Address by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, at the International Women's Conference, "Women and the Economic Recovery of Africa", Cape Town, 4 May 2006

Programme Director
Ms Baleka Mbete, Speaker of the South African Parliament
Distinguished Delegates
Ladies and Gentlemen:

I thank you for inviting me to this important international women's event to discuss women and the economic recovery of Africa.

On behalf of all of us I congratulate and thank the organizers for bringing together women from many countries and from different walks of life to grace this occasion with their presence and to give impetus to the discussion.

This meeting takes places at a time in our history when we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the famous women's march to Pretoria, in protest against the extension of the pass laws to women. Women of all races and from different social backgrounds made a stand for human rights.

Led by Lilian Ngoyi, Sophie de Bruyn, Helen Joseph, Amalia Cachalia, the march was part of the revolutionary struggle for change, for bringing an end to apartheid and to chart the way towards a new country that would be non-racial, non-sexist and democratic.

In their petition to then Prime Minister, Strydom, the women declared:

"We shall not rest until we have won for our children their fundamental rights of freedom, justice, and security."
Indeed they did not rest. That's why today, we can all proudly say, South Africa is free, non-sexist, non-racial, democratic and upholds human rights.

It is on the shoulders of these great women, heroines of our struggle, that we stand. As we confront new challenges in the struggle for both the emancipation of women and the economic recovery of the continent, we draw inspiration from them.

We shall forever be grateful to them because they made today better than yesterday for all women in South Africa and contributed to the emancipation of women generally, on the African continent and internationally.

Fifty years on, we are gathered here at this conference in an attempt to dialogue how best to contribute towards the ultimate success of social and economic development of the African continent. As women, our wisdom and creative energies must be part of the driving force for development. There can be no recovery of the continent unless women are at the center of development.

Pre-colonial African history teaches that in many communities and kingdoms, women spearheaded development and led their countries with great vision.

  • In Angola in the 17th century, the powerful Queen Ann Nzinga kept the marauding Portuguese at bay by creating alliances with other kingdoms. She declared all territory in Angola over which she had control 'free country' and allowed all slaves reaching this territory to be free forever. She ruled a mighty army with great military strategies and tactics and did not surrender her country during her four decades of rule.
  • In Ethiopia in the 10th century B.C. Makeda, the Queen of Sheba, ruled the Kingdom of Saba with distinction.
  • In Egypt, Queen Hatsheput, was known to have focused on the expansion of foreign trade, strengthening international diplomatic relations, initiated building programmes and building a navy.
  • In Zimbabwe in the 1890s during the English invasion of this territory, Nehanda, the famous warrior, and her compatriots defended themselves and demonstrated astute leadership in the process.
  • In Ghana, Yaa Asantewa of the Ashanti Empire, the brave Queen Mother of Ejisu, fought against colonial invasion, and in her efforts, she declared:

    "Is it true that the bravery of the Ashanti is no more? I cannot believe it. It cannot be! I must say this, if you the men of Ashanti will not go forward, then we will. We the women will. I shall call upon my fellow women. We will fight the white men. We will fight till the last of us falls in the battlefields."

  • In the Diaspora, there were a number of heroines including Harriet Tubman who though born into slavery, led slaves to freedom from the Southern to the Northern States and Canada.
  • Rosa Parks' refusal to give her seat to a white man in 1955, was an act of courage that launched the civil rights movement. Parks, who was quite, soft spoken and diplomatic had the courage and dedication to make her country better than it was.

Women also played an important role in economic and governance structures on the African continent.

  • In Kenya, Kikuyu women occupied pride of place for their role in land cultivation, thus ensuring food security.
  • In Ghana, the Queen Mother of the Akan people, protected the interests of the people by ensuring that the tax and revenue collected was used to further the education of the children.
  • In Nigeria, within the Igbo society, women spearheaded the development of a complex trade and market system and were highly respected for their business skills.

Women have played a pivotal role in sustaining communities and kingdoms, in nurturing nations and national economies and must play a role in the economic recovery of Africa.

In the renewal of African economies and societies culture will be critical to this effort. Interestingly, culture is a double-edged sword. It can be a catalyst for development and can equally be a negative force for stifling women's emancipation.

