The Department for Women, Children and People with Disabilities (DWCPD) was established on 10 May 2009 when the President of the Republic of South Africa Jacob Zuma appointed his Cabinet for the fourth term of the democratic government. In appointing this Cabinet, Zuma announced that “A new ministry has been created for women, children and persons with disabilities, to emphasise the need for equity and access to development opportunities for the vulnerable groups in our society.”
The establishment of the Ministry and Department for Women, Children and People with Disabilities was, according to the president, part of the fourth term’s goal to reorganise the structure of Cabinet and national departments in order to “achieve better alignment between the structure, our electoral mandate as per our election manifesto, and the developmental challenges that need to receive immediate attention from government”.
The Ministry for Women, Children and People with Disabilities replaced the original multi-agency national machineries for these groups. In 1996, 1997 and 1998 respectively, government established and located the Office on the Status of Women (OSW), the Office on the Status of Disabled Persons (OSDP) and the Office on the Rights of the Child (ORC). Internationally, these structures were considered best practice in the structuring of international arrangements for mainstreaming gender, disability considerations and the rights of children into the national programme of action. However, several challenges made it difficult for these structures to fully co-ordinate, facilitate and provide the oversight required, the most significant of which was the lack of adequate financial and human resources and the rank of officials driving programmes for these vulnerable sectors. The level of authority attendant to their rank was not in tandem with their responsibility for co-ordination and oversight.
In establishing the OSW, ORC and OSDP, the issue of location was carefully considered. It was agreed that these offices would form the apex of their respective machineries, and the Presidency was considered to be the apex of government structure. The rationale for placing the programme within the Presidency was so that it might draw from presidential authority, thereby facilitating its work in setting norms and standards, as well as in ensuring the integration of gender, disability and children’s rights considerations into the work of all publicly funded agencies. It is advisable that in the initial stages of establishing itself, the DWCPD remains in the Presidency until the process of transfer of these functions as well as the authority of the DWCPD has been proclaimed and clarified. Building on past experience, the decision to create a department is meant to address the financial, authority and capacity challenges, ensuring follow-through on the government’s equity, equality and empowerment agenda, focusing in particular on marginalised groups and historically disadvantaged communities in each of the sectors (women, children and persons with disabilities).
The essence of work in the Department for Women, Children and People with Disabilities is to facilitate the transformation of the state into efficient machinery for the advancement of the rights of these vulnerable groups.