Statement of the Honourable Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula Minister of Home Affairs, Republic of South Africa 50th UN Commission on the Status of Women
This Forum has championed gender mainstreaming as a key strategy for promoting equality between men and women. Not only does South Africa boast significant numerical representation and involvement of women at all levels of policy-making and implementation, we continue to be sensitive to gender differences entrenched in the past and present, including those inequities seen in patterns of migration in the region.
Scrutiny of the development of our migration policies in recent years bears testimony to our efforts in this area. Here I will deal with a number of emerging issues relating to women and migration from a regional and national perspective.
In the words of a local scholar, “Understanding the gender dimensions of Southern African migration provides insights into the wider transformation of the region’s society and economy.”
Women and cross-border migration
In common with other developing regions, migration in Southern Africa has largely been a male phenomenon, with very few women migrating independently of male family members. Following the international trend of “feminization” of international migration, this is slowly changing. In the meantime, the fact that women are generally “left behind” means that they, and their communities, are often disadvantaged. While they may benefit financially from remittances (although these can be erratic), individuals and communities bear high social costs and a greater burden of responsibilities. For female migrants, the social costs of migration includes disruption to family and community life.
It is thus vital for migrants, and particularly female migrants, to maintain ties with their communities, and the development of free movement policies within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has meant that migrants are more easily able to visit their families and maintain important ties. South Africa has signed treaties with most of the countries in the region in terms of which visa requirements are waived for between 30 and 90 days for visitors. Last year, South Africa and six other countries signed the SADC Protocol on the Facilitation of the Movement of Persons, thus paving the way for further humane and gender-sensitive developments.
Although there is not yet much data on female migration in the region, a study undertaken by the Southern African Migration Project (SAMP) resulted in some useful findings. These suggest that female migrants are likely to bring positive gains to their new communities. They tend to be older and better educated than male migrants. They are less likely to migrate independently, or to migrate illegally. Traditionally, labour opportunities for migrant workers have been restricted to work on farms and mines, and although this is slowly changing, this has obviously had a discriminatory impact on women. Due to these limited work opportunities, women are more likely to migrate to trade.
Migration and cross-border trade
This growth in cross-border trade has coincided with the growth of the informal sector in South Africa and the region. In South Africa, the growth in this sector since democracy has been one result of the lifting of restrictions on trade by black people and the freeing-up of movement within the country. This sector encompasses a wide range of services and trade activities. Many of those engaged in activities such as the thriving beauty and hair industry, dressmaking, tailoring, and so on, are immigrant women. South Africa’s tourist industry has also attracted many curio traders from the rest of the continent. The contribution of cross-border traders to the South African economy was recognised last year when we implemented our amended Immigration Act, by providing for special permits to cross-border traders.
Migration and development
South Africa’s accelerated growth strategy includes the attraction of scarce skills, as well as the encouragement of the return of skills. While South Africa has suffered a “brain drain” in recent decades, we, together with our neighbours Botswana and Namibia, have also benefited from “brain circulation”, as highly skilled people from the region and elsewhere in Africa, including women, have seen our countries as alternatives to Europe and other northern destinations. Studies have also shown that foreigners are playing an increasing role in informal and small enterprises in both urban and rural areas.
Due to our long and porous borders, and the relative stability and prosperity of South Africa in the region, we host many illegal immigrants and migrants. Again, the vast majority of illegal immigrants are men. Previously, our legislation allowed for life partners of South African citizens to apply for permanent residence almost immediately. As a result, we saw a dramatic rise in applicants based on this provision. Many South African women also reported being married to foreigners without their knowledge through fraudulent use of their identity numbers. We launched a “Know Your Status” campaign, which allowed us to rectify the position of many such women. Apart from women being married without their knowledge, poor and vulnerable women, including those in the terminal stages of AIDS, have been bribed or coerced into such marriages. Recent amendments to our immigration laws thus make it harder for spouses to obtain citizenship (only after five years in a “good faith” relationship) while at the same time respecting the rights of family unity – for instance, foreign spouses have the right to work or study during this period.
Trafficking and smuggling
Migrant women are particularly vulnerable to these forms of exploitation. Women are also trafficked within and across countries for purposes of farm labour and domestic work. While South Africa has yet to pass specific legislation in order to implement the Protocol, trafficking, and assisting traffickers are both prohibited in terms of our immigration laws. These laws are also sufficiently flexible to allow us to protect victims of trafficking. The Sexual Offences Bill, which is due to be passed this year, will make it easier to prosecute those who engage in trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation. As with many of the emerging issues relating to migration, the collection of reliable data is fundamental to the development of sound policy, and we intend refining legislation in this vital area as we continue to monitor the situation.
When South Africa drafted its refugee policy during 1998, we took note of those countries that had developed Gender Guidelines to deal with specific issues related to women refugees. Although refugees and asylum seekers in South African are mostly young men, in line with the equality clause in our Constitution, South Africa recognises that women may be persecuted because of their gender. By including the category of gender within our legislation and giving it legally binding status, South Africa has made a real commitment towards recognising the rights of women refugees.
AIDS and migration
Southern Africa sees high levels of migration (including migration within countries from rural to urban areas). It also experiences the highest rate of HIV infection on the African continent. Not only does human mobility play a significant role in the spread of the AIDS pandemic, but migration itself has been shown to make people particularly vulnerable to HIV infection. We also know that migration takes place because of migration (SAMP, 2002), including that related to or as a result of AIDS. Studies have tended to focus on male migrant workers and the social and working circumstances that make them vulnerable to HIV, only occasionally including their partners and those “left behind”, but this omission is coming under scrutiny. The impact of HIV on households takes place at a number of levels. Coping strategies may include the relocation of the household or individual members. For instance, many children orphaned by AIDS move to live with maternal grandparents. All these factors, which come into focus only when a gender perspective is used, indicate the value and necessity of gender mainstreaming in policy development.
Migration and freedom
In a gendered world, migration and immigration to seek a better life, to flee unrest or seek freedom do not always provide women with liberation. What we face is the challenge of developing policies that encourage the movement of ideas that will liberate all people, rather than continuing to enslave some of them. This is a challenge that South Africa, with its liberatory Constitution, embraces.