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Women from all sectors of society gathered yesterday in Parliament for the Women’s Charter Review Conference. The Conference coincides with Women's Month and takes place during the year in which Parliament and the rest of South Africa are commemorating the centenary birthdays of the late icons of our struggle for liberation, Tata Nelson Mandela and Mama Albertina Sisulu, our Mother of the Nation, whose gallantry and indefatigable courage shall remain a source of inspiration for many generations.

This conference served as a platform for women to discuss the challenges they face today and their inputs will culminate in adoption of a contextually relevant Women’s Charter in March 2019.

The first Women’s Charter was adopted on 17 April 1954 during the founding conference of the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW). This charter called for enfranchisement of men and women of all races, for equal opportunities in employment, equal pay for equal work, equal rights in relation to property rights, marriage and children, and the removal of all laws and customs that denied women such equality. These demands remain as relevant today as they were then.

The Women’s Charter, is widely held to be the cornerstone of the Women’s Charter for Effective Equality, which the first democratic Parliament adopted in 1994.

In his opening remarks at yesterday’s conference, Deputy Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces Mr Raseriti Tau said the eradication of patriarchal practices and stereotypical attitudes can only be achieved through men and women joining forces.

“The engagement of boys and men is invaluable and incalculable in advancing women’s rights and empowerment and in achieving gender equality,” said Mr Tau. He said the struggle against patriarchy is a struggle within a struggle and cannot be forged by women alone.

In their discussions, delegates at the conference expressed concerns over the level of patriarchy in society. Commissioner Nomsisi Bata from the Commission on Gender Equality said freedom cannot be attained if women are not fully emancipated. She said 50/50 representation of women in different political parties is do-able. She said the Commission would not rest until 50/50 is legislated.

During panel discussions, women raised concerns over safety of women in this country. They expressed their concerns over femicide and that there seems to be no serious punishment for men who continue to commit these hideous crimes.

Outcomes from the conference include creating a platform to report back on the status of women in South Africa, with particular thorough processing of resolutions of Women’s Parliament events hosted during the fifth Parliament and a review and adoption of a thematically relevant women’s charter. This charter would focus on the advancement and implementation of catalysing policy imperatives, to accelerate vast improvements in women’s quality of life. This reviewed charter will also take into consideration common issues, which women have raised since the inception of sector parliaments in 2004.The conference was the launching pad to start a national conversation to review the Women’s Charter, through sustained dialogue and interactive discussions with women across the country.