14. The 1994 Women’s Charter for Effective Equality

‘Operation Big Ears’

‘Operation Big Ears’, headed by Pregs Govender, eventually got underway in July 1993. It is estimated that the campaign and the research reached more than two million women despite internal conflicts about the direction, content, and style of the campaign. 

The outcome of the research component was a two-volume study analysing the findings which came from the multiple research methods – chain letters, questionnaires, demands made at meetings and conferences, and the focus groups. Three key researchers were Debbie Budlender (who conceptualised the research process for the WNC but resigned due to internal conflicts and frustrating delays in the research process); Moira Maconachie (a member of the RSG) and Milla Macloughlin (from the Development Bank of South Africa). 

The findings of the research formed the basis of the ‘Women’s Charter for Effective Equality’ which was initially drafted by members of the research team and Prof Sheila Meintjes, a member of the WNC’s steering committee and chair of the Research Supervisory Group. The draft charter was put together by a small team working against the clock.  Despite the efforts of the Research Supervisory Group, the early differences within the coalition slowed down the charter process to the extent that it could have little influence on the constitutional drafting process. Nevertheless, the Charter represented the possibility of a national consensus among women about the minimal demands of the women’s movement.

Despite its limitations,  the effect of the campaign dramatically altered the visibility of women during the height of its campaign from June 1993 to February 1994. This had significant effects on the negotiations for a new Constitution, particularly with respect to women’s representation and with respect to ensuring that women’s interests are protected by the Bill of Rights.

Shireen Hassim

Professor of Political Science and Gender Studies


Audio Visual

President Mandela gives his State of the Nation address in Parliament. Mandela ends his address with the words, “Let us all get down to work”.

“We must construct that people-centred society of freedom in such a manner that it guarantees the political and the human rights of all our citizens.”– President Mandela, extract from State of the Nation Address, 24 May 1994

President Nelson Mandela announces his cabinet. It includes members of the African National Congress, National Party and Inkatha Freedom Party.

“There was pride in serving in the first democratic government in South Africa, and then the additional pride of serving under the iconic leadership of Nelson Mandela … [He] represented the hopes of not just our country, but of oppressed, marginalised and the poor in the world.”– Jay Naidoo, then Minister of RDP housing
“We place our vision of a new constitutional order for South Africa on the table not as conquerors, prescribing to the conquered. We speak as fellow citizens to heal the wounds of the past with the intent of constructing a new order based on justice for all.”– President Nelson Mandela, 10 May 1994