Opening Remarks by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma at the Commemorative Dialogue between Tunisian and South African Women, Pretoria, 2 April 2007

Programme Director
SAWID Patron in Chief, Sis Zanele Mbeki
Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry, Ms Elizabeth Thabethe
Honourable UNFT President, Ms Aziza Hatira
Executive and Board Members of UNFT
SAWID Chairperson, Dr Brigalia Bam
SAWID National Steering Committee Members
Panel Members and Facilitators
Distinguished Tunisian and South African Delegates
Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is for the first time that we meet together as Tunisian and South African women here in South Africa to address common concerns and to share best practices. I would like to give a special welcome to our sisters from Tunisia who have travelled the whole length of the African continent to be with us.

I recall my first visit to Tunisia and how I returned with the view that we could learn so much from your poverty eradication programmes and initiatives. I was very grateful Sis Zanele took up this matter and a firm partnership has been set up.

I am told that a successful discussion between South African and Tunisian women took place early in March this year. Under the auspices of the National Union of Tunisian Women (UNFT) and SAWID, we recognised a shared and collective struggle that we face as women by agreeing to observe the anniversaries through a successful Round Table Discussion in Tunisia and a commemorative dialogue deliberating on the theme of "women, peace and prosperity" in South Africa.

I trust that this dialogue in South Africa will further contribute in deepening the discussion and taking us further towards realising our common goals.

We meet here to jointly celebrate two anniversaries of the struggles for women's emancipation in our two countries. The 50th Anniversaries namely of the Code of the Legal Status for Tunisian women which legislated for equality between women and men in the family and in society and the historic March of 20 000 South African women from all walks of life to the Union Buildings in Pretoria in 1956 in order to protest against the pass laws.

Of course, we are also celebrating the 50th anniversary of Ghana's independence. Ghana was the first Sub-Saharan African country to gain independence and this had an important influence on the anti-colonial struggle.

As the first women's non-governmental organization established in 1956 in independent Tunisia, the National Union of Tunisian Women (UNFT), has consistently worked to improve women's status, in society and under the law. It was on 13th August 1956 that the Personal Status Code was adopted which guaranteed the rights of women.

In South Africa, the demands of the women who marched in 1956 under the banner of the Federation of South African Women began to be met in 1994 when all South African women (irrespective of colour or creed or class) finally gained equality with the first democratic elections ushering in a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic country.

In 1996, the Bill of Rights in the new constitution made provision for full equality for women and importantly a Commission for Gender Equality was set up. The Constitution has opened up space for women to be heard on matters of concern to their wellbeing and that of society generally.. As Dr Ginwala said yesterday, all the rights are in the Constitution but the struggle to actually enjoy all these rights is going to be long.

In the recreation of the 1956 march in August last year, once more women walked to the Union Building in acknowledgement of the women who had paved the way 50 years ago. The women recognised that:

"We acknowledge the Democratic state for providing the space, which ensures the deepening of the struggles for women's emancipation….

We take cognizance of the fact that these advances improved the quality of life and status of women and laid the foundation for the changing of power relations between men and women through the Constitution adopted 10 years ago.

We note that Democracy provided the voices of women and space to be heard on matters of concern to their lives, their wellbeing and that of society….

We recognize that there are major challenges that women still face as women due to non-institutionalisation and legislation of mechanisms and processes that ensure parity in society."

The women called upon the state in particular to address brutality against women, the feminisation of poverty, the problems of underdevelopment and unemployment, the problems of women's access to the economy and access to basic services:

"We call on the democratic state and its institutions to take note and urgently prioritise the resolution of the following problems:

  • The continual brutalisation of women in our society by a patriarchal system that is re-enforced by regressive elements of our culture and customs.
  • The feminisation of poverty, underdevelopment and unemployment.
  • Poverty since those worst affected by poverty are women particularly the unemployed, the ones living in informal settlements, the rural and farm areas and the working class women.
  • That whilst our economy grows at an impressive rate, women are relegated to the entry level and remain in the main informal economic sphere. Those women in general do not own the means of production and remain at the lowest rung in the job industry.
  • Lack of access to land, security tenure and continuous eviction have a negative impact on their well being and those of their families.
  • That many women particularly working class, rural, farm and poor women have not yet tasted the fruits of our liberation. Many of them have not yet accessed basic services such as sanitation, clean water, land, electricity, basic literacy, social security etc…."

In many ways, the commemoration of these two anniversaries have offered us the opportunity to chart a new road ahead to consolidate work in the areas where transformation has been slow for the women of our two countries.

One of the priority areas that we have identified for our joint discussion at this dialogue and engagement is exchanging best practices in poverty eradication strategies, legislative dispensations and participation in public life and corporate business.

On the African continent there has been significant progress for women in terms of political representation with recognition of the promotion of gender equality as a key principle of the African Union and the adoption by Heads of State and Government of the principle of 50% gender representation in the African Union.

