Speech by the South African Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma delivered at the Pan-African Center for Gender Peace and Development Conference in Dakar Senegal on 01 May 2005

May I congratulate Femmes African Solidarite for initiating the Africa Gender Forum Dialogue with Arab Women on economic and political issues and for the idea of the gender award. Thank you for inviting me to be part of this dialogue.

This follows very closely the Asian African Summit in Indonesia where women and youth from Asia and Africa had their dialogue and fed the results of their discussions to the Summit.

Last year October we all sat glued to our television sets, our hearts and minds were in Oslo, where a historic and spectacular event was taking place - The first African women was receiving a Nobel Peace Prize. Our sister from Kenya Professor Wangari Maathai was making history in ground-breaking work. It was for the first time in the history of mankind that this prestigious prize was awarded for environmental activities. We once more Salute Professor Wangari Maathai, for making us proud to be African women.

It was not surprising therefore, that the first recipient had to be a woman. Women have the important responsibility to ensure the very survival of the human race. They are very conscious of and sensitive to those things that might undermine the very survival of the human race whether it be the environment or a threat to peace, food insecurity, health, education and so on.

I believe that is why nature ensured that they are the majority and tend to survive longer, everything being equal.

Given such a central role, that the women play in the survival of humanity you would have thought our societies and humanity as a whole would have given the first call to the resources of this world to women and children.

You would have thought that women would have been protected against domestic violence, against the ravages of war, against hunger and disease. You would also have thought that there would have been given access to education and skills, health especially reproductive health, to food as to be better equipped for their responsibilities.

You would have thought that they would have been given the central place in decision-making structures of societies, be they political, cultural, legal, academic religious, social and so on, to ensure that those decisions do not impact negatively on humanity and its survival.

You would have thought that no government or country would be accepted as fully democratic unless women were fully integrated at all levels of government and structures of society.

You would have thought that no government or country would be accepted as observing human rights unless women's rights, which are human rights, were fully observed.

You would have thought that countries would be held responsible for discriminatory practices if they had gender discrimination.

Chairperson, you would have that the whole world would guard against the marginalization of women. You would have thought that any nation that wanted to reach its full potential in economic, social, cultural and political development would know that that would be impossible if it continued to exclude more than half of its population, which incidentally are women.

It is my contention therefore that we cannot talk of a just and equitable world whilst women are marginalized.

It is for that reason that our vanguard organization, the African National Congress and its alliance partners, the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions even at the height of our liberation struggle came to understand and accept that the struggle would not be complete and we would not be free unless women were equal participants in that struggle and were free.

It is for this reason then when we first step towards freedom we ensued that our Constitution, our highest law of the land is entrenched the definition of society we continue to struggle for as a democratic non- racial and non-sexiest society, until that is achieved the struggle continues.

It is for the same reason that at the center of our foreign policy, which is the creation of a better world, a fight against racism, gender discrimination and the elimination poverty are priorities.

Madam Chairperson, allow me to quote from the preamble of the United Nations Charter, an expression of the determination of the Peoples of the World, which in part says,

"To reaffirm faith in the fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of man and women and of the nations large and small" to promote social programmes and better standards of life in larger freedoms"

Despite these noble objective, we however are witnesses to unprecedented feminization of poverty with 70% of world poor being women, the general marginalization of women in every human activity. They continue to be exposed to inhuman conditions; they are still victims of domestic violence and are at the receiving end of the violence of war, conflicts and its consequences.

Women are still denied access to technology, education, health and of critical importance are being denied access to political decision-making bodies. Ironically, despite the three world conferences on women including the Beijing Platform for Action, women are yet to see the benefits of decisions taken at these meetings.

Madame Chairperson.

Let me remind this august gathering that there is no dignity in hunger, disease, homelessness, unemployment, and ignorance and there is no dignity in poverty.

To fight for the eradication of poverty will be part of restoring the dignity of the world. To fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria, TB, and other infectious diseases would be to improve the health of women and children who are disproportionately affected by these scourges. If the world were to implement the Beijing Platform for Action, it would go a long way towards the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals.

How do we as women make sure that we prioritize the struggle for the dignity of women, for women emancipation, the struggle against poverty at the center of every country's agenda?

What are the comparative advantages that we might have to employ in order to fast track this process?

The first and probably the most important is our numbers. In democratic societies and institutions, numbers do count.

We believe that if women were to be active in political parties in their own countries, they can change the thinking of within those political formations. In South Africa the African National Congress at its inception in 1912, women were not allowed to be full members, they could not vote nor could they be voted for. Women waged a sustained struggle against those positions both within the movement and in society at large.

It was only in the 40s that the ANC allowed women to be full members. Only then did the ANC become a truly democratic mass movement. Women also participated in the struggle against apartheid, but at the same time, continued their relentless struggle within the movement itself.

As women we used this comparative advantage during the political negotiations, prior to South Africa's first democratic elections in 1994by forming the women's coalition, which cut across the racial divide, class and other artificial differences. The coalition was to draw up the women's charter designed to influence the constitution making process, which was already in place.

During the elections we again used our numbers as an advantage within the ANC, thus ensuring that the ANC list had a 30% quota for women. We obviously knew that the ANC could not win the elections, in fact no political party could win those elections unless it hat the support of the majority of the population, which incidentally are women. That is why we were able to advance from a handful of women in the apartheid parliament, to more than a hundred women in the democratic parliament, which admittedly was not enough, but nevertheless, a step in the right direction. Parity had become our lodestar.

When the first Cabinet of the free South Africa was formed, there were only two women Cabinet members; I had the privilege of being one of them after being appointed Minister of Health.

