| Address by the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, at the Galeshewe Stadium, Kimberley during the Women's Day Celebrations, 9th August 2007.
Deputy President, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka,
Premier of the Northern Cape, Dipuo Peters,
Minister of Arts and Culture, Z. Pallo Jordan,
MPs & Councillors,
Leaders of the Progressive Women's Movement and other leaders of the women of South Africa,
Honoured Veterans and Stalwarts of the women's movement,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Our traditional and religious leaders,
Fellow South Africans:
Warm greetings to all of you who have congregated here at Galeshewe Stadium and to the many others who are also observing this important day, the National Women's Day, in the different parts of our country.
I am happy that we have gathered as we have done, here in the Northern Cape and in all other provinces, so as to pay tribute to the countless heroines who have made it possible for us to enjoy our freedom. Al of us should use this day to reflect on the challenges facing all the women of this country and evaluate the progress we are making in ensuring that South Africa becomes a truly non-sexist society.
We should ask ourselves as to what more should we do to ensure that the empowerment and emancipation of women becomes a daily reality. As we celebrate National Women's Day we should resolve to accelerate our progress towards gender equality both in the public and private sectors and in society as a whole.
We should use this day to ask ourselves as to what more we must do to end all forms of women abuse and violence against women and children, including the terrible crime of rape. We must work in partnerships and implement programmes that would help us push back the frontiers of poverty and underdevelopment that characterise the lives of millions of women in this country.
On this day our country commemorates the historic struggles and sacrifices of South African women, black and white, who proudly stood shoulder to shoulder against the twin evils of racism and sexism.
We are gathered here and in other parts of our country to remember the 1956 Women's March against the oppressive apartheid laws and the sterling role women played in liberating our country and in shaping our democracy.
We will therefore, year after year, continue to pay tribute and salute all our unsung heroines who led by example and left us a legacy of the true meaning of courage, sacrifice and determination in pursuit of the noble goal of equality, freedom and justice for all.
I refer here to heroines of our struggle such as Charlotte Maxeke, Ray Alexander, Ida Ntwana, Helen Joseph, Lilian Ngoyi, Lily Diedericks, Francis Baard, Rahima Moosa, Florence Matomela, Victoria Mxenge, and many others who throughout the long years of struggle for freedom demonstrated fortitude in confronting white minority rule.
These women and many others who believed in the possibility of a South Africa based on non-racial, non-sexist, just and democratic ideals, freedom and equality, represent the very essence of being human.
The Province of the Northern Cape can be proud to have given birth to such heroines as Francis Baard, who together with women such as Ray Alexander and others, led the struggle of workers thus increasing the possibility to broaden women's access and full representation in the economy, a legacy we are all challenged to uphold.
The empowerment of women, in all fields of life, needs to build concretely on the efforts of these great leaders of our people. All of us, from whatever station in life, have a duty, today and tomorrow, to ensure that we bring to an end the marginalisation of women in the economic sector.
Fellow South Africans:
We hold this commemoration under the theme 'Emancipation, Empowerment, Equality and Eradication of Poverty NOW!
At the same time, we see daily the terrible legacy of gender oppression which continues to defile our society.
In this regard we should, therefore, correctly ask the question as to whether the women of our country, thirteen years into the democratic order, and 51 years after marching on the citadels of Apartheid for justice and equality, live in conditions of 'Emancipation, Empowerment, Equality and Eradication of Poverty'.
We can only answer this question in the positive when our collective programmes have liberated the women of this country from the reality of racism, sexism, poverty and underdevelopment in both our rural and urban areas.
We would be able to say women live in conditions of emancipation, empowerment, equality and eradication of poverty when indeed we have made greater progress towards realising the goal of a better life for all, and when we have made greater progress in the struggle to end the depraved acts of rape, physical abuse and violence against women our country continues to experience.
The liberation of our country cannot be complete when a huge section of our nation is still confined to the margins of mainstream society because of disempowerment, illiteracy, poverty, and lack of access to indispensable resources.
We cannot claim to be free from oppression when we read daily in the media harrowing accounts about the abuse of women and children.
We can only ignore at our collective peril the fact that the culture of gender inequality continues to undermine efforts towards the development and growth of our economy.
If we fail to mobilise the potential of all our people in conditions of total liberty so that they can give unencumbered expression to their creativity, we are, effectively, depriving our country of the possibility to leverage its full potential to achieve the goals of growth, development and shared prosperity. It is equally important that the male population in our country joins the struggle against all forms of gender oppression.
In this regard, I would like to make special mention of Mbuyiselo Botha's South African Men's Forum. This one man is an example of a new movement among men that has emerged since 1994, influenced and inspired by our liberation and our new Constitution, to redefine and re-interpret the true meaning of equality among all the sexes.