Much has been done. In the area of conflict resolution, SAWID and Sis Zanele decided to involve women in conflict resolution. But we can do more to take action to facilitate women's participation in political processes - even from the initial phases in peace processes, conflict prevention, conflict resolution, to increasing the numbers of women in post-conflict reconstruction.

Over the last two days I attended the National General Council meeting of the ANC Women's League. As women we have reaffirmed our view that while the 30% quota for women represented in parliament was a step forward, we maintain that we should have a 50/50 gender parity.

We borroed the slogan that has been a rallying call for the Disabled communities of our country and that is: 'Nothing about us without us'! It is this same determination that we must carry with us - that women's rights are human rights - and that the concerns of women are inextricably linked to every part of our development agenda and to every aspect of the social, political, economic and cultural life of our nations and continent as a whole.

Thus, our success in bringing about change is dependent on us recognising linkages and interconnectedness.

African women have borne the brunt of poverty and inequality. People living in sub-Saharan Africa are the most deeply mired in poverty, with incomes the furthest below the poverty line worldwide.

The Jeffrey Sachs report, Investing in Development: A Practical Plan to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals states that Sub-Saharan Africa demonstrates a widespread shortfall for most of the MDGs and requires specific poverty scale-up interventions. It adds that "even relatively well-governed countries remain mired in poverty and poverty traps."

The Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) on "Promoting Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment in Africa" has pointed out that an "increase in women's poverty has been systemic and strategies to reduce poverty have not been gender sensitive."

I am pleased that we will be sharing our views and ideas with our Tunisian counterparts whose country managed to bring down their poverty rate from 12% in 1980 to 4% in 1992 with the help of the National Solidarity Fund. We are privileged to be able to learn from your experience.

This dialogue is going to focus on important areas related to women's development in Africa including greater emphasis on using how to use legislation and Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to eradicate poverty and bring prosperity to women and society.

I have been asked to set the scene by focusing on some of the commitments made in 2000 at the United Nations (UN) Millennium Summit when Heads of States and Governments pledged to make the world a better place on behalf of their people.

In this gathering they vowed to halve abject and dehumanising conditions of extreme poverty by 2015.

Of particular importance to us today is that in the Millennium Declaration world leaders also pledged "to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women as effective ways to combat poverty, hunger and disease and to stimulate development that is truly sustainable." They also pledged to adopt new measures and join efforts in the fight against poverty, illiteracy, hunger, lack of education, gender inequality, infant and maternal mortality, disease and environmental degradation.

The set of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) targets and indicators are an important political outcome of the Millennium Summit. I believe that it is an important platform for pressing for the renewal of national commitments and the fulfilment of political pledges on gender equality, as well as serving as benchmarks for measuring progress and holding governments accountable for commitments made.

At the same time the MDGs need to be strategically aligned to the Beijing Platform for Action. Therefore, the MDGs should not be treated as an agenda for sustainable development, but as part of the agenda, a vehicle, for the emancipation of women.
The Millennium Declaration provides an opportunity for high-level global politics under a development framework with goals and time-bound commitments.
The way I see the MDGs is that they can be used together with the Beijing Platform for Action as a real vehicle for sustainable development. I do not believe you can eradicate poverty without gender emancipation. Women's emancipation must be at the centre of the MDGs agenda.

Women and education

I will start with the second MDG, that is education. Education for us should be pivotal in everything we do because it will affect the lifecycle of us as women and society as a group. Education is so critical so that women have the space to make decisions, to legislate, make policies. The second MDG speaks about achieving universal primary education especially for women. But I think we have the capacity to go beyond this.
Education is very critical since it restores your dignity. Education gives you space to be skilled, professional, in business. Education gives us access to information and access to the rights we already have.

Sustainable development and sustainable poverty eradication strategies depend on education. It has been proven through research that if you educate girls, infant mortality falls. Reducing infant mortality is another MDG. Through education nutrition of the family improves and access to health and other services also improve.

Women and Gender equality

The third MDG promotes gender equality. This is critical because equality means women have space to develop to their full potential. But it also means they are in decision-making: they make sure that the policies in government and in society are gender sensitive. They make decisions in boardrooms as captains of industry.
I want to quote one of our women authors from Latin America, Marcela Valenta, who says that when we look at development, we must look at it as though women matter. She says this because in the past development plans were as if women do not matter and do not even exist.

She goes on to say that:

"In order to advance towards the MDGs, gender equality cannot merely be limited to a number of specific objectives, but must be the lens through which all the targets are viewed."

She is right. Gender Equality must be the lens. We agree with this even as we examine the first MDG that calls for the eradication of poverty and hunger.

Women and Poverty

In sub-Saharan African extreme poverty is increasing. Poverty is feminised worldwide. So again we cannot talk about eradicating poverty without centring it on women. The majority of the poor are women. So if you want to make an impact on the poor, you must make an impact on women.

