Keynote Address by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, on behalf of Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at the 2nd Conference on the Economic Empowerment of Women, Durban, 7 August 2007

Programme Director
Business Partners Managing Director
President of Business Women’s Association
President of Durban Investments Promotion Agency
President of Durban Chamber of Business and Industry

Distinguished Businesswomen
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am pleased to address you at this 2 nd Conference on the Economic Empowerment of Women in a month in which we celebrate and commemorate the achievements of the women of our country.

I have been asked to speak here today on behalf of Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. The Deputy President would have wanted to be here, but due to other commitments, could not attend this event.

As we meet here today to celebrate how far we have come, it is important also that we begin by recognising how far we still have to go to achieve full gender empowerment and equality and to attain our full freedom as people of South Africa and of the world.

Clearly, one of our most important challenges that we face as a country and as a continent is the fight against poverty and underdevelopment.

In the decades of struggle the vast majority of women especially in marginalised communities have borne the brunt of poverty. They have been exploited on the basis that they are black, women and workers. This triple oppression of race, gender and class is what primarily defined the status of women under apartheid.

For black women, this triple oppression meant that first and foremost they were treated as second class citizens in their own country. They were legally disempowered by apartheid legislation, forcibly removed from their homes and dispossessed of communal land in which they had been the primary producers of agriculture. Their families were separated as men were forced into migrancy. In their daily lives they were also subjected to the worst forms of racism.

The economic system sought to impoverish them and to enslave black people by exploiting their labour and at the same time impoverishing them. As workers, despite the long hours and humiliation they experienced, black women were paid the least for their labour.

Thus we have inherited a country where poverty is worst inflicted on women who are unemployed, women living in informal settlements, in rural and farm areas and among the working class.

Prescribed gender roles led to women’s role in the domestic sphere, as mothers and nurturers, being seen as of lesser importance and value than the tasks of men. Women were said to be natural nurturers and domestic labourers while men were perceived to be natural leaders and decision- makers. These roles were reinforced at home, at school and through the media, thus restricting women’s self-perceptions, disempowering their social and economic potential and limiting the possibilities for their future.

This has been further compounded by the system of patriarchy and its imposition of male domination. In our history, the women of our country have experienced various forms of gender oppression in both rural and urban areas, in both traditional and modern contexts. Some argue that the violence against women is an‘extreme form of reinforcing patriarchal control of women’.

Thus when we speak about economic empowerment of women and gender equality, it is from the starting point that the struggle of women for emancipation is linked to the dismantling of all systems that attempt to oppress them. South Africa thus will not be fully free as long as women are not free.

Indeed this recognition of the interconnectedness of women’s struggles and what needs to be done to overcome this oppression was understood by the 20 000 women, who from all parts of the country marched to Pretoria in 1956. In protesting against the imposition of the pass laws, they demanded for their children “the fundamental rights of justice, freedom and equality”.

They gave voice to their resistance and determination and demonstrated their power in themselves when they declared "wa’thinta abafazi, wa’thinta imbokodo."

Thus when we established our democracy in 1994, we did so fully conscious that our aim was for a truly non-racial and non-sexist South Africa. We dismantled apartheid legislation and put in place progressive policies. We established an Office on the Status of Women located in the Presidency and a Commission for Gender Equality. We have fought for increasing representation of women at all levels of government and made great strides in this respects. We have taken a gendered perspective on development by ensuring that women are integrally involved in the design and implementation of development projects and programmes.

Conscious of that triple bind that oppressed women in the past and in our efforts towards realising our full freedom as women and as a people, our focus is also on creating the necessary conditions for sustainable economic and social development.

As a country, our government has taken it as its mandate to halve poverty and unemployment by 2014. In the first thirteen years of democracy, there has been great progress in the provision of basic infrastructure such as clean water and electricity. We have achieved gender parity in primary and secondary education.

But we also have also gone further by recognising the primary role women play in production, in economic activities. The key challenge for all of us is to transform this activity into economic growth and development – to ensure that women have the means and opportunity to take advantage of the freedom they enjoy.

It is abundantly clear on the African continent that women are largely responsible for sustaining families through subsistence agriculture.

According to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), “rural women are responsible for half of the world's food production and produce between 60% and 80% of the food in most developing countries.”

Thus women are key to agricultural development.

The UN Economic Commission on Africa has also pointed to the need for diversification in agriculture and pointed out that the agriculture sector could be a main contributor to poverty reduction.

It is also important to state that women’s participation must mean that women are at the helm of decisions that are made in this sector.

The feminisation of poverty also means that access to educational and economic opportunities are important for women’s emancipation. Our experience has also shown that when women as care-givers and mothers, who nurture whole communities, possess economic means they tend to invest more in education, their families and communities.

As the 2006 Human Development Report also points out:

“One of the greatest returns to improved access to water is in the time savings for women and girls and the expansion of their choices…. Why does this matter for human development? Time is an important asset for the development of capabilities. Excessive time demands for essential labour lead to exhaustion, reduce the time available for rest and child care and limit choice – they reduce the substantive freedoms that women enjoy… Time poverty also contributes to income poverty. It reduces the time available for participation in income generation, limits the scope for women to take advantage of market opportunities and impedes their ability to expand capabilities and skills, reducing further economic returns.”