The South African Men's Forum - together with a few other men's organisations - work from the standpoint that the struggle to emancipate, empower and liberate our women cannot be complete without the meaningful participation of our men.
These are men who know from within the structures of patriarchy the male experience of growing up socialised and misled to believe that you are better and superior to women simply because of your gender.
The emergence of gender activists like Mbuyiselo Botha represents a new consciousness of a radical male seeking to create and entrench the ethos of equality and non-sexism in a society where some continue to treat the challenge of gender equality as a side issue.
The struggle for gender equality is a struggle for human freedom. The liberation of our country will remain incomplete until the total and unconditional liberation of women is achieved.
We are also pleased to state that despite existing challenges the democratic South Africa we are all building is beginning to yield positive results in many areas of gender empowerment.
Many women in our country have, rightly, staked their claim in democratic South Africa by grasping at opportunities created by the democratic space.
There continues to be a significant increase in the intake of women into the formal sectors of our economy and into leadership positions, particularly in the public sector where gender representation has improved significantly.
For example, the collective determination of government to recognise women as critical players in our country has resulted in 40 percent representation of women as national government ministers and deputy ministers.
Today women have access to social grants, to housing, education, health care and free basic services among others. More than ever before, women enjoy rights and privileges in accordance with our constitution.
We have also made a conscious decision to integrate women's emancipation, empowerment, equality and poverty eradication in such initiatives as the Expanded Public Works Programme, the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative for South Africa (ASGISA) and our anti-poverty programmes as a whole.
Further, as government, we will continue to work with our social partners to promote the economic empowerment of women to have easy access to resources such as finance and ensure that we fast-track skills development at all levels.
All of us as citizens should also find ways through which we increase our participation in the important struggle for the emancipation of women. For instance, the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Brigitte Mabandla, launched the South African Women Lawyers Association during Access to Justice Week which was from 30 July - 04 August 2007. And indeed the Women Lawyers Association is committed to ensuring access to justice by all our people.
The SAWLA Access to Justice Initiative is targeted at the legal empowerment of women and the poor, seeking to give women and poor people the tools to participate fully in our democracy through knowing their rights and accessing avenues for enforcing these rights. Clearly, this initiative deepens democracy for all.
Fellow South Africans,
As we gather here today we are aware that much still needs to be done to eradicate the legacy of gender discrimination, inequality and poverty.
Within the practice of participatory democracy that our government has espoused as an effective means of mobilising social actors as partners so that together we help deepen our democracy, government continues to interact with the Women Working Group to explore better ways of addressing the many issues facing women.
This past Tuesday we again had the privilege to meet with women representatives through the Presidential Women's Working Group.
Among others, we discussed the issue of girl-child education, which we believe must not be left to educators only within the framework of schooling.
We believe that, as the basic unit of society, the family unit must play a critical role in the education and upbringing of girls and young women. Mothers, fathers, the home and the community must play a critical role in teaching and guiding young girls around issues such as teenage pregnancy, safe sex and AIDS.
We also agreed that government will, together with women's organisations, address the challenges faced by female farm workers many of whom are not aware of their rights. The challenges of farm labour will be given a special attention by among others, engaging this important part of our working class so that they too understand their rights.
Again, we agreed to look at crimes against women in a more detailed and specific fashion. We will ask the police to prepare a detailed presentation on violence against women, including where it is mostly affecting them, whether in their homes, entertainment areas, places of work and others. This report would also look at the specifics of the localities where there are these incidents of crime against women.
The Women's Working Group also dealt with the need to pay extra attention to the matter of basic services for women in rural areas, such as the continuing challenge of access to water and sanitation.
Importantly, government will soon launch the Women Entrepreneurs Fund. The Fund will help women to access finance in order to start their own businesses.
However, while the various branches of government as well as civil society organisations are working tirelessly further to advance the status of women, more still needs to be done.
All of us are aware of the fact that, notwithstanding the existence of such legislation as the Domestic Violence Act, many women are still subjected to various forms of abuse. We therefore call upon all sectors of society to join forces in a national partnership to fight against all forms of abuse against women, to join the Campaign of 365 Days of Activism against Violence Against Women and Children.
In all these matters we need strong partnerships. Partnerships, between government, civil society, faith-based organisations, trade unions, traditional organisations should, through co-operation, dialogue and education work together to inject greater urgency in the work we do to build a non-sexist society.
Today, on this National Women's Day, we renew our pledge to realise our vision of a non-sexist and non-racial society in which women are equal and active partners in building the new South Africa.
On behalf of our government, I extend our best wishes to all the women of our country for a happy Women's Day, and new victories in the struggle to achieve 'Emancipation, Empowerment, Equality and Eradication of Poverty'!
Igama lamakhosikazi malibongwe!