The contentious Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill was eventually passed by the National Assembly on Wednesday, 5 March, but only after a delay as too few MPs were in the house to constitute a quorum.
Lulu Xingwana says the new bill may prevent marginalisation of women in management and other spheres. Image: GCIS
The Democratic Alliance (DA) called for a division on the vote after which several of its MPs left the house. With insufficient African National Congress (ANC) MPs present, this meant there was not a quorum of 201 members as required. Voting had to be postponed until later in the day when the bill was adopted with 195 votes in favour, 38 against and three abstentions.
Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande and Deputy Minister of Public Works Jeremy Cronin voiced concern at the DA's tactics, saying they brought Parliament into disrepute and amounted to filibustering. But DA deputy chief whip Sandy Kalyan insisted the DA had the right to protest against legislation it saw as undesirable.
The bill, once promulgated, will require public bodies designated as such by the minister to submit plans for progressively achieving 50% representation for women in their decision-making structures.
Political parties were exempted from this rule by the portfolio committee on women, children and people with disabilities.Fines or imprisonment for not complying
Non-compliance can result in companies being fined as much as 10% of annual turnover.
Furthermore, a director or CEO of a designated private body could be liable on conviction or imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years. The bill will override other laws dealing with empowerment.
The DA opposed the bill, saying it duplicated existing legislation and would not promote the interests of poor, marginalised women. DA MP Helen Lamoela said the bill gave a lifeline to a department that lacked capacity and had failed in its mandate.
African Christian Democratic Party MP Cheryllyn Dudley welcomed the fact that the bill had been amended to exclude public benefit and religious organisations from the definition of designated public bodies.
Women, Children and People with Disabilities Minister Lulu Xingwana and other ANC MPs dismissed these objections.
"Women continue to be marginalised and discriminated against in terms of economic opportunities, the labour market as well as access to land, credit, and finance," the minister said.
She denied the bill duplicated other laws saying it elevates the prioritisation of women empowerment in various acts.
Source: Business Day via I-Net Bridge