Various shadow reports by South African civil society networks representing more than 200 NGOs, Social Impact Organisations, Community Based Organisations and INGOs have been submitted to the UN’s Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Committee’s 80th evaluation session in Geneva, Switzerland being held between the 18 October to 5 November 2021. The reports highlight the violations womxn[1] face in realising their rights as guaranteed in the Convention.

CEDAW is an International Treaty adopted in 1979 by the United Nations General Assembly. Described as an international bill of rights for womxn, it was instituted on 3 September 1981 and has been ratified by 189 states. South Africa ratified CEDAW in 1995.

Oral summarised versions of the South African civil society shadow reports will be presented to the CEDAW committee in an informal remote public meeting on 1 November from 17:10 to 18:10.  This meeting will be webcast by the United Nations at

The South African State as a signatory to CEDAW will also present its 5th periodic report to the committee. The State’s failure to submit previous reports for 2009 and 2014 and its current outdated report which does not include the period 2015 – 2020 has raised serious concerns on the impact of these delays for womxn’s rights issues in the country. The State’s non-compliance suggests a significant and deliberate oversight, which has had detrimental impacts on the lived realities of womxn and girls and undermined the many commitments it has made to improve the rights of womxn and girls in South Africa. This is demonstrated by the following:

  1. Statistics in 2021 alone indicated that one womxn is killed by her intimate partner every three hours in South Africa.
  2. Young girls continue to face human trafficking, abduction, ukuthwalwa, and other traditional and religious practices that do not uphold the democratic rights of the girl child.
  3. Patriarchy and toxic masculinity have gone unchallenged and become entrenched, resulting in the subjugation of womxn, and contributing adversely to the fight against GBVF and VAWG.

Forced sterilisations of HIV positive womxn have continued for three decades. The State deliberately removed references to this violation from its 2009-2014 report to CEDAW. Forced and coerced sterilisation constitutes inhumane, degrading and tortuous treatment of HIV positive womxn and is one of the worst forms of violence against womxn. The State has failed to provide redress to the victims and failed to bring an end to the violation.

What follows are short reflections by organisations making oral submissions to the CEDAW committee on 1 November 2021 and those who will be attending a lunch briefing with the Committee on 4 November 2021. Together, they highlight the double standards and contradictions in the South African State Report against the lived reality of South African people and their difficulty in accessing substantive equality and justice for womxn in South Africa.

Inequality Movement’s Executive Director: Sibulele Poswayo, says: “Gender equality and equity in South Africa goes beyond the fight against GBVF & VAWG, we demand that the Ministry of Womxn, Children and Persons with the Disabilities in the Presidency engages Civil Society towards a National Policy in Gender Equality and Equity. We make this call cognisant of the amazing work currently underway in the GBVF Bills and Strategies in the GBVF policy discourse; where the (i)Domestic Violence Amendment Bill Act 116 of 1998 (ii) Criminal and Related Matters Amendment Bill (iii) Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters Act Amendment Bill (iv) AND the *National GBVF Strategic Plan 2020 – 2030 (with the NSP GBVF Annual Report out in 2021)”.

Women’s Legal Centre’s Chriscy Blouws and Mandi Mudarikwa highlight that “many of our professions, our homes and spaces that womxn navigate still carry the weight and stigma of our discriminatory past. As a result, certain areas of labour, including sex work, domestic work and care work are considered to be “womxn’s work” and are undervalued, underappreciated, under paid and criminalised. This stigma also impacts on womxn’s ability to make free and informed decisions about their bodies, their ability to live free from violence and to be equal in relationships. To achieve transformative and lasting substantive gender equality for womxn, we recommend that the South African government implement the CEDAW and condemn intersectional discrimination against womxn in their diversity, in all its forms and take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to modify or abolish existing laws, regulations, customs and practices that continues discrimination against womxn.”

