Address by His Excellency Mr JG Zuma, President of the Republic on the occasion of the 53rd Anniversary of the Women’s March to the Union Buildings; Vryheid, National Women’s Day, 9 August 2009
Premier of KwaZulu-Natal, Dr Zweli Mkhize;
Minister of Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities, Ms. Noluthando Mayende- Sibiya;
Minister of Arts and Culture, Ms Lulu Xingwana,
Ministers and Deputy Ministers;
Members of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures;
Mayors and Councillors;
Fellow South Africans,
Sanibonani, Molweni, Dumelang!
Fifty three years ago, over 20 000 courageous South African women marched to the Union Buildings in protest against apartheid in general, and in particular the hated system of pass laws.
They were led by gallant freedom fighters who included Lillian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Sophie de Bruyn and Rahima Moosa.
These heroic women have become symbols of women’s resistance, women’s achievement and the pivotal role played by women in the struggle for liberation.
Many others like them risked and sacrificed their lives so that one day, all the people of South Africa could live in a free, non-racial, non-sexist and democratic country.
When we celebrate this day, we therefore honour, remember and salute all women from all generations who have been part of our struggle and have made significant contributions.
Among them we can count women such as Charlotte Maxeke, Albertina Sisulu, Florence Mophosho, Ellen Khuzwayo, Dulcie September, Adelaide Tambo, Ruth First, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Gertrude Shope, Ida Mtwana, Dorothy Nyembe and many others who left their mark through their various contributions.
It is therefore important to emphasise that National Women’s Day is a political and strategic holiday. It is not a commercial or frivolous one.
It is a day of solemn reflection on how far we have come, and what else we must do to ensure the full emancipation of women in all spheres of life.
It is a day for introspection by those in leadership positions. We must look at how we can speed up the implementation of programmes that will improve the lives of thousands of women who live in abject poverty.
The theme for this year’s Women’s Month is: “Together, Empowering Women for Development and Gender Equality”.
This theme acknowledges that while measures have been taken to generally impact positively on the lives of women and the girl -child, a number of challenges still remain.
These exist both in implementation as well as in transforming societal attitudes and harmful practices that manifest themselves negatively, particularly against women and the girl-child.
On National Women’s Day each year we then draw inspiration from the women who marched on the Union Buildings, in order to add new life to the struggle for a better life.
We recall that women had started much earlier than that to play a visible role in public life. For example about 600 women marched to the Municipal offices in Bloemfontein in July 1913.
They handed over their passes to the Deputy Mayor in protest.
On this day we must look beyond our leaders and appreciate the role of women who are never in the news, but who make South Africa succeed. We wish to single out the working class women in the factories who work long hours to support their families.
We think of the rural women including farm workers, as well as domestic workers, who toil so that their families can have something to eat, so that their children can go to school. They work under difficult conditions, and in most cases are abused.
We salute the women who are home-based, whose contribution to the household is never recognized as work. In many households, many such women care for the sick and vulnerable.
Their work is critical for social cohesion and stability.
We salute the women who run households single-handedly, raising children alone in a difficult global economic climate and social environment.
We honour our grandmothers who look after orphaned and vulnerable grandchildren, under difficult conditions of poverty.
These are all women whose silent contribution to the social stability of our country remains unnoticed.
Fellow South Africans,
On this historical day, we must acknowledge that much progress has been made in the emancipation of women through various initiatives including legislative reforms.
Compared to 1994, more women now have access to basic services such as housing, education, health, free basic water and electricity.
While accepting the need to do more, we must also recognize the significant progress that has been made in the representation of women in various sectors of society, most notably in public institutions.
In government, five Premiers are women. There are many women in important positions in the national Cabinet in all the clusters. Our Parliament is ranked high internationally with regard to women’s representation.
Our country competes favourably in the list of top 20 most powerful business women across Africa and the world.
All these achievements tell us that women have proven their worth in many fields that contribute towards the growth and development of our country.
However, women empowerment and gender parity is not only about numbers. It is about opening up the space for women to influence meaningful change and make a difference in society.
It is about promoting the participation of more women in public platforms and the media. We want to see them addressing hard issues in the socio-economic arenas, science and technology and politics amongst others.
This would help end the stereotyping or pigeon-holing of women and mainstream their contribution into South African life.
I must also hasten to add that the emancipation of women is not only about empowering elite women to occupy senior positions in society and government.
It should primarily be about changing the lives of millions of ordinary women in urban and rural settlements.
We will know that we have made great strides towards the emancipation of women, when women are no longer the greatest bearers of the brunt of poverty.
We will know that we have changed the lives of women when there are no women who have to travel long distances to fetch water, or to catch a bus or taxi.
We will have achieved something if women do not have to walk long distances to fetch firewood as they would have electricity in their homes.
We will measure our progress by reducing the numbers of women who do not have access to quality health care. Women are affected most by inadequate health care and facilities in some parts of our country.
We will pat ourselves on the back when the mother and infant mortality rates are reduced or are eradicated when we have improved our health care system.
Improving the health of South Africans, especially women and children, is a key priority for government.
Whilst we have successfully created a non-racial public health administration, the public health sector has suffered serious problems of mismanagement and corruption.
During the numerous visits we conducted around the country during the elections, we were informed by many citizens that our health care needs a serious review.
