Programme Director, it is my special honour to officially open this very important engagement by the Administration of Parliament, that is spearheaded by the Women and Gender Rights Forum (WGRF).

We must cherish the establishment of the WGRF, as it marks a new dimension in Parliament’s efforts, evolution, and transformation into a truly activist people’s Parliament that does everything in its power to help build our dream society. A society envisaged in our constitution. A prosperous, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist South Africa, where all people, particularly women and children, enjoy a great quality of life.

International and national records show that the Gender-Based Violence, declared by the President as a Pandemic in 2019, is least reported to law enforcement agencies. About 10% to 25% of cases of abuse, rape, etc. gets reported, which means as we are gathered here today, probably about 75% to 90% of us is harbouring the hurt, the pain and the trauma of various forms of women abuse.

The IPU – APU (African Parliamentary Union) study on sexism and sexual harassment in our Parliaments in Africa revealed a sad pervasive “Terrible Reality” which the President of IPU calls the “Insidious Epidemic”, as 80% of women had experienced one form of sexism and sexual harassment or another in over 50 countries surveyed, a scenario that warrants an emergency intervention. We participated in this study and through ongoing networking and building of strategic partnerships, we will succeed.   

To break the cycle of this scourge effectively and sustainably, we need a 360-degree intervention using anti-sexual harassment toolkits provided by the IPU, on a 365-day cycle, covering every family, every community and every society. As the theme for the Campaign says: “The Year of Charlotte Mannya-Maxeke: 16 Days of Activism – moving from awareness to accountability”, we must find workable and pragmatic solutions which we can apply in our families, our work-spaces, our units, our divisions and our Parliament to register the desired results.

Parliament is the country’s premier institution for meaningful democratic representation of all the people of South Africa in their diversity, like no other state organ. By inference, it has to be at the forefront of living the promise of a responsive Parliament to people’s needs and aspirations. When 55 000 women get raped or sexually molested every year unabatedly, when thousands of women and children get murdered yearly with negligibly small conviction rates, when women are subjected to dehumanising sexual harassment in their workplaces when the root causes of patriarchal – cultural and economic drivers of the scourge remain unchanged, we must be extremely concerned.

It’s common knowledge that many historical inequalities were exposed by the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, resulting in worsened women and child abuse, worsening inequality and poverty, women were forced to hold the sharp double-edged sword side of the deal, at great cost. This must change. What does it mean in our context as Parliament?

This means we must multiply our efforts to build what the International Labour Organisation (ILO) calls an environment that is characterised by “freedom, equity, security and human rights” in all workplaces. This responsibility is in the hands of everyone one of us and must sharpen efforts to hold managers and leaders accountable, as the CEDAW pledge implored us.

Indeed Parliament has made good progress in many respects, yet a lot more is required to build an institution that becomes a catalyst in the transformation and development of our society:

We have made good progress in women representation in the Administration, with female officials constituting 54%, we need to up our game to realise a 50:50 gender equality at the middle and executive management levels, where women occupy 43% and 38% positions respectively.

The institution’s anti-sexual harassment policy is in place, and all of us must use it, end silence knowing that the administration has sharp teeth, with one official being dismissed after being found guilty of sexual harassment.

We have adopted equitable recruitment or affirmative recruitment system for all positions from D1 upwards by declaring our targeted women applicants going forward. We have directed the disaggregation of planning evidence, performance indicator identification and target setting, as well as tracking and reporting on mainstreaming efforts across the institution.

Institutional gender equality promotion efforts have a series of “entry points” (as directed by the ILO) we have identified, where a deliberate bias must be in favour of women, such as the succession planning system adopted, the graduate development programme which has 74% of its 35 graduate intake being women, the middle management development programme, the women in our leadership development programme with 32 women from bands C and D benefiting as part of their preparation for higher managerial roles, as well as the executive management development programmes championed by the Human Resources Division.

We are, overall, on course to build a gender-responsive administration of Parliament, and we dare not fail. I trust that together we will not fail ourselves, our communities, and our future generations for who we currently hold our country as their heritage in trust.        

As I went through the programme, I felt proud of what is scheduled, the preparatory work done, experiences to be shared by women of value at this platform. It is a good new beginning, and we must build on it to embody the ideals that we wish to see realised. Indeed time for accountability has come, the women of Parliament, the women of South Africa and the women of the world cannot wait any longer before witnessing a real change in their lives.

I wish you a productive engagement.

I am looking forward to the outcomes, an integrated execution programme that covers a series of milestones on the global, continental, national and local calendar and campaigns. As we are ending the year on a high note, allow me to also wish you a wonderful, safe and rejuvenating festive holiday, hoping to meet you in January 2022 oozing with energy to build on the 2021 achievements.  

I thank you

PN Tyawa (Ms) 

Acting Secretary to Parliament

10 December 2021