Focus Areas

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Our Focus Areas

Our goal in this programme is the recognition and protection of the labour rights of vulnerable and marginalised women workers, in particular the rights of farm workers, domestic workers, migrant workers and sex workers. Despite South Africa’s rights‐based labour legislation, women continue to face barriers to accessing employment, and to securing decent working conditions.

Our sex work project remains a critical service to a portion of society that is extremely ostracised. A legal framework that criminalises sex work greatly increases the vulnerability of sex workers to violence and reduces the likelihood that violence will be reported. Very few perpetrators are ever brought to justice. Even under the current imperfect law where sex work is criminalised, there is a stark contradiction between the actions of the police and due process set out by the law, which police are mandated to follow.

This programme thus aims to advance, protect and promote the rights of vulnerable women workers who face unfair barriers in their work, not only with regards to sex workers, but women in all areas of work.

Women in South Africa use land, occupy land, and own land, within different contexts and experience varying levels of discrimination. In January 2017, the World Economic Forum reported that women own less than 20 percent of the world’s land. This situation is mirrored in South Africa where women’s access to land remains peripheral at best even though the state has enacted a number of key strategic laws and policies to provide for equal treatment of women. Women continue to face challenges to accessing their rights to land, including the specific challenges of restitution, eviction, security of tenure, and a lack of access to resources and subsidies. Despite the fact that 52% of the population is made up of women and that women are responsible for 68% of agricultural output, they have not benefitted in any substantive way to access and ownership of the very land they work.

Access to land and housing in urban centres have increasingly become problematic. In cities such as Cape Town apartheid spatial planning and development and exclusionary property markets continue to block women from enjoying access to housing which is near their places of employment. Increasingly, poor and women headed households are facing evictions and are being displaced to the Cape Flats.

In rural areas, traditional authorities are likely to be male and councils are male‐dominated and patriarchal, negatively affecting women’s ability to access land. Where industrial development is taking place there is scant regard for the environmental health rights of those who live in the area, with the result that women are significantly affected, or bear the burden of caring for ill partners and children who have been harmed by these developments.

Housing and tenure security intersect with violence against women as well as issues of custom in both law and practice. One therefore cannot have a conversation about a woman’s rights to and access to land in isolation from where she is positioned within her home, community and society as a whole. Legislation, policy, and the presence of customs and cultures which are steeped in patriarchy has supported women’s ongoing discrimination in respect of land access and ownership.

South Africa’s legal framework aims to promote women’s rights to equality and dignity, and to provide legal protection for women in formal partnerships (marriages, civil unions, and customary marriages). Like most of the world, people living in South Africa have changed how they express their romantic interests and how they the forge relationships. Constitutional protection for diverse forms of relationships, such as domestic partnerships, is thus critical.

At present, there is a vacuum in terms of the protection of women in unregistered religious marriages, and in domestic partnerships. In many instances, this legal vacuum negatively affects women’s constitutional rights to equality and dignity. As a result, they struggle to access equal resources during, or at the dissolution of, marriages / partnerships (whether by death or divorce).

It bears mention that presently in South Afric there is no legislation that regulates the recognition of Muslim marriages. Neither is there a legislative regulatory framework that advances and protects women’s right to property during and after the dissolution of Muslim marriage. Moreover, there is also no legal or policy framework to advance and protect Muslim women’s right to inheritance upon the death of their husbands.

Our programme on women’s rights to housing, land and property in relationships focuses on the advancement and recognition of women’s independent rights in, and on the dissolution of, a relationship, so as to ensure fair and equitable access to resources and rights within the relationship.

Although the right to health care is amongst the fundamental human rights enshrined in the Constitution, many women struggle to access this right, and, more specifically, their right to make decisions regarding their sexual and reproductive health. In South Africa, women are more likely to rely on the state health care system to access services. Within this context, stigma and discrimination in health care settings continue to disrupt women’s ability to access reproductive health care, and maternal health care.

As it stands now, there are few accountability mechanisms within the state health care system. Accessing health care can be a complex and confusing task for many women. This impacts on women’s ability to make informed and autonomous decisions about their health care. Key concerns include limited access to termination of pregnancy services, illegal terminations of pregnancy, forced sterilisation, maternal mortality, the prevalence of obstetric violence in state clinics and hospitals, and the global push back against women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights through the implementation of the Global Gag Rule. This program thus aims to promote the rights of women to make informed autonomous decisions about their sexual and reproductive health, as well hold the state and other parties accountable for the proper implementation of these rights.

Violence against women in South Africa continues with impunity. The response from government to sexual and domestic violence has been largely reactive despite their constitutional responsibility to ensure that all South Africans live free from violence. The most recent crime statistics (2017/18) show that 50 108 sexual offences were reported during that period. Bearing in mind significant under‐reporting and the gendered nature of these crimes, it is clear to the WLC that violence against women occurs at epidemic levels. This program aims to address violence using the legal tools available to constitutionally challenge existing legal frameworks as well as lack of implementation.