Minister Susan Shabangu to highlight empowerment of women

Saturday, August 9, 2014

By Gabi Khumalo

It’s been two months since she took over the newly formed Ministry of Women in the Presidency, and Minister Susan Shabangu seems to be taking to it, like a fish to water.

SAnews caught up with the minister to find out what plans she has in store for the country’s women.

It’s a busy day for her. The office boardroom is a hive of activity, but Minister Shabangu appears unfazed, and in her cool and calm manner, examines her make up. She has just been in another interview before me, and wants to make sure she is ready and primed for this one.

With Women’s Day around the corner, the ministry is busier than ever. As she sits down for our interview, we begin by asking her about her two months experience in office.

“What excites me is that it’s a portfolio which is cross cutting. It doesn’t just deal with government but it also cuts through society as a whole, especially in South Africa. It’s also about repositioning women within the various sectors of our society. It doesn’t limit you to a particular space but allows you to look beyond what you have, and that’s what makes me very excited,” she says.

Minister Shabangu is aware that she’s leading a ministry that has to deal with complex issues affecting women in South Africa. At times she’s likely to make unpopular decisions that might not be accepted by all. This does not bother her though.

“If you are a leader, you sometimes have to make unpopular decisions to make sure that things do happen. You have to make sure you do the right thing and sometimes, change and some decisions are not easy to accept.”

Economic empowerment for women and putting in place programmes to help them grow socially are some of the issues close to Minister Shabangu’s heart.

The former Mineral Resources Minister believes that if society empowers women economically, South Africa would be one step ahead in tackling some of the social challenges facing women.

She emphasises the importance of ensuring that women become empowered as job generators and maintain themselves instead of depending on others in society.

Partnership to empower women

“We are going to work with private partners to ensure that they can mainstream and create programmes which will allow women to position themselves in society. We are also going to look at training women, in various programmes and in five years-time we need to come back as a country and measure.”

Minister Shabangu acknowledges that in order to empower women, there is a need to create opportunities and give women tools that will ensure they are represented in all sectors of society. She makes an example of the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform’s policy proposals on “Strengthening the Relative Rights of People Working the Land”.

The Department of Women will submit inputs that will ensure that women working on farms, those that reside in farms and women married to farmworkers benefit from the process.

“These are the tools which will allow women to be able to take their rightful place in the economy. Because of the environment women are exposed to, most of them tend to think that they are secondary or number two [and] if they can understand that it’s them first and the rest comes after, we can deal with social issues affecting women,” she says.

Gender Responsive Budgeting

Gender Responsive Budgeting (GRB) is one of the enabling tools to the mainstreaming of gender. Minister Shabangu stresses that a radical change is needed to ensure that all parties in the public and private sectors, including NGOs, implement GRB in all their planning, programmes, budgeting and expenditure processes.

Government budgets need to be aligned to reflect the needs of women.

“All departments should be able to mainstream their gender based budgets. Ours is to set up mechanism in terms of monitoring and evaluation to measure whether the departments are able to implement.”

Minister Shabangu also welcomes the re-opening of the land claims process noting that the ministry will monitor how women benefit from it.

On the issue of gender based violence, Minister Shabangu acknowledges it is a societal challenge that needs to be addressed.

She adds that awareness programmes are needed as well as partnerships between men and women “but also the whole issue of socialisation of our children needs attention.”

“It’s about engaging with various stakeholders to participate in addressing this and come up with solutions.  We will be reviewing the status, role, location and sustainability of the National Council Against Gender-Based Violence so as to strengthen efforts towards the elimination of gender-based violence in society.”

On the Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill, the department has committed to finalise the consultation process on the bill during the first quarter of next year.

Minister Shabangu explains that the bill was tagged as Section 76 and went through the National Assembly processes, where it was approved and referred for concurrence to the NCOP.

“Further amendments were made by the NCOP, however, due to the rise of parliament for the end of the forth administration, it lapsed. We therefore intend to further consult and review this Bill.”

Young women to get attention

Young women will also get the attention as Minister Shabangu observes that after entering the  education space, no one knows what happens to young women later in life.

“When we look at our system, they enter the education space. We have a responsibility to find out what causes the girl child to drop in the process of achieving her objectives. 

“I’m happy that within the science fraternity, there are various women in science faculties, who are there trying to break the ceiling. We have women in nuclear and now we have women judges who have come together as a formation, those are the kinds of formations which are very keen because they become supporting groups.

“We will look at various areas where we would need support groupings because we need women to come together to identify common challenges and be able to deal with those issues. It’s about tapping and looking at these areas and what is being done by these various women and identify the issues which are obstacles.”

More than R63 million of the department’s budget for this financial year will be allocated to the Commission for Gender Equality.

The department will by the end of this month undertake its first strategic planning session as the Department of Women in the Presidency to develop a five year strategic plan. –