Statement on the Occasion of National Women's Day, 9 August 2001

Today on August 9th we celebrate the achievements of the women of South Africa and we come together to advance women's struggles for empowerment and their rights to full equality.

Both in 1994 and 1999, the people of this land gave us an unequivocal mandate to transform our country into a non-sexist and non-racial South Africa, to eradicate the legacy of apartheid and put our country on the right road to sustainable development. Our constitution itself includes the transformation of our society into a non-sexist reality and the establishment of the Commission for Gender Equality.

Accordingly, we have put in place enabling legislation and policies that continuously help us to realise our goals. In December 2000 we elaborated on our policies through the adoption of "South Africa's National Policy Framework for Women's Empowerment and Gender Equality".

This framework serves to present us with a coherent, focused and integrated strategy to transform fundamental social and economic relations, so that the women of our country are the true beneficiaries of freedom and the inheritors of full equality.

Through this policy we wish to ensure that as we transform our society, women are not marginalised but are themselves active participants in all the process that are shaping the lives of all South Africans. Furthermore, in our daily work we have to ensure that the agenda for gender equality is given the necessary attention and prominence it deserves so that we move with due speed towards a non-sexist society.

We have put in place programmes that are helping us to make important progress in ensuring that we bring to an end the sufferings and hardships of all the women in South Africa.

Amongst others, we have made significant advances in our offensive against poverty and underdevelopment through a number of achievements in the different areas of our people's lives. There has been an increase in the cumulative total of houses completed with many of the beneficiaries being women.

For too long the women of our country have had to walk long distances to collect water. We have responded as we should, by ensuring that millions of our people, especially in the rural areas, have access to clean, piped water.

In our vast country where the distance between one place and another is great, the proportion of households with a telephone or mobile telephone has increased from 29.1% to 34.9%. Today, many amongst the poor in our country have begun to enjoy the benefits of this important means of communication.

After an initially slow process, our land restitution programme has gathered pace and we are confident that more and more of our people will reap the fruits of this important process. Naturally, women and especially households headed by women have and will continue to be the main beneficiaries.

Since 1995, there has been an increase in the number of people visiting public health facilities, particularly women and children. New facilities have been built where people live, especially in the informal settlements and rural areas.

There has also been an increase in the use of electricity. This has meant that many women and children no longer have to go through a daily back-breaking routine of fetching firewood.

Clearly, these significant achievements move us forward on the road to gender equality and sustainable development, for women are the primary beneficiaries of these processes of change.

In this way, through creating the basic conditions for a better life, we are saying that the women of our country are marching forward faster into the future, that the long journey, symbolised by the historic march of women in 1955, up to the present is getting shorter as we move steadily towards our destination and increase the pace of change.

Yet, while we have had successes, there is a great deal that we must still accomplish to overcome poverty and underdevelopment and to ensure that there is a sustained progress in improving the quality of life of the women in rural and disadvantaged areas.

Even though we have made significant progress, we are still faced with many challenges. We have to move with the necessary speed to ensure that we eradicate the squalor that characterises the informal settlements. Together we have to work harder and faster to banish homelessness and landlessness.

We recognise that in our communities, it is the women who sustain life, who care for children and elders, and who do so, against all odds and with little resources, support and infrastructure.

We also recognise that many of the women in our country live in conditions of poverty and that the deliberate location of women in rural areas and the underdevelopment in these areas have been responsible for the poor conditions under which our people live and have created homelessness and joblessness.

Investment in economic and social infrastructure and human resource development, the further training of women in science and technology, must ensure that women play a more important role in the economy of the country.

Today, 45 years after the historic women's march, we are still marching on the road to the full attainment of our freedom.

It is incumbent upon each and every one of us to be agents of change, to win the battle against sexism and racism and to shape the new nation.

The Integrated Rural Development Strategy and the Urban Renewal Programme are landmark developments that will take us further towards ending poverty and underdevelopment.

The African recovery programme is another milestone that will bring prosperity to all the people of this continent, especially to the African women and African children, who have been the main victims of conflict and wars.

A historic opportunity exists for us to determine our own future and to march with pride and confidence into a prosperous future for our country and our continent.

Let us act true to the ideals of those women who marched in 1956, so that in time, we will reach our destiny of a truly non-racial, non-sexist democracy.

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