We were told that there is a shortage of staff, that there is poor management of health institutions, poor financial management and inadequate funding, and deteriorating infrastructure.
Some hospitals and clinics need refurbishments. Others are in good shape, but are run by incompetent managers who have no commitment to the health of our people.
Another challenge facing the public health sector is the shortage of medicines at health facilities, especially HIV and AIDS drugs, and the ability of the state to access medicines at lower prices.
Our people told us that at some clinics they are given pain killers only for every ailment, as there is nothing else that is available.
A key solution will be the introduction of a National Health Insurance scheme for the country.
The broad objective of the National Health Insurance, is to put in place the necessary funding and health service delivery mechanisms.
The National Health Insurance will be a financing system.
Government will collect and allocate money for health care to service providers.
All these funds would be placed in a single pool that would be available to fund all health care in the public and private health sector.
The intention is that the contribution should be less than what members and their employers currently pay to medical aid schemes.
The advantage of the scheme is that it would expand health coverage to all South Africans, regardless of their economic or social status.
There will be no financial barrier to access health care, and National Health Insurance will be free. No upfront payment will be required by the doctor or hospital.
Certain categories of workers, due to their low-income status, will be exempted from the contribution.
The National Health Insurance scheme will be implemented in a phased manner to allow for consultation, policy making and legislation review.
Before implementation the government will consult with all sectors affected especially the workers, employers, health providers and suppliers and health funders.
Once the consultation process has started, we urge the public to study the proposals, engage in debates and contribute resources, skills and expertise to the final product that will emerge after consultations.
Working together we can create a quality and accessible health care system for our country.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Government’s priority of turning rural areas into thriving centres of development should have a positive impact on women.
We know that many women have come together in their localities and emerged with brilliant ideas to foster local economic development and job creation.
Such ideas must be nourished and brought to life with the help of government and the private sector.
We mentioned in the State of the Nation Address that the fight against poverty would be a cornerstone of government’s focus. The announcement of the fast tracking of the Phase 2 of the Expanded Public Works Programme, is significant for women employment and economic development and towards improving the quality of life in communities.
Uhulumeni uzimisele kakhulu ukuphucula izindawo zasemakhaya. Sifuna nazo zibe nemigwaqo, ugesi, amanzi, izikole ezinhle, izindawo zemitholampilo nokunye okutholakala emadolobheni.
Omama basemakhaya bayohlomula kulezizinhlelo zemisebenzi yokwakha kabusha.
Bhunkulani bomama nize nemibono kuhulumeni ukuthi yini eningayenza nisekelwe ngayo, ezothuthukisa izindawo zokuhlala, noma ezokuziphilisa.
Fellow South Africans,
The challenges that continue to confront women extend far beyond issues of service delivery.
There is still a need to transform societal attitudes and practices that manifest themselves negatively against women and girl-children.
Among others, it is important that both men and women collectively find ways to shift mindsets for us to deal with patriarchy.
The doors that were previously locked for women must be opened for them to enjoy equal opportunities with men.
May I also emphasise that it is important for our country to implement constructive programmes against gender-based violence.
The 365 Days National Action Plan aimed at ending this violence must be supported and sustained to ensure that the prevention and awareness campaign extends beyond the 16 Days of Activism Campaign.
We look forward to a day when we can create an environment where women and children are free from fear of any kind. All women must feel free from abuse and intimidation in private and public spaces.
We have noted the concern amongst women’s groups that the 2010 FIFA World Cup may have the unintended consequence of creating opportunities for human trafficking.
We are putting systems in place to prevent this, as part of general security measures that we should take when hosting an event of this magnitude.
We want this to be the best World Cup ever. We will intensify our efforts to ensure that criminals do not take advantage of the 2010 FIFA World Cup for trafficking or any other international crime.
Our police officials will spare no effort in ensuring that those behind these sorts of crimes face the full might of the law.
We must look at ways and strategies of combating and addressing human trafficking at all levels. This painful practice violates the rights of women and their ability to make choices.
Let us unite and expose such violations and protect our women and girls. We are encouraged by the active participation of residents in areas where such practices are performed.
Ladies and gentlemen,
You will have noticed that as part of the new structure of Cabinet, we have introduced the new Ministry of Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities.
This Ministry will mobilise for the participation of the three sectors in all aspects of life. However, gender issues are cross-cutting in nature and cannot be addressed solely by government alone or one Ministry.
The new Ministry will monitor other government departments to ensure the mainstreaming of gender, children’s rights, and disability considerations into all programmes of government and other sectors.
This will help government to respond to issues of these targeted groups in an integrated and coherent manner.
Ladies and gentlemen, South Africa is party to a number of global agreements including the African Women’s Protocol in Advancing the Rights and Dignity of Women.
The implementation of these instruments within the country is critical in order to ensure that transformation takes place. We will work towards that goal as government.
We have done well in our country towards the emancipation of women. However much more still remains to be done.
We believe that when women are empowered with skills, information, know-how and the capacity to make choices that impact positively on their lives and those of their families and communities, we will have vibrant, healthy, safe, secure and inclusive communities.
We must work smarter and faster to drastically improve the lives of marginalized and poor women who are in the majority.
Working together we can do more!
Issued by: The Presidency
9 August 2009
Source: The Presidency (http:///www.thepresidency.gov.za)