South Africa has made considerable strides in gender equality and disability. India still has to catch up

Here is a thought for our parliamentarians. As the Women's Representation Bill gathers dust in India, the South African Government is in the process of finalising consultations on its women empowerment and gender equality policy in preparation for the Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill. Consider this in the backdrop of the fact that in India we had tabled a historic report in Parliament called ‘Towards Equality', way back in 1974.

Presenting her department's Budget Vote recently in South Africa, Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities, Lulu Xingwana told Parliament, "Consistent with the directive of the President in his State of the Nation address, we intend to table the policy and the draft Bill before cabinet this year." The draft Bill is aimed at enforcing compliance in both government and the private sector.

In the same vein her deputy, Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu (MP) spoke in support of children and people with disabilities. Ms Xingwana had earlier even challenged police officials and those working within the justice system to take part in disability programmes to help increase the conviction rate of people abusing those with disabilities.

Consider the following facts. South Africa which abolished apartheid in 1994 currently has 173 of 400 or 43 per cent women MPs. India in its lower house has just 56 and in session after session the Women's Reservation Bill fails to get passed. It is now a recorded fact that 30 per cent of South African parliamentarians are women, which puts South Africa at number eight in the world in terms of gender equality in government. The country leapt quickly from a position of 141 in the world before the 1994 elections to number eight, when the African National Congress adopted a 30 per cent quota on its party list.

The country can also boast that nine of its 27 cabinet ministers and eight of its 14 deputy ministers are women. Both the Speaker of the National Assembly and the Chairman of the National Council of Provinces are women. South Africa is one of only three African countries to have women presiding officers in Parliament.

Even as the South African economy is tottering, its push for gender equity is indeed worth noting. Women constitute 52 per cent of the population, 30 per cent of the central cabinet and 37 .6 per cent of management and professional jobs.

I met state minister Ms Zulu, who is blind, at a book launch on the disabled in Cape Town. During the book release, “Lifelines”, where over 50 per cent of the crowd comprised women, they spoke frankly about their lives. There were stories of courage, grit, determination by mostly black Africans who had overcome their disability or fought till the bitter end. “I believe telling my story helps to raise awareness and to show others that disabled people are just the same as anybody else. We go through the same traumas, have the same problems and we also get angry and upset. Telling my story is also a way to show that everyone is capable. We have the abilities and can develop skills just like everybody can,” said the minister.

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