Remarks by the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, of the Republic of South Africa, the Honourable Ms Sue van der Merwe, at the Function to Commemorate the 16 Days of Activism: No Violence against Women and Children Campaign, Union Buildings, Pretoria, 9 December 2004

Colleagues of the Department of Foreign Affairs
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen:

As we commemorate "the 16 days of activism: no violence against women" campaign, let us remind ourselves that this is a United Nations-endorsed campaign that is held especially in the time between the 25th November (International Day of No Violence Against Women) and 10th December (International Human Rights Day).

South Africa has acceded to various international conventions - for example the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the African Children's Charter - and at a political level together with other countries we have tried to ensure that in the organs of the African Union and in international dialogues that are focused on post conflict reconstruction, women are properly represented, so that they actively build a new Africa and lead their countries into an African renaissance. Our Minister has been one of the leading advocates for women's' equality within the structures of the AU.

I think as we also prepare for the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly in 2005 (Beijing +10), as we ask ourselves what have we done for the women of our land, we need to recommit ourselves to the struggle of women to be free.

We are pleased to have with us here today representatives from the Office on the Status of Women located in the Presidency as well as from the Office on the Status of the Child and the Office on the Status of Disabled Persons, because all of these have been working tirelessly to organise this campaign.

Thus the South African Government's Campaign spearheaded by the Deputy Minister of Correctional Services is part and parcel of an international effort to raise awareness about the violence against women and children.

Speaking at the Opening Ceremony of this Campaign, President Mbeki emphasised that this is an opportunity for us to show our unity as a nation. He pointed out that:

"This [campaign] is in support of the national cause to unite in the fight against violence and abuse of the women and children of our country."

He said that we should "use this occasion to renew our commitment to end brutal and dehumanising behaviour by some in our society." Let us therefore agree to the call to "use this period to recommit our country to the inalienable human rights of women and children."

This Campaign is also a serious attempt to inculcate a new consciousness of change, to promote national resistance to women abuse and child abuse. And even beyond this, the campaign is intended to encourage the South African people to recommit ourselves to working towards a more people-centred society, a caring community of South Africans who will look after each other as indeed they work together to create a better life for all.

I think we should even go as far as to say that "a better life for all" means also a better life for our country and our continent's women and children - for every African woman and every African child to be able to participate fully in the life of their countries and in accessing the fruits of their freedom. In the Department of Foreign Affairs, when we speak about "consolidating the African agenda", part of our task in this regard is also to bring about a better life for the women of Africa.

Women's emancipation is inextricably linked to the struggle of Africa's people to overcome poverty and underdevelopment and to bring about prosperity and sustained social and economic development.

In a book brought out by Gender Links titled Ringing up the Changes, there is a poem by the Ugandan poet, Mildred Kiconco, which I thinks helps to tell us what we are fighting about in this Campaign.

She tells us that:

"I wasn't there when God was creating a woman,
But one thing I'm sure, He made her human,
To lead, to head, to direct and to help,
God adorned her with Grace,
That whoever looked at her would say Yes."

The poem goes on to explain how women have suffered and have been oppressed by men and yet it shows us how true liberation meant that the suffering of women would also have to be brought to an end.

"The knock of liberation was really true,
She was to sit on benches with men,
In her fingers also hold a pen….
On panels she sat, no longer the home made mat,
Newspapers she started to read,
And the men became afraid,
They were shocked to hear, what women held dear,
Equality? Rights? Emancipation?"

This 16 Days of Activism campaign should enable us to confront our fears, to assert our rights, to speak out against suffering and violence and most importantly, to examine our individual and collective commitments to ending violence against women and children - and by this we also mean violence within the household, violence that finds its ways into the working environment and into situations of conflict.

It is also about us accepting that we need to teach our children respect, human dignity, their rights and the rights of all people in a free society. It is about freedom of speech, freedom of movement, the rights of families, of women, of children to live productive lives and to flourish at what they do, so that we all live in peace and harmony together.

The 16 Days Campaign is also in order for us as a nation to be able to say a big, collective 'NO' to the kind of discrimination that targets women and children - making those who are vulnerable the deliberate victims of violence and undermining their power.

The kind of powerlessness that perpetuators of violence inflict on those they deem weak and worthless must come to an end. As we say "NO", our efforts should also be as agents of change, who wish to see the full emancipation of our people.

As we say "NO", let us also say that we shall speak out against domestic violence, that we will not allow a sister to be abused and keep silent about it, that we will help families to solve their problems peacefully and we will assist women and children to leave situations that endanger their lives and that together we shall build an environment that is safe and in which the laws protecting our people are enforced.

It is very important that we should not simply speak, but also commit ourselves to action. This is why we ask our people to pledge towards the ending of this scourge of violence - we must all be proud about making our voices heard and actions speak our loud to stop the suffering.

Let our contribution towards bringing an end to this violence be seen also as part of our battle to end poverty on our continent.

Let our words resound and our deeds be seen by all throughout the African continent, so that the regional and continental progressive forces of change work together so that an enduring peace can reign for all women, children and men, for the families, the communities, the countries that are part of this continent and the wider world.

An African peace means stopping the violence and NOT allowing our youth, our girl children and our boy children to be sucked into the violence, so that they do not become perpetrators or child soldiers or victims of violence, but to allow children to be children and to lead vibrant and joyful lives.

I think that as the Ministry and Department of Foreign Affairs, this is what we would want for the women and children of South Africa, Africa and the world.

And we commit ourselves to working towards this reality and to truly fulfil the African people's dreams of freedom and renewal and of being treated as equal and as fully human in this world.

I thank you.

Issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs

Private Bag x152

9 December 2004

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