Address To The Nation On National Women's Day, 9 August 1999

Fellow South Africans,

Today, August 9th is National Women's Day. On this day, as a nation, we re-commit ourselves to the advancement of women at all levels of our society.

In doing this, we are alive to the harsh reality that faces women in our country today. For many years, the majority of women in our country, particularly in the rural areas and the townships, have borne the brunt of poverty and hardship. The lives of these women were, and, indeed, still are, characterised by low levels of literacy and inequitable access to education, health, housing, water, fuel sources and employment opportunities.

Many amongst the women of this country have experienced violence, abuse, rape, sexual harassment and are the worst affected by the scourge of HIV/AIDS. They daily carry the scars of their suffering often in solitary silence and without adequate counselling and support.

At the same time, both the government as well as organs of civil society, have responded, as we should, to confront these degrading and humiliating conditions facing our women, so that together we build a better, more humane and caring society. But more needs to be done.

Together we must bring the abuse and violence against women to an end. In this regard, we must speed up the establishment of one-stop centres for abused women and children. Special measures have been put in place for the criminal justice system to deal sensitively with the survivors of rape. The time has come for all of us to end the cycles of abuse and violence against women and children that have engulfed our communities. As we mark National Women's Day today, let all of us -- each and every one - ask ourselves a question: why do we keep silent when we are witnesses to violence against women; why do we keep silent when we are daily subjected to intolerable abuse!

I would like all South Africans, individually and collectively, to pause and reflect on the incalculable damage that this violence has inflicted on our society, the way in which it reduces us to less than human and destroys the possibility to rebuild the fabric of our society.


Let every man respect the dignity of women!
Let every man pay his child maintenance!
Let every man stop abusing women and children!

It is in the interest of the health of our nation, that we intensify our work on the issue of HIV/AIDS, ensuring that our public education campaigns are effective and we must do all we can to improve support to AIDS victims and orphans.

Fellow South Africans,

I am pleased to announce that the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology, as part of the National Legacy Project, is holding a competition open to all for the design and erection of a monument to commemorate and celebrate the contribution of women to the struggle for freedom and justice in South Africa.

Today as we remember those twenty thousand women who took part in the 1956 march, and also the struggle of all South Africans, let us also pay tribute to our mothers, our wives, our daughters, for their selflessness, their creativity, their love, their commitment to their country, as they continue to work for their full emancipation, through their words and deeds, in their daily lives.

We cannot say we are making progress as a people and a nation, unless the women of our country have shelters over their heads, adequate food to feed themselves and their families, health care, and access to clean water and electricity.

We cannot say we are moving forward faster towards the attainment of complete liberation from the legacy of the past unless the women of our country live without fear in their houses and walk freely through the streets and villages of our land.

We cannot move forward faster to the goal of a better life for all unless the women of our country receive the necessary education and training that enable them to reach their full potential and are themselves the African pioneers leading all of us into the African century which should also be the century for African women.

For women to take their rightful place on centre-stage in the development of Africa, requires a collective effort of all the people of our continent, and the inculcation of a new consciousness of gender equality at all levels.

The attainment of a people-centred, caring society is a task that cannot be postponed for one day more. Let us together get down to work to achieve this goal, and with the liberation of our women.

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