Southern Africa continues to be far away from attaining gender equality. Considerable gender-specific political, economic and social discrimination continues to exist. The lack of equal opportunity is particularly clear among the poorer sections of the population, primarily in rural areas.
There, women are clearly disadvantaged compared with men in terms of life expectancy, illiteracy rates, income, political participation as well as control over economic resources. Women are disadvantaged compared with men on the labour market, and thus often financially and as such socially dependent upon their (male) partners.
The feminisation of migration further exacerbates the situation of women. It subjects the affected women to high economic burdens and gender-based violence. There is also a direct connection between violence against women and the spread of HIV/AIDS, because women cannot protect themselves against infection in cases of rape. Domestic violence and sexual abuse lead to feelings of loss of self-worth for the victims, and hinder women in taking part in the public opinion-forming process in a self-confident, courageous and vocal manner. With either sensationalism or silence about violence against women, the media often contribute to gender discrimination in the region.
From the viewpoint of gender democracy, the prevention of violence against women is a major aspect of promotion of democracy in the region. As such, the topics of economic equality and violence against women are linked with additional political challenges of the region (issues of form of government, democracy and human rights…).
The "Gender Program" contributes to realising gender democracy in the countries of the region. Support is provided to initiatives that combat violence against women both on the individual and structural levels, as well as promoting economic equality between men and women.
In terms of substantive content, the program is divided into two major areas:
- "Against Violence against Women" and
- "Economic Equality."
On both issues, the Heinrich Böll Foundation works with a number of non-governmental organisations, some of whom have been co-operation partners for many years. In preventing violence against women, for example, it provides support to the NISAA organisation in Lenasia, Soweto; in the area of economic equality, it funds the "Women on Farms" project near Cape Town.
Publications on women’s issues (with project partners Sister Namibia in Windhoek and AGENDA in Durban) contribute to sensitising the public. In rural areas, the Foundation provides support to the Rural Development Services Network in carrying out a gender-based research program in the area of water. Also, the Foundation implements its own educational measures (workshops, seminars) and promotes the establishment of networks among its partner organisations.
Prevention of domestic violence makes an overall contribution to the non-violent resolution of conflicts in southern Africa. For the development and sustainable alleviation of poverty in the region, it is also urgently necessary that the situation of women be made visible, that their interests be recognised, and that they are provided with opportunities to actively participate in public political and economic life.