1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Gender and Development, Social Policy and Development

Piety in the Sky? Gender Policy and Land Reform in South Africa (Draft)



In April 1997 the Minister of Land Affairs approved a ‘Land Reform Gender Policy’ framework document ‘aimed at creating an enabling environment for women to access, own, control, use and manage land; as well as access credit for productive use of the land’ (Department of Land Affairs, 1997: 2-3). This Framework committed the Ministry and Department of Land Affairs (DLA) to a wide-ranging set of Guiding Principles intended to ‘actively promote the principle of gender equity’ in land reform; it included mechanisms for ensuring women’s full and equal participation in decision-making in land reform projects; communication strategies; gender-sensitive methodologies in project identification, planning and data collection; legislative reform; training for both beneficiaries and implementers; collaboration with NGOs and other government structures, and compliance with international commitments such as the ‘Beijing Platform for Action’ (adopted in 1995 at the Fourth World Conference on Women) and the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of all Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) (which South Africa had re-ratified in 1995).

Three and a half years later, DLA officials participating in an internal ‘Gender Best Practices’ workshop in the KwaZulu Natal provincial office complained that ‘gender’ was not regarded as part of the core business of the Department - ‘Gender is not a killer issue,’ said one participant. ‘The Department would not walk away from a project where you are not getting cooperation around gender issues’ (Research notes, Workshop, 24.10.2000).

The disjuncture between what is said in formal policy documents about promoting gender equity in and through land reform and what happens to gender policy ‘on the ground’ lies at the heart of the research project that is reported on here. This Report has two main concerns. The first is to examine the degree to which there is a disjuncture and try to understand why this should be the case. To what extent has the aim of creating an enabling environment for women to ‘access, own, control, use and manage’ land been realised? How has the Gender Policy of the DLA been managed and implemented? Why do gender activists within and without the Department feel gender concerns are peripheral and not part of the active ‘core business’ of land reform? Is this view justified and how might dynamics in the wider society be interacting with and complicating the gender policy goals of the DLA? Is it fair, is it helpful, to say that the commitment to gender equity has been honoured more in the breach than in the execution - has remained at the level of lofty, high-level principles, a kind of ‘piety in the sky’ that has not been translated into vigorous, (grounded) action in the field? And if, as this Report argues, this is, largely, the case - why this recurring gap between policy and implementation, principle and practice?

The second focus of this Research Report is to draw together ideas emerging from this work and that of others to try to address the question: How can the commitment to gender equity be more effectively championed both at the policy level and within the land reform programme as it is implemented in the different regions of the country? More specifically, what can be done to ensure that women and men benefit from the state’s land reform programme on a more equitable basis, in a way that supports rather than confounds the broader societal commitment to eliminating widespread social inequalities and poverty in the rural areas, including centrally, but not exclusively, the gendered dimensions of this?

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