Address by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, at the Launching Conference of the Progressive Women's Movement, Bloemfontein, 5 August 2006

Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka
Your Excellency, Honourable Luisa Dias Diogo, Prime Minister of Mozambique
Your Excellency, Honourable Joyce Mujuru, Deputy President of Zimbabwe
Honourable Colleagues
Distinguished Guests
Distinguished Delegates
Comrades and Colleagues:

As we gather at this historic launch conference of the Progressive Women's Movement, on behalf of the Steering Committee, may I begin by welcoming all delegates to this event here in Bloemfontein and give our special and heartfelt greetings to those who have traveled far to be here. A special welcome to the women who have come from our neighbouring countries and those who have come across oceans in the spirit of sisterhood and solidarity.

It is in the spirit of selflessness and sacrifice that you have traveled here to strengthen our cause, to work towards unity and to make your voices heard as part of this national effort to intensify the struggle for women's equality.

The journey that has brought us here today in defense of the rights of women, is a journey on which women have traveled from the earliest of times and in all parts of the world.

It is a journey full of milestones and little victories that together add to the whole battle for women's emancipation and for gender equality. It is a fight that we are still waging every day, but we do so strengthened by those who centuries ago began this march for freedom.

As we welcome you to this historic conference let us pause and look back where women have come from. Almost 160 years ago women launched the 1st Women's Rights Convention in New York.

Across the Atlantic Ocean almost 160 years ago women launched the first Women's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. It was here that 300 women and men signed a declaration called the "Declaration of Rights asserted a belief in equality, the right of women to education and freedom to enter all jobs and professions.

This meeting was a landmark in the fight for Women's Rights partly because in coming together, women had reacted to an earlier gathering in 1840 where women delegates were refused the right to be delegates at the Antislavery Convention held in London in 1840 because they were women.

Thereafter women in many other countries started the struggle for women's rights in general, and in particular the right to vote for women was granted in 1893 in New Zealand.

Even in New Zealand women enfranchisement took many decades to achieve because women had to persuade a male electorate to grant them the vote. Many Men and some women believed that women were not suited by circumstance or temperament for the vote. Western political philosophers insisted that a voter had to be independent, unswayed by appeals from employers, landlords, or an educated elite. Women by nature were believed to be dependent on men and subordinate to them. Many thought women could not be trusted to exercise the independence of thought necessary for choosing political leaders responsibly. It was also believed that the women's place was in the home, caring for her husband and children. Entry of women into political life, it was feared, challenged the assignment of women to the home and might lead to disruption of the family.

In Germany public attitude towards woman suffrage were hostile. A Prussian law of 1851 forbade women, along with the mentally ill, school children and apprentices, from joining political parties or attending meeting at which political subjects were discussed.

After the Allied Nations defeated Japan in 1945, Japanese feminists and female staff officers of the Allied Occupation coorperated in proposing that the new Japanese constitution should enfranchise women. Interestingly they hoped women would make the Japanese nation less war-like and that women would raise their children to believe in peace and democracy.

In some countries women were still discriminated on the grounds of race. Like in South Africa, only white women were allowed to vote around 1935, black people only got their vote in 1994.

Programme Director,

Since 1994 we have done well in advancing policies, legislation that contributes towards women's emancipation and access to services, e.g. water, electrification, health, labour laws, maintenance laws, reproductive rights.

Women have also done well in the issue of representation in decision making ie in parliament, in the cabinet, in provinces we have women premiers, MEC's and councillors. In business women are just beginning to feature. With all these achievement, there is still a lot more to be done. One young woman asked me, if we are doing well, why do we need a women's movement and what is a women's movement?

I am sure the speaker after me will answer this question in detail.

  • According to Peggy Antrobus in her work "the Global Women's Movement", she defines the women's movement as a "political movement - part of the broad array of social movements concerned with changing social conditions, rather than part of a network of women's organizations (although many women's organizations may be part of a women's movement).
  • A women's movement is grounded in an understanding of women's relations to social conditions - an understanding of gender as an important relationship within the broad structure of social relationships of class, race and ethnicity, age and location.
  • A women's movement is a process, flexible, responding to specific conditions of perceived gender inequality etc.
  • Awareness and rejection of patriarchal privilege and control are central to the politics of women's movements.
  • Finally, a definition of a Women's Movement must include those individual women who would never join an organization, nor define themselves as feminists, but whose lives and actions nevertheless serve to advance the liberation of women in their community and beyond.
  • In most instances the "movement' is born at the moments in which individual women become aware of their separateness as women, their alienation, marginalization, isolation or even abandonment within a braoder movement for social justice or social change. In other words, women's struggle for agency within the broader struggle is the catalyst for women's movements.

Programme Director,

So, what are the challenges?

  • Women still struggle to acquire land and property
  • Access to capital for starting small and medium business enterprises and micro credit still hinder women's full economic participation
  • Access to information to enable women to make the right choices
  • Sharing or distribution of wealth.
  • Unequal gender relations still persist
  • Women subordination
  • How to involve young women in the movement.
  • Racism
  • Poverty.
  • Violence against women and militarism
  • Violation of human rights.
  • Protection of the environment
  • Some of the counter terrorism, wars and conflict seen today are both racist and patriarchal in nature.

Strategies: What strategies should we employ?

It is important to make alliances with men if we are to build a strong progressive women's movement for social transformation. We have to make strategic alliances with those who understand that there is no justice for anyone if there is no justice for women or those who believe no country can boast of being free until its women are free.

Author Antrobus further states that "An increasing number of men are recognizing the ways in which patriarchy limits our understanding of human possibilities, and the contribution of feminism to project that seek social justice and a better life for all"

  • Relationship with the state, judiciary, family, religion and corporate world should be nurtured.

  • We must have a constructive engagement with all these patriarchal institutions in order to reform them.

  • How do we socialize our children on values of respect and diversity instead of domination and violence values based on.

  • What interventions to employ against trafficking of women and children?

  • How to deal with the backlash against women's rights.

Programme Director,

As we launch this Progressive Women's Movement, the thoughts and prayers of women of South Africa and indeed of women of the world reach out to the women and children of Lebanon and Israel and Palestine.We join hands with women of the world in calling for an immediate ceasefire and an establishment of the Palestinian state, co-existing peacefully, side by side with the state of Israel. This launch of the progressive women's movement could not have come at a better time when the country is observing and celebrating the Women's month. If it was not for the sacrifices and gallant acts of those women there would have been no Women's day nor Women's month. They bequeathed to our generation a better life and better environment for Women's emancipation.

The question we must ask ourselves is, what are we going to bequeath to future generations, when we hand over the baton? - will they be proud of us?

I welcome you and wish you successful deliberations!

Igama lamakhosikazi malibongwe!

 

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