Women’s ministry a mouthful – now chew

2012-02-25 09:21

It must be the scariest job in Cabinet to be the minister of women, children and people with disabilities.

Not only is it a mouthful of a title, but it makes you responsible for two-thirds of the people in South Africa. And they’re not in a good space.

For most of them you, as the representative of government, are their only hope.

The budget is the best indicator of how seriously government takes an issue or department. If you as minister sell a good game, you get the cash.

So at least on paper it looks as if government is taking the department a little more seriously than in the past.

The department gets about R143 million for the next financial year, which is a big step up from the paltry R61 million it got when it was established in 2009.

So what does this money do for women’s equality, children’s rights and integrating people with disabilities into the mainstream society?

I can’t speak for all the beneficiaries of the department. However, I am a woman and was a child – and still am, at least in my mother’s eyes, even though I’m 32. And my expectations of my government representative are high.

One understands this department was created as a consolation prize for Cosatu, which couldn’t get its hands on economic policy – its actual goal at Polokwane.

So as a newbie, the department did not have the same institutional capacity and clout as, say, public works. But clout comes if
you deliver.

Spending almost one-third of your money on administration, and having catering as one of the biggest line items in the budget is not going to get you there.

How is it okay that R9 million goes to travel and subsistence, and only R10 million on children’s rights?

Women, empowerment and gender equality scores big time; it gets a cool R78 million, which is the biggest chunk of the budget.

But if you look closer, you see most of that money goes to the Commission for Gender Equality, which gets R55.2 million to fight the good fight.

The rest is spent on a summit for young women, a conference for all women, a summit for business women and a workshop on rural women.

And on the minister and her lieutenants attending meetings at the United Nations, African Union and Southern African Development Community.

In a nutshell, it’s a series of very expensive talkshops to tell us what we already know – a society that does not look after its most vulnerable can’t look itself in the mirror.

So how do we want to be looked after? We want government to be as outraged and astounded as we are when men like former spy boss Manala Manzini announce (as he did on the front page of the Sunday Times in 2010) that he hit his wife because “she would not cook”.

We want caregivers who will instil in kids that they don’t need to fall pregnant like 15% of our teenagers.

We want to understand why our biggest spending as a nation is on social issues, but still six in 10 children live in poverty.

We want to ensure that the 1.7 million people with disabilities get the jobs reserved for them in government departments.

And yes, you need meetings to plan these interventions, we get that. But we want to see the changes in our lives and in our workplaces.

It’s a big ask, but as a country we want to look in the mirror and feel good about what we see.

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