n Acta Juridica - Brooms sweeping oceans? Women's rights in South Africa's first decade of democracy

Volume 2005, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0065-1346
  • E-ISSN: 1996-2088



There have been marked changes in the arena of women's rights in South Africa since 1994. The South African Constitution entrenches significant and progressive rights for women. It prohibits unfair discrimination on the basis of sex, gender, pregnancy, and marital status; it recognizes the disadvantage women suffer as a result of a number of intersecting grounds of discrimination, in particular race and gender, and provides for affirmative action; and it entrenches the right to bodily integrity, which includes, the right 'to make decisions concerning reproduction' and, in a clear reference to domestic violence, freedom from 'all forms of violence from either private or public sources'. The reproductive right is complemented, in the provision dealing with the right to health care, by the 'right to have access to ... reproductive health care'. Recognizing that cultural rights can conflict with gender rights, the right to practice one's culture and religion is made subject to the other rights in the Constitution. Similarly, and again with important implications for women, the recognition of marriages concluded under any tradition, or a system of religious, personal or family law' must be 'consistent with' the other provisions of the Constitution. The social and economic rights that the Constitution protects, including the right of access to adequate housing, health care, sufficient food and water, and social security, and the right to education are particularly relevant to women because of the gendered nature of poverty in South Africa. The Constitution also provides for a Commission for Gender Equality to 'promote respect for gender equality and the protection, development and attainment of gender equality'. Since 1994, South Africa has undertaken significant international obligations in respect of women, the most recent of which is the African Protocol on the Rights of Women.

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