Of course we as women in the ANC complained to the then President Nelson Mandela who promised to increase the number. True to his word, by the end of his five-year term as President he had doubled the number of women Cabinet Ministers to four.

When President Thabo Mbeki started his term, he appointed 8 women Ministers. At the beginning of his second term he appointed 12 Cabinet Ministers and out of 28 Ministers and 10 deputy Ministers out of 21. This has come about because of the women's activities within the ANC and in society at large fused with the support of especially the top leadership of the ANC. There was admittedly a lot of resistance within other sectors of the ANC.

The increase in women's representation was not only in Cabinet but also within government as a whole. This development is significant in that it gives women confidence to asset themselves in their different fields of activity.

The real benefit has been that women in parliament do ensure that all legislation is not only gender sensitive, but is also able to advance the struggle for a non-sexist society. To illustrate this further, when we were appointed to Cabinet in 1994, as I have indicated that at the beginning the were only two of us. We committed ourselves to working very hard so as to force open the door for other women.

What were the challenges?

The major challenge was the resistance within certain sections in our own movement. The second challenge was for women to demonstrate that they are capable, hard working and focused. With the passage of time, society became accustomed to women in those responsibilities. It is therefore common to have women in leadership positions. Though the prejudice still obtains.

Thirdly, the women themselves did pose a challenge, as some of them were opposed to quotas, arguing that it was tokenism and not based on merit.

What quotas do? In our view, they have the effect of focusing people's minds on finding capable women rather than the tendency to focus only on men. In other words, what the quotas do is to say to society - look for appropriately qualified women and you shall find them.

The fourth challenge was that the environment and conditions in government institutions were designed primarily to serve men. For instance, prior to 1994 even ladies bathrooms in parliament were in short supply and to be increased. The point is, apartheid Parliament had been designed to serve men.

We also had to look at the non-availability of child-care facilities in parliament. Interestingly, in Cabinet at some stage there was the expectation that the wives were to take care of children's transport to school and other activities until we had to point out that some of us did not have wives. Government had therefore to make alternative arrangements.

In dealing with these anomalies we had to guard against trying to make it as women in a men's world. What is of critical importance is to create a world in which both women and men are comfortable.

When I was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs, it was expected that the wife of a foreign minister has to undertake certain duties vis-à-vis the spouses of the diplomatic corps, the majority of whom are men. Alternative arrangements had to be made since I do not have a wife. With these examples the point I am trying to make is that it is important that we as women should ensure that the environment in which we operate is gender friendly.

Our other comparative advantage is that women are very influential within families, especially in relation to young children. Women should, therefore, use that influence to bring up the next generation of youth who are gender sensitive and by definition, non-sexist.

In business, women are also making progress, though there is still a long way to go. To demonstrate this point, may I read you a quote from a recent South African newspaper report, entitled Women CEOs still Few and Far Between,

"It is definitely still a man's world. However, although South Africa's working women are grossly under-represented as executive managers, this country is ahead of some First World countries when it comes to the proportion of women in the top echelons of business.

This is according to the Businesswomen's Association (BWA) census, which was released yesterday. The census, which aims to track the trends of women in business in South Africa, found that although only 19,8% of local companies had women as executive managers, this figure was way ahead of those in the US, Canada and Australia, which respectively had 15,7%, 14% and 10,2% of these positions filled by women."

This is not panacea but we share this experience because we learned from other women's experiences as well. Some of the women we have shared this experience with have done very well and even surpassed us and we feel very proud of having made a modest contribution in improving their situation. Rwanda is one such country which today has 48% women represented in Parliament.

Madam Chairperson.

I earlier referred to Professor Wangari Maathai, who because of her achievements has inspired African women in particular and millions of people around the globe to dedicate themselves to transforming the world for the better. Professor Wangari Maathai is amongst those heroines who continue to ensure that women are bequeath with a better world than the one they themselves found.

History is awash with examples of such women and I'll only quote a few. Ester Afua was Ghana's leading and most prominent entrepreneur and a pioneer of African economic empowerment and an international advocate of women's human rights.

Mariama Ba a Senegalese novelist who did pioneering work as amongst the very first novelists from Sub-Saharan Africa to explore the experience of Muslim African women.

Amina Queen of Zaria in Nigeria mostly remembered as "Amina Yar Bakwa ta san rana" meaning daughter of Nikatau, a woman as capable as a man. Though I personally do not agree that men are the yardsticks of excellence.

Cleopatra of ancient Egypt…The list is endless.

August the 9th, in South Africa is a national holiday dedicated to women in recognition of their contribution to the struggle for national liberation. The same month is also dedicated to profiling women's achievements and detailing their success stories. This helps in sensitizing society and keeping the women's struggle very much alive in the consciousness, psyche and soul of the nation. We are making progress, but there is still a long road ahead.

The countries of the future are those that will take women into the 21st Century. Those who leave them behind will do so at their own peril.

We all have responsibility and an obligation to spare no effort or energy in changing the world for the better. Like the women before us we must dedicate ourselves to the nonsexist struggle so that, indeed, we can bequeath to future generations a better world than the one we ourselves found.

The struggle continues - Victory is certain.

I thank you.

Issued by:
Department of Foreign Affairs
Private Bag X 152

01 May 2005

Quick Links

Disclaimer | Contact Us | HomeLast Updated: 3 May, 2005 9:11 AM
This site is best viewed using 800 x 600 resolution with Internet Explorer 5.0, Netscape Communicator 4.5 or higher.
2003 Department of Foreign Affairs, Republic of South Africa