Address of the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki on the
Occasion of the National Women's Day Celebrations: Groblersdal, Limpopo 9th August
Programme Director, Ms. Maite Nkoana-Mashabane,
Premier of Limpopo,
Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
Mayor of Sekhukhune District
Ladies and gentlemen
I understand that this year's theme for women's month is "Women
building a South Africa that truly belongs to all - Building on Beijing".
I think it is appropriate that we have adopted this theme particularly because
this year we are also celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Charter.
we pay tribute to the women of South Africa because of the central role they played
in liberating this country. These heroines did not merely play a supporting role
to men, but acted as a conscious and militant force of the liberation struggle,
even sacrificing their own lives so that we could be free.
any process which, consciously or unconsciously undermines the full emancipation
of women is fundamentally hostile to our objective of building a South Africa
that is democratic, non-racial and non-sexist and which truly belongs to all the
Clearly then, it is important for all of us as South Africans, to
answer the question whether we are doing enough to build a South Africa that truly
belongs to all, whether we have made any progress with regard to the issue of
the emancipation and empowerment of women.
It is important that we do not
just talk about women empowerment because it is fashionable to do so. We must
continuously measure the progress we are making in this regard so that we can
determine what we should do next to improve on our performance. Accordingly, it
will be necessary to make an audit of this progress in both the public and private
There is no doubt that the public sector has made some progress
on the issue of women's empowerment. For instance, in 1997 we had 31,57% of our
ministers and deputy ministers were women while today the figure is 44,89%.
current figure for women in the national parliament is 32,75%, while the average
representation at the Provincial level is 32,3% with seven out of nine provinces
now having met the minimum 30% quota for women representation. As far as local
government is concerned, in 2003 women comprised 28% of councillors, which was
a marked increased from the previous period. In this regard, we have a very good
opportunity to improve in this area with the forthcoming local government elections.
Further, there are 27% women in the senior management level in the public
service. While these figures represent progress from what was the case in 1994,
it is obviously not enough and as government we will continue to deal with this
challenge until all of us, as South Africans, feel that this country truly belongs
I mention these figures because I would like that as South Africans
we should use the occasion of the Women's Month to expedite the process of empowering
women and assess whether we are doing what we should to advance the objective
of the emancipation of women.
Last year, the Businesswomen's Association
in association with a USA research institute, Catalyst, produced a report that
indicates that women constitute 14,7% of all executive managers and 7,1% of all
directors in the private sector. This is clearly an unsatisfactory situation.
On this important day that celebrates our heroines, we will like to call
on corporate leaders to ensure that they move forward faster with regard to this
important matter of women emancipation. Clearly, it is not possible to realise
our full economic potential while we continue to marginalise women who constitute
the majority of our people.
The empowerment of women does
not only relate to high positions in both the public and private sectors. This
empowerment must mean that the ordinary women in the rural areas should be freed
from the daily arduous and back-breaking tasks of walking long distances to fetch
wood and carry river water.
This emancipation must mean that we make the
necessary progress to arm women with education, with skills and information so
that they can participate meaningfully in the economic and social development
opportunities that are available in our country.
We should continue to
increase the participation of women in the economic life of our country, by among
others as government, strengthening our tender processes so that through government
interventions we can see visible change in the lives of the women of South Africa.
We should further engage the private sector so that they also source their
services and products from women-owned and managed businesses, taking the necessary
measures to promote, mentor and empower business women.
In addition, we
have a duty to work with employers and trade unions so as to bring to an end the
continuing sexual abuse of working women at the work place as well as those seeking
Undoubtedly, women will never be fully emancipated if their human
rights are violated.
We therefore have a duty, as a nation, to unite against
the marauding animals that rape and abuse women and children and continue to shelter
in our communities.
As communities, we need to ask ourselves as to what
has happened to our practice of Ubuntu when these inhuman things happen among
us without us taking initiatives, within the law, to uproot them. We should not
shirk our responsibilities by ignoring the abuse of women and children on the
basis that it is the task only of the police to deal with these matters.
to empower our women we should accelerate the process of development in both the
rural and urban areas so as to liberate them from the debilitating and hopeless
existence which does not promise a better and brighter tomorrow. This we should
do, by working better together to fight poverty, disease and help improve the
health of our people.
Of importance, we need to deal better with the challenge
of gender and disability, because women with disabilities face double jeopardy
as women and as disabled people. This applies equally to young and adult women.
I am saying that we have to pay special attention to this challenge because
often we find that women with disabilities are open to more abuse than other women
and in cases where a disabled child is born, even if the parent is not disabled,
some men will abandon the family.
Disabled girls and women face many challenges
as learners and if they are lucky to be employed, they still face formidable obstacles.
Indeed, by engaging in all these measures of empowering women we are building
on the important decisions taken at the United Nations conference on women in
Beijing in 1995.
Among other things, the task of the empowerment of women
means that as South Africans, we should increase our collaboration with other
international partners, especially the rest of our continent.
As we know,
in 2004, the African Heads of States adopted a Declaration on Gender Equality
in Africa which, among other things, prescribes that 50% of those who serve in
the African Union and in all structures of our governments have to be women.
are proud as Africans that we have a good example to follow with regard to this
target as represented by the case of Rwanda, for instance, which leads the world
with women constituting 49% of that country's parliamentarians.
celebrate the bravery and sacrifice of women throughout South Africa, and salute
the women who marched in 1956 as well as the women who continue to "march"
to advance the cause of democracy, peace, development and human dignity for all.
As we continue our march towards a better life, we should continue to seek
better and more effective ways of accelerating women's empowerment and emancipation.
In this regard, I am told that there is currently a process involving government,
working together with civil society organisations, the Commission on Gender Equality
and the Legislatures to develop a National Programme of Action on Women's Empowerment
and Gender Equality for the next ten years. I urge everyone to contribute to this
On 11th August, the Presidential Working Group on Women will have
its second sitting. At this gathering, women representing various sectors of our
society will share with us their views about the direction we should take so as
to make better progress to increase the pace of the emancipation of women.
celebrate Women's Month I will like to urge that government at different levels
as well as the private sector should ensure that they have the necessary mechanisms
that will help all of us to accelerate the process of empowering women. This is
critical if we are not to confine dealing with the important matters facing women
only during the 9th of August.
Since our liberation in 1994, we have achieved
much in our efforts towards a better life for all. More still needs to be done.
However, if we do not fully empower the women of this country, and advance towards
genuine gender equality, the better life for all to which we are committed will
remain a mere dream.
As we continue to celebrate the Freedom Charter and
rededicate ourselves to its vision that South Africa belongs to all who live in
it, we will spare no effort in the continuing struggle to ensure that liberated
South Africa also fully belongs to the women of our country.
I wish you
all a very pleasant Women's Day.
I thank you.
Issued by The Presidency