Address by His Excellency, President J G Zuma on the Occasion of National Women’s Day Celebrations, Absa Stadium, East London

The Premier of the Eastern Cape, Ms Noxolo Kiviet,
Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
MECs, Members of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures,
Mayors and Councillors,
Fellow South Africans,
Malibongwe!
Igama lamakhosikazi!

Molweni, dumelang, good afternoon!

We greet you all on this significant day in the history of our nation.

Fifty four years ago on this day, twenty thousand women from all corners of the country marched to the seat of government, the Union Buildings in Pretoria, to register their protest against the pass laws.

They had seen the manner in which pass laws had dehumanized men in their families. They decided that something needed to be done.

These brave patriots, united in their diversity, declared as follows in their petition to then apartheid prime minister, Hans Strydom:

“We are women from every part of South Africa. We are women of every race, we come from the cities and the towns, from the reserves and the villages. We come as women united in our purpose, to save the African women from the degradation of passes”.

Their petition painted a poignant picture of the impact of the pass laws.

“For hundreds of years the African people have suffered under the most bitter law of all - the pass law - which has brought untold suffering to every African family. Raids, arrests, loss of pay, long hours at the pass office, weeks in the cells awaiting trial, forced farm labour - this is what the pass laws have brought to African men. Punishment and misery - not for a crime, but for the lack of a pass’’.

Led by Lillian Ngoyi, Sophie Williams-de Bruyn, Amina Cachalia, Rahima Moosa, Helen Joseph and others - the 20 000 women took the struggle for freedom and democracy to a higher level.

They stated their resolve that they would never give up the fight until the dawn of freedom.

“We shall not rest until we have won for our children their fundamental rights of freedom, justice, and security’’, they declared.

On this special day, we salute those women who had great foresight.

We proudly proclaim that:“Wathint’ abafazi, wathint’ imbokodo, uzokufa”!

On this great day, we salute all women leaders of the struggle for a free, non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa.

We take out hats off to all generations of leaders, from Charlotte Maxeke to Florence Mophosho, from Dorothy Nyembe and Florence Mkhize to Ruth First, Gertrude Shophe and a host of others.

We acknowledge the courageous generation of Winnie Mandela and Albertina Sisulu and others who soldiered on at great personal cost, during the worst periods of our lives.

We single out mama Winnie Mandela, who kept the flag of freedom flying. She kept hope alive inside the country, in the face of endless persecution by the apartheid security apparatus.

Through her, we salute all women who lived in fear and persecution for years, hounded by security police, because their husbands or family members were activists.

We also pay tribute to women who served time as sentenced prisoners given their resolve to fight for freedom at all cost. These include Thandi Modise, Marion Sparg, Barbara Hogan and others. We also remember those who were detained at various points in their lives.

We also think of the millions of women, especially the poorest of the poor, who suffered severely under apartheid conditions in villages and townships of this country.

All these categories of women paid a huge sacrifice so that we could see the peace, joy, unity and togetherness that we experienced during the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup tournament.

During the tournament, South Africans united in their diversity, demonstrated to the world that we are now one people who had risen from the ashes of apartheid to build a new society. Indeed, the non-racial struggle against apartheid was not in vain.

Ladies and gentlemen,

While celebrating the strides we have made in our country, we also acknowledge that the struggle for a truly better life for women continues.

The theme of this year’s National Women’s Day and Women’s Month is: “Working together for Equal Opportunities and progress for Women: Forward to the Decade of African Women”.

We are working in a positive African and international environment. The African Union Heads of State declared the years 2010 to 2020 as the Decade of African Women, putting women at the centre of development in Africa.

Very soon, there will be a review of the UN Millennium Declaration, adopted at the Millennium Summit on 8 September 2000, and one of the key goals is gender equality.

We are also marking 15 years since the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing, China, another ground-breaker with regards to women’s emancipation.

As the South African Government we recognize that the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment are central to all efforts aimed at combating poverty and stimulating sustainable development.

For this reason, our primary focus is to improve access to socio-economic rights, which are enshrined in our country’s Constitution.

We focus on socio-economic rights because the emancipation of women cannot be separated from the fight to eradicate poverty and to improve access to basic services.

For scores of poor women, emancipation means access to electricity, water, decent shelter, access to income generating activities or decent jobs, roads and transport, education and training for themselves and their children.

Siyazi futhi ukuthi omama badinga ukuphepha emakhaya nangaphandle. Abezomthetho bakubeka phambili ukuvikelwa kwabesifazane, futhi bayawasukumela amacala okuhlukunyezwa komame.

Sicela umphakathi uvule amehlo, usheshe ubikele amaphoyisa uma kunezenzo zokuhlukunyezwa komame nezingane.

Siyazi futhi ukuthi omame badinga ukusizwa ngezinhlelo zokuxosha indlala. Badinga umhlaba, izinsiza zokulima kanye nembewu.

Ukuze senze impilo ibe ngcono, sakhe umnyango kahulumeni osebenza ukuthuthukiswa kwezindawo zasemakhaya, phecelezi i-Department of Rural Development and Land Affairs.

Lomnyango uzosiza ukuthi intuthuko ifike kulolonke izwe hhayi emadolobheni kuphela.

Siyabagqugquzela omama ukuthi bazikhulumele emakhosini, emakhanseleni, kongqongqoshe kanye nondunankulu bezifundazwe basho izidingo zabo. Ithuba labo leli, abalisebenzela kanzima.

Compatriots,

Education is the most powerful socio-economic right that will help us bridge the gender divide.

Performance in National Senior Certificate examinations indicates that more girls than boys entered the exams, and that the pass rate for girls is 57%, while it is 60% for boys.

The lower pass rate for girls calls upon us to investigate the reasons, which could be gender-based.

The causes could be teenage pregnancies. It could also be that girls are expected by parents to spend a lot of time on household chores while boys are encouraged to study. It could be cases of child headed households where girls play the leading role in raising their siblings, replacing parents.

As part of our support for the 1Goal Education for all initiative which is a legacy of the 2010 FIFA World Cup tournament, we must all work harder to get girl children in particular back to school.

Sithi kubazali, imfundo isikhali sentuthuko, asibambisaneni siyise izingane zamantombazane esikoleni. Yizo ezivame ukusalela ngemuva. Uma sibambisene soqinisekisa ukuthi nazo ziyafunda zibe ngabaholi bakusasa.

Ladies and gentlemen, we must also applaud the fact that the health of women and children has taken centre-stage this year in key decision making forums.

Maternal and infant health was on the agenda of the G8 forum of rich nations in Canada. It was also the theme of the July Summit of the African Union.

We take this issue very seriously in our country. The heavy burden placed by HIV, tuberculosis and malaria on the health of women and children has added urgency in our response.

We believe we are making progress in dealing with these pandemics.

We welcome the recent breakthrough in the fight against HIV and AIDS through the development of a gel that can reduce women’s possibility of contracting HIV.

In addition, the ongoing roll out of HIV treatment for women and children will also go a long way towards improving the health of women and children.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Women have benefited greatly from social security, another key socio-economic right for South Africans. The old age pension is known to be the only source of income to some households, due to the levels of poverty.

We know, too, that there are children who would not be attending school, were it not for the Child Support Grant. That is the reason why government has extended the benefit to children up to the age of 18, which is when most finish high school.

We will continue to make access to these grants easier for qualifying needy people in remote areas of our country, due to their critical value in the alleviation of poverty, especially amongst women and children.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Other than socio-economic rights, we also want to highlight the need to hasten the entry and participation of women in decision making processes and positions in the country.

The Women’s Charter for Effective Quality, adopted in February 1994, reminds us that conventionally, democracy and human rights had been defined and interpreted in terms of men’s experiences.

Society and its institutions have been structured for the primary benefit of men.

The Women’s Charter aptly outlined the demands of women:

“We want recognition and respect for the work we do in the home, in the workplace and in the community. We claim full and equal participation in the creation of a non-sexist, non-racist democratic society”.

We have a long road to travel still to achieve the kind of gender parity that is required. As you are aware, the 10th Commission on Employment Equity Report released by the Department of Labour last month, revealed that transformation in the workplace remains very slow.

The report indicates that 10 years after the introduction of the Employment Equity Act, and sixteen years into our democracy, white men continue to hold 63% of top management positions in the private sector. African women are at less than 3% and coloured and Indian women are at one percent each.

The report also points out that white women still benefit the most from affirmative action measures, while people with disabilities and African and coloured women have benefited the least.

Some urgent action is required in the private sector to improve gender and race diversity at the top management level.

Meanwhile, steady progress is being made in the public sector, although targets have still not been reached.

The representation of women in parliament has increased from 25% after the first democratic elections in 1994 to 44% after April 2009 elections.

The number of women Ministers and Deputy Ministers increased from 18% in 1994 to 40% in last year’s elections.

Women are holding their own in the portfolios of Defence, International Relations and Cooperation, Energy, Water and Environmental Affairs, Correctional Services, Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Mining, Public Enterprises, Science and Technology and Home Affairs.

We are proud of them as they are challenging stereotypes. These are areas which are generally viewed as ‘traditionally’ male sectors.

The country has done exceptionally well at the provincial government level. There are five women out of nine premiers. This makes it a 55% representation of women.

Overall, women constitute 42% in Provincial legislatures, while 40% of all elected councillors at the local government Level.

A lot of work needs to be done to increase the representation of women at senior levels of the public service. At the moment women make up an average of 36% of senior management.

While welcoming the progress made in the public sector, our analysis of various studies available indicates that if we continue at the current pace of transformation, it will take the country almost 40 years to attain 50-50 gender parity!

Therefore, measures have to be taken to hasten the process of gender and racial transformation in our country.

The Ministry of Women, Children and Persons with Disability is planning to present a Gender Parity Bill in parliament as part of the instruments that should help us reach our equity goals.

Everyone has a role to play to ensure that we reach our targets, for the benefit of the country. One action required is for men to confront their attitudes and insecurity.

We have to overcome the mindset that views women not as colleagues, but as a potential threat to the careers of men, as much as we must deal with the notion that black men are threats to the careers of white males and females.

The South African workplace must also be sensitive to the situation facing scores of women - of having to balance family and careers.

This we must do until we create a society where men and women are born truly equal, and are afforded the same opportunities.

Compatriots,

The third point I wish to share with you today is the promotion of women’s access to justice.

We are pleased to use this opportunity of celebrating National Women’s Day, to mark the coming into operation of the Jurisdiction of Regional Courts Amendment Act of 2008. This law will effectively eradicate the concept of blacks-only divorce courts.

One of these courts is the King Williams’ Town Black Divorce Court, which was established in 1929, under the Black Administration Act. The court served Africans from the areas that today constitute the Western Cape, Northern Cape and the Free State.

Other similar courts established at the same time, which will be affected, are the Central Divorce Court in Johannesburg, and the North Eastern Divorce Court in Durban.

From tomorrow, regional courts across the country will adjudicate in all forms of civil claims, including divorce matters, regardless of the race of the person seeking assistance from the court.

Therefore, when the said courts open their doors tomorrow morning, they will do so no longer as Black Divorce Courts, but as ordinary regional magistrate’s courts promoting equal access to justice for all.

This will greatly benefit women and children who are usually adversely affected in divorce cases.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Fellow South Africans, the mere recognition of women’s rights is not enough. The laws in our statute books are not enough. They will become truly meaningful when they create a tangible improvement in the lives of women.

Let me hasten to add that women’