From our own experiences, we know that while legislation empowering women exists, some cultural practices militate against this. We therefore have to discard those and work towards changing attitudes. It is not uncommon for abused women to be blamed for their predicament even by authorities charged with protecting their interests.
Religion can also play an important role in contributing to an environment conducive to women's emancipation, but regrettably there are still backward interpretations in some religions that are an impediment to women's emancipation. Women must be vigilant.

Women trafficking is a growing vice, which in my view is akin to slavery and as women we need to start a movement against this practice. Disturbingly, women trafficking underlines the view that women are property that could be bought and disposed of at will.

Women and decision-making

The Beijing Platform of Action realizes the need for including women in decision-making because they tend to ensure that policies are gender sensitive and accelerate women's emancipation. As decision-makers they consider in greater detail the needs of society including access to water and sanitation, land, property and a proper working environment for women that would include maternity benefits.

Women as decision-makers, will ensure that women create an environment where women develop into first economy entrepreneurs and in the process remove obstacles to economic success and sustainability, including access to markets, access to credit and loan capital.

African women in decision-making positions should always ensure that economic policies and government policies in general are geared towards the elimination of poverty, the attainment of the MDGs and the implementation of the Beijing Platform of Action.

The stark reality is, unless we mobilize adequate human and material resources, the Sub-Saharan African region, will not attain the MDGs in the prescribed period. Our region, the most vulnerable region incidentally demonstrates a wide shortfall for most of the MDGs according to the Jeffrey Sachs' UN Report. The report also demonstrates that in Sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia, girls are not making sufficient progress in the attainment of primary school education, as education is an indispensably tool for the eradication of poverty.

Women and the environment

Women are central in the preservation and restoration of our environment, because this is not only essential but critical for the survival and sustainability of future generations. Women are by nature custodians of life and the continuation of the human race. It is therefore not surprising that the first person to have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the Environment is an African woman, our sister Prof. Wangari Maathai.

Women and peacebuilding

Yet we have registered success in key regions of the continent, where dialogue and discussions have won the day and have led to conflict resolution, peace-building and national reconciliation. Now the responsibility for creating an environment conducive for women's progress lies with ourselves.

In recent years, we have seen women coming together in the Great Lakes Region, in the Mano River Basin, to decide on their own future and to organize their participation in the national reconstruction of their countries. The South African Women in Dialogue initiative headed by Mrs. Zanele Mbeki, among other things, has organized discussions between South African women and women from the DRC. All these have been important and groundbreaking initiatives.

Women and post conflict reconstruction

The further challenge on the African continent lies with post conflict reconstruction. Besides the rehabilitation of child soldiers and the restoration of health, dignity and security especially for women and girl children who have been victims of systematic rape and mutilation, we also have a challenge to source resources and human capital.

Women and economic development

This is a continent that urgently needs to raise its own funds from both domestic and international investment in support of sustained social and economic development initiatives and especially in support of women's roles within building rural economies and learning the necessary skills to advance and to compete in the modern world. I am pleased that those who oversee the implementation of specific NEPAD projects are exploring the concrete possibilities of public private partnerships.

In our efforts to ensure the full implementation of Africa's recovery programmes, we need to infuse our work by putting women's progress at the centre. Through our work we need to ensure that there are opportunities for women to progress and to be in a position of influencing the future directions of their family and community life and the life of their country.

Moreover, the girl child needs to be education and be made aware of the full range of career opportunities available so as to be able to enter professions that have been regarded as male dominated.

Women and politics

As a continent, we have welcomed and been party to the AU decisions on gender parity and that Heads of State should give an annual progress report on this matter.

Yet, as a country we are proud of the high participation rates of women in our national parliament, executive and other provincial and local structures. But the challenge remains for concrete legislation to consolidate these gains. Because without an entrenchment through legislation, this is simply not sustainable.


We hope that this conference will come up with workable strategies, which will look at how women can participate meaningfully in the implementation of NEPAD programmes. We hope to get women involved in every aspect of life in our different countries to benefit the African renewal process and accelerate the emancipation of women in general.

As a final comment, for the economic recovery of the continent, we need the full participation of women, who constitute more than 52% of the continent's population. The economic recovery of Africa should go hand-in-hand with the emancipation of women, who incidentally produce the other half.

Thank you for your attention.

Issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs

Department of Foreign Affairs
Private Bag X152

5 May 2006

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