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. The ministry indicated that a gender equality bill will be submitted to Cabinet by March 2012. The bill will also extend to the issue of employment and appointment of women to senior positions in both the public and private sectors.

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 proposes to:

  • make affirmative action mandatory for all public and private employers as a strategy to achieve gender equality and empowerment of women, and to identify mechanisms, processes and penalties for the enforcement and accountability in relation to the 50-50 gender parity goal;
  • make mandatory gender audits and the gender analysis of workforces and compulsory reporting on progress attained on the same cycle as Employment Equity Act reporting and the imposition of penalties for non-compliance;
  • broaden the definition of discrimination against women to encompass practices that are discriminatory in effect, even though not intended to discriminate (eg, perceived sexual harassment); and
  • make compulsory the 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 clear from the green paper that if the ministry is serious about the gender equality objectives, there may be a new layer of substantive regulatory obligations – over and above the Employment Equity Act – for employers to comply with in order to promote the gendered transformation of workplaces.

For further information on this topic please contact Stuart Harrison at ENS - Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs by telephone (+27 21 410 2500), fax (+27 21 410 2555) or email (sharrison@problemsolved.co.za).