There is an interesting shift in poverty - urban women are also now the bulk of the poor. We can no longer look only at rural women. A poor person is more likely be an unskilled female earning low wages or is unemployed and living in urban Africa. Rural women may be unemployed and have no access to clean water or sanitation.

Strategies designed to combat the discrimination and disadvantage faced by women must be central to successful poverty reduction.

The challenge is to ensure that women are at the centre of development, that economic opportunities and development are accessible to women.

Combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases

The sixth MDG is about combating HIV/Aids, malaria and other diseases. We need to make sure that women are able to protect themselves against HIV/AIDS so that this MDG can be met.

Women must have the capacity and the space to do this and there must be changing power relations or this MDG will never be met.

It has to be centred on women. The family looks at us for water and sanitation - women often have to spend hours finding water.. For us, water and santiation are crucial. The majority of infants die from water-borne diseases. Sanitation, besides restoring dignity, improves the health It will cut infant mortality. The fifth MDG centres on reducing maternal mortality and this again also reinforces the importance of the education of women and access to health.

Women and the Environment

The seventh MDG seeks to ensure environmental sustainability by reducing by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water.

Women are crucial to conservation and the restoration of the environment because they are the incubators, the nurturers and they bring life on to the earth. They have to be concerned about the restoration of the environment for future generations of the human race. They guarantee the continuation of the human race. Therefore it is not surprising that the first Nobel Prize for the environment was won by a woman.

Greater recognition needs to be placed on the fact that women ensure the continuity of the human race. Thus sustaining the environment is about sustaining lives. The type of poverty eradication strategies we engage must be those that lead to sustainable development.

One cannot look at the MDGs without looking at women. As we share ideas and look at common challenges, our understanding of the MDGs must be that they are entwined with women's emancipation. The two together can lead to sustainable development.

Global partnerships for development

I believe that the key to success is to forge partnerships for development. The final MDG calls for developing a global partnership for development. This is important because it is also about creating a rules based trading system for the world which would also enable women to enter markets and create more possibilities for prosperity.

The NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa's Development) is one such initiative. Women's activities can be further strengthened through their contact with others and in co-operation with countries where women share the same plight or where we learn from the experiences of others in order to fully free ourselves.

We need to lobby and to demonstrate that there is political will and that part of that will is to harness domestic resources and investment as well as seeking private sector partnerships to achieve our goals.

  • The MDGs present a strategic opportunity to open a dialogue between governments, donors and with civil society. This meeting is part of a movement towards that dialogue.
  • Given that governments already have international legal obligations under human rights treaties concerning gender equality and UN monitoring and supervision mechanisms, these can be used in accordance with the MDGs in order to impact on women's lives.

Many countries have submitted reports related to the MDGs therefore women's movement has the opportunity to include specific goals and indicators in each country.

Some of our challenges are:

  • Promoting gender equality and empower women to include women as agents of change, decision-makers and policy beneficiaries;
  • Showing the close relationship between the unequal distribution of wealth and poverty;
  • Integrating gender-specific actions into policies showing how a gender perspective can be mainstreamed into the policies;
  • Identifying tools that promote accountability in the implementation strategies or awareness of the multidimensionality;
  • Ensuring that gender-sensitive indicators are used in order to monitor progress in attaining MDGs;
  • Training of those responsible for national planning on gender and development and providing them with tools for the development of gender budgets and the equitable distribution of public resources;

Let us strive to ensure that Women Do Matter - that we have all the resources and energies we can muster to meet the MDGs before 2015.

At the same time, we need to learn from the mistakes of the past and focus on the practical issues of building capacity of our women especially those in the informal sector to grow and create jobs and alleviate poverty.

We came together to launch a Progressive Women's Movement last year. We believe that this is a movement that is representative of the progressive forces in our country, a movement that will indelibly stamp the issues that women face daily onto the agenda of every sphere of society in our country.

Given the enormous contribution and sacrifices of African women in the struggle for the liberation of the continent, we remain convinced that it is an imperative for women to participate fully in running the affairs of the continent, and the rebuilding of the continent.

Through reviving and strengthening the Pan-African Women's Organisation, we could play a pivotal role in bring together women from all around Africa through promoting information sharing and learning from each other in order to change women's lives for the better. It is only through networking and solidarity that we can move forward as women of the continent together impacting on its social, economic and cultural development.

In a globalising world, let us also take forward the struggle of women of the South as a whole.

Equality among nations, as well as between women and men, requires a global and local pact of the different powers in every sphere of human activity.

Let us spread the word that women do matter in the development agenda! The one cannot do without the other.

Nothing about us - without us! Let this be our rallying call.

Women United!

Women removing the knots!

As the poet said yesterday, women exercising courage are invincible!

I thank you.

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