The Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians (CWP) Africa Region, a transnational organisation whose mandate includes advocating for gender equality in the legislative sector, as well as the emancipation of women, has resolved to conduct a study on the effectiveness of legislation passed by parliaments across the continent to empower women and girl children.

During the organisation's first meeting of the year, the women legislators representing over 50 national and provincial parliaments in Africa recommended a review of member countries' electoral laws to make gender equality legally compulsory.

CWP held a two-day sensitisation workshop, hosted by the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Legislature, to deliberate on, among other things, equality, economic development of women, gender-based violence, and the fourth Industrial Revolution. Although the conference acknowledged that legislation and policies are not enough to end violence against women, they pave the way for other practical programmes to fight women abuse.

Ms Thoko Didiza, the Chairperson of CWP Africa Region and House Chairperson of the South African National Assembly, told the meeting that almost all countries have legal instruments to deal with gender-based violence, but these are not enough. She said that a study on the effectiveness of these mechanisms would help CWP in enhancing the gender agenda campaign in the continent.

Some of the issues are not matters of law, they are matters of practice, religion, liturgies, tradition and customs. No matter how modern we are, they still continue. We must think what can we do, apart from legislation and policy, in order to change the socialisation of our society.

While CWP has made strides towards better women representation in political structures, much more targeted effort must be made in this regard. We call for review of electoral laws and their implementation in order to ensure increased participation of women and further recommend the engagement of political parties by CWP in order to ensure that they make policies and mechanisms that support gender equality, Ms Didiza said.

Women in Africa must rise up for continental economic emancipation and access land, finance, research and innovation, markets and information, Ms Didiza said. Maybe we might need to do a brief study among countries in the Commonwealth of legislation put in place for women empowerment as well as continental protocols on economic empowerment.

For instance, the protocol on the movement of people. How does it affect women who are traders? Women are not able to move because of the visa requirements and the customs that are not sensitive, Ms Didiza said.

One of the conference's guest speakers was Minister of Communications Ms Mamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, who addressed the gathering on the participation of women in information and communication technology (ICT) and the fourth Industrial Revolution.

She said women participation in the ICT sector was woefully low, especially in the countries of the south, and that the internet user gender divide is widening instead of narrowing.

There are more than 250 million fewer women now online globally than men. The largest gaps are found in the Asia-Pacific (16,9%), the Arab States (20%) and Africa at 23%. This picture is almost the same across the whole ICT value chain, she said.

Minister Kubayi-Ngubane said given the low participation of women in ICT, their prospects of meaningful participation in the Fourth Industrial Revolution are slim. According to the Minister, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is underpinned by a number of emerging areas of technological innovation, which include artificial intelligence � machines that can perform human tasks.

Quoting a study by the World Economic Forum, the Minister said the fourth Industrial Revolution will have an unevenly negative impact on the economic prospects of women. However, sweeping changes caused by disruptions to the labour force will result in more women progressing into senior positons. The study also found that some of the largest job losses are expected in jobs with the largest share of female employees, such as office and administrative roles.

The CWP resolved to campaign for the reduction of data costs and the increase in signal coverage in rural areas, using the slogan Data must fall, signal must rise.

The CWP workshop was also addressed by gender activist and Commissioner at the Commission for Gender Equality, Mr Mbuyiselo Botha, who warned the parliamentarians that violence against women cost the economy billions of rand. There is something that is debilitating to the economy when women are violated, and it is men and boys who are at the centre. How do you make sure that the power that men have at a legislative level is curtailed?

Laws on their own are not good enough. Many laws are there to serve men and to ensure it remains a man's world. If we don't do anything, the status quo will not change and the violence will not stop, said Mr Botha.

Source: Parliament of the Republic of South Africa