In July 2011, it was reported that the Ministry for Women, Children and People with Disabilities, is developing legislation to compel the application of the principle of gender equality in South African society.  The Ministry indicated that a Gender Equality Bill will be submitted to Cabinet by March 2012 and it will also extend to the issue of employment and appointment of women to senior positions in both the public and private sector.

The Green Paper: Towards a Gender Equality Bill includes a number of proposed objectives that bear directly on the treatment of women in the workplace.  For example, the Bill is proposed to:

  • make affirmative action mandatory for all public and private employers as a strategy to achieve gender equality and empowerment of women and identify mechanisms, processes and sanctions for enforcement and accountability in relation to the goal of 50/50 gender parity;
  •  make mandatory gender audits and gender analysis of workforces and compulsory reporting on progress attained on the same cycle as Employment Equity Act reporting and the imposition of sanctions for non-compliance;
  • broaden the definition of discrimination to include a definition of discrimination against women that encompasses practices that are discriminatory in effect even though not intended to discriminate (such as perceived sexual harassment); and
  • have compulsory involvement of women in the development, formulation, planning and implementation of policies in the workplace in order to ensure women's representation in all spheres and facets of workplace policy.

It is, of course, early days in relation to this proposed legislation, but it is clear from the Green Paper that if the Ministry is serious about the objectives, there may be a new layer of substantive regulatory obligations (over and above Employment Equity Act obligations) for employers to comply with in order to propel the gendered transformation of workplaces.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.