Indeed with more and more time on our side, with improvements in standards of living, women are putting their collective shoulder to the wheel in an effort to improve the performance of our economy. Their efforts are helping to create more jobs and to fight poverty.

The fact that our economy continues to grow is indeed a fitting tribute to the important role that women continue to play in the economy as workers, managers and entrepreneurs.

Recent statistics also indicate that female entrepreneurs are fast becoming significant contributors to the South African economy as business owners and job creators.

Other evidence suggests that while women make up 52% of the adult population in South Africa, they make up only 41% of the working South African population, constitute only 14,7% of all executive managers and only 7,1% of all directors in the country are women.

There has also been significant progress in the participation of women in the corporate world as shown by the Businesswomen Association South African Women in Corporate Leadership Surveys conducted since 2004.

Their 2007 Census reveals a significant increase in the number of companies employing women at senior managerial level. This growth represents the fact that our corporates are indeed beginning to step up and are appreciating the important role that women can play in the corporate environment seriously

In 2004, there were only 10 companies that were women-owned, 17 in 2005, 21 in 2006 and 31 for this year. This suggests that women are gaining more ground in creating business opportunities for themselves and initiating their own businesses.

This is indeed progress. It also highlights increasing levels of awareness and consciousness taking place in the corporate environment as regards women’s participation.

As a way of expediting women’s progress in certain sectors, we have launched the International Placement Programme for Women. We believe that this will assist women in climbing the corporate ladder, in opening their own businesses and in being more effective in the workplace.

It may well be that a revolution is occurring in the boardrooms. But our economic progress is equally, if not more so, dependent on inroads made in the informal economy and through interventions in the ‘second economy’.

Opportunities and Options

As government, we have noted that while we are meeting our targets in investment and employment, we need to focus also on sustaining performance, reaching the poorest of the poor and prioritising skills development.

Women need to play an increasingly important role in the leadership of businesses creation and nurturing in our country. Unlocking the productive capacity of women is one of the most important ways a society can multiply its efficiency and even global competitiveness.

The transformation of the South African economy will not be complete until the economy is deracialised and until both men and women have equal participation.

SMMEs and their Importance

There is no doubt that part of this transformation must focus on Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs). These are important for the South African economy are important building blocks since hey provide job opportunities, stimulate initiative and innovations and promote healthy competition.

Recent studies have shown that the SMME sector employs more than 54,5% of South Africa’s employed population. This means that medium sized organisations are the biggest contributors to employment in this regard while the micro organisations employ about 17,4%.

As government, we believe that entrepreneurship is the core to building a vibrant and a sustainable small, medium and micro enterprises (SMME) sector. Hence, we promote the SMME sector because we believe that is critical to achieve the key national development objectives of economic growth, employment creation and equity.

If government is to meet its target of economic growth of 6% by 2014, which includes halving poverty by 2014, then it is important that women be active in SMMEs and co-operatives. This has proven effective in developed countries like Italy where 90% of businesses are either family-owned, SMMEs or cooperatives.

Therefore ASGI-SA is also focusing attention on SMMEs and co-operatives as the two are seen as crucial to economic growth.

Our progress in this regard should be also measured by the impact these have on women as marginalized groups. The key is to ensure that there is development of women entrepreneurs and that there are sustainable initiatives that are women-led and co-operatives that are women-owned.

Funding Women in Businesses

 I have been told that the fastest growing businesses in our economy are women-owned. Hence, government in partnership with the private sector needs to fund women-owned businesses, which allows women to balance their reproductive and productive rights.

By facilitating women’s focus on their families, both government and business helps to ‘raise’ healthy families and this ensures a healthy society.

Our experience has shown that the absence of funding for business is a constraint for women in the following way:

It prevents women from starting their own businesses;

It prevents women from growing their businesses further and

It prevents families from starting their own businesses.

Often the entrepreneurship spirit of women is dampened by a lack of funding and the fact that they do not have sufficient mechanisms their businesses, which lead to a loss to our economy and to our society.

In this regard, I would like to applaud Business Partners Limited and others involved on their announcement of the Women’ Fund which, is to focus on investing in women in business.

A Fund such as this one should help women reach their full economic potential in a society, which has previously discriminated against them on the basis of gender and race. By dedicating a Fund that assists women entrepreneurs to own and grow their own small and medium businesses, we will be able to unlock economic growth and empower women.

The “Jobs for Growth” Project

 Our government is now putting systems into place which recognizes the rights of women and youth. These systems are meant to fast track both groups.

As part of that prioritization, we have launched the ‘Jobs for Growth’ initiative, which focuses on women and youth in co-operatives and links co-operatives to big companies so that they can be suppliers, thereby placing them effectively within the economy.

