virginity. The bursary is conditioned upon their remaining virgins. This, happening in 2016, in a supposedly constitutional democracy.
Today, October 15, is the International Day of Rural Women as set by the United Nations. The day seeks to recognise the role of rural women in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty. Indications, however, are that South Africa is far from this ideal.
Rural women live in areas falling under traditional authorities, with most of them living on communal land. According to the former Department of Land Affairs some 21.5 million people lived in communal areas as at 2008. Census figures state that 58.9% of individuals living in such areas are female.