Muslim Personal Law Network’s Fatima Seedat believes that “The State’s refusal to address issues of religion, custom and tradition is a violation of womxn’s basic human rights. The MPLN, joins the LandNnes, Inequality Movement and HURISA in calling for (i)immediate legislation for  recognition and regulation of Muslim marriages (amendments to the Marriages Act, Divorce Act OR any proposed legislation which provides timeous and immediate relief for womxn) (ii)Aligning the Traditional and Khoisan Leadership Act (Act 3 of 2019) and The Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act (Act 41 of 2003) with constitutional guarantees for gender equality (iii) Ensuring the Traditional Courts Bill (B1B-2017) does not entrench existing discriminations against womxn but allows womxn to access alternative fora to address legal disputes. (iv)Prohibit Ukuthwala and adopt 18 as a minimum age of marriage.”

Izwi Domestic Workers Alliance’s Amy Tekie emphasizes that “until domestic work is formalised in practice and employers are held accountable for upholding labour regulations, nearly a million womxn workers in South Africa, most of whom are primary breadwinners, will continue to be vulnerable to exploitation and abuse in the workplace. In addition to enforcing labour law compliance and UIF/COIDA registration, the SA government should urgently include domestic workers in the full minimum wage and amend Sectorial Determination 7 to address rights to privacy, equality, freedom of movement, maternity & family life, and adequate housing standards for live-in workers”.

Embrace Dignity’s Pinky Khoabane states that: “Embrace Dignity advocates for the abolitionist Equality Model, which breaks the vicious cycle of violence by decriminalising those selling sex and providing exit channels, while criminalising the demand created by sex buyers and third parties profiting from the exploitation. The delay in tabling the Bill in parliament concerns us as the vulnerability to exploitation has increased due to COVID, unemployment, gender inequality and violence”.

Hurisa’s Corlett Letlojane recommends: “A permanent body should be established for the consolidation of implementation of Concluding Observations, follow-ups for tackling the rising inequality, GBVF and overcoming delays and overdue reports. More efforts should increase ensuring accessibility of remedies safeguarded in the Convention reach marginalised communities, especially LGBTQI, refugee womxn, sex workers, elderly persons, persons with disabilities and persons with albinism. Ongoing training interventions for police, traditional, religious groups, magistrates, judges and the private sector will accelerate the realisation of the protective mechanisms of the Convention at local level”.

Her Rights Initiative’s Sethembiso-Promise Mthembu recommends for the “development and implementation of adequate compensatory, redress and access to justice for HIV positive womxn who suffered forced and coerced sterilisation. Such redress must address their emotional and psychological pain, their physical trauma, their financial loss, their pain and suffering and offers constitutional damages as well.  We recommend recognition of forced and coerced sterilisation of HIV positive womxn as a human rights violation that constitutes an act of violence against womxn, discrimination, and torture.”

Solidarity Centre’s Ziona Tanzer states that “workplace regulation still has significant gender gaps. The Code of Good Practice on Sexual Harassment at Work does not meaningfully apply outside the formal employment context. It also does not prohibit strip searches, which womxn report experiencing as a form of sexual assault. Occupational health and safety legislation do not require a gender risk assessment to ensure that workspace, operations and culture do not render womxn vulnerable to gender-based violence and harassment. South Africa must require employers to take reasonable measures to ensure worker access to safe transportation, particularly when they require womxn to work at night or irregular hours. The Basic Conditions of Employment Act must prohibit employers from automatically placing pregnant womxn working in hazardous occupations such as mining on unpaid maternity leave.”

LandNNES’s Tshepo Fokane calls for “the development and implementation of policies which ensure security of tenure for womxn, enforcement of laws and regulations which promote sustainable livelihoods for womxn and children on farms. We further call for the stopping of the Banstustan Bills and laws immediately”.

Sisonke’s Kholi states that “The term prostitution, prostitute is entrenched in the South African statutory books and is a legal term which we would like to have abolished; in the same way in which the term maid was abolished and replaced with domestic worker. The term prostitute: prostitution or people who sell sex is derogatory and further strengthens the stance to marginalise and degrade sex workers. Such utterances encourage discrimination; GBV and femicide; and hate crimes against sex workers which have long plagued the sex work industry”

Contact person: South African Civil Society CEDAW Moderator and Executive Director, Inequality Movement, Ms Sibulele Poswayo on +27 63 357 0697 and e-mail

17 November 13:00 Press Conference

[1]We use the term womxn throughout this press release to reflect women in their diversity as the term is inclusive of all persons who identify themselves as womxn.

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