The project, led by the Independent Development Trust, intends mobilizing 1 million women in five years and the government’s first agreement is with SCORE supermarket where cooperatives will supply scones to all the SCORE supermarkets in South Africa.

We believe that this project with SCORE can only succeed if funding is made available for women entrepreneurs who wish to benefit from this initiative. For cooperatives to succeed they need to access funding. For this reason, this conference is welcomed within the broad framework of the ‘Jobs for Growth’ project.

The professional services company KPMG is one such initiative through its Growth Acceleration Programme that seeks to empower women in the financial sector. Two months ago, 20 women graduated from this programme. This 12-months’ training that KPMG is providing aims to contribute to the government's Joint Initiative for Priority Skills Acquisition (JIPSA). In this way, women will be able to empower themselves to empower other women.

Distinguished delegates,

Research indicates that women entrepreneurs create linkages with other women-owned firms in both rural and urban areas through formal and informal business networks for the benefit of their communities. Again, this shows that African women are the key to any poverty reduction strategy on the continent.

But we need to go further that this by taking advantage of the opportunities and potential that does exist for South African women who wish to do business on the rest of the continent.

Our work especially on our African continent has been aimed at contributing towards creating the conditions for development.

We are working hard in the African Union to build continental structures that can address African development and in SADC to strengthen regional economic integration. We have put all our energies into NEPAD as a continent-wide social and economic initiative to expedite Africa’s development through harnessing skills and resources towards common goals.

We have been active in peace-keeping and peace-building initiatives, in conflict resolution but also in post conflict reconstruction. We have worked hard with our brothers and sisters in the DRC, in Rwanda and in Burundi to help pave these sister countries paths to peace, reconciliation and development.

South Africa has been one of the main initiators and contributors to the Pan African Infrastructure Development Fund (PAIDF), the aim of which is to create an investment platform for much needed basic infrastructure in Africa, to accelerate growth for sustainable development in Africa.

Through strengthening our relations with India and Brazil in the context of the IBSA trilateral partnership, we are also creating the possibilities for concrete South-South economic partnerships between our countries and continents.

Early next year we celebrate 10 years of our relations with China. We need to identify opportunities presented by the rapidly expanding Chinese economy, examine complementaries of our economies and ensure mutual benefits.

We have been active in the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation. This is a foundation for future partnerships. We are also working hard to strengthen the New African Asian Strategic Partnership.

I have mentioned some of these main initiatives and projects, because I strongly believe that women in business should take advantages of the vast potential that exists to establish their own trade links and forge their own business partnerships in these continent wide and cross continent engagements.

You have been pioneers in bringing women together to invest in themselves and to strengthen women’s participation in the economy. It may well be time to take this pioneering role to even greater heights.

I believe that this meeting here today is part of that bold assertion of women coming together to occupy the space that the democratic order has opened for all of us. This Conference is the brainchild of women who are actively claiming and shaping a democratic space in which we can all be ourselves, in which we can strengthen our collective resolve, forge unity in action and, most importantly strengthen women’s participation in the economy.

The fact that this event is jointly organised by Business Partners Limited, the Durban Investment Promotion Agency, the Businesswomen Association and the Durban Chamber of Business and Industry is in itself an achievement since it is evidence of the firm partnership that different organisations are forming in their collective efforts to bring a better life for all, especially for the women of South Africa.

This initiative should feed into the broader unity of a Women’s Movement in South Africa, for this network can also become part of a powerful base of social movements that are concerned with changing social conditions and indeed shaping and increasing our economic participation. Only through such initiatives can we ensure that women are not marginalised but that we take and maintain our rightful place at the centre of development.

I therefore urge you to also gear your efforts towards the broader women’s struggle. Your efforts should be part of the Progressive Women's Movement of South Africa, which represents South African women across a range of organisations including business businesswomen, faith-based bodies, traditional healers, researchers and women involved in policy formulation. Let us also contribute our efforts to the renewal of the Pan African Women’s Organisation (PAWO).

Together all our work should serve to bring about the collective economic empowerment of Africa’s women so that they are no longer seen as at the margins, but recognised as those at the centre driving of the mainstream economy that fuels African economic growth.

Allow me to quote from the June edition (2007) of the Women in Business Newsletter, which celebrates the goodness of women:

A good woman is proud.  She respects herself and others.

She is aware of who she is. She neither seeks definition from the person she is with, nor does she expect them to read her mind.

 She is quite capable of articulating her needs. She is hopeful.  She is strong enough to make all her dreams come true.

 She knows love, therefore she gives love. She recognizes that her love has great value and must be reciprocated.

If her love is taken for granted, it soon disappears.

 She has a dash of inspiration and a dabble of endurance. She knows that she will, at times, have to inspire others to reach the potential their faith gives them.

 She knows her past, understands her present and forces toward the future… She does not live in fear of the future because of her past. Instead, she understands that her life experiences are merely lessons meant.

I thank you.

Quick Links

Disclaimer | Contact Us | HomeLast Updated: 24 August, 2007 12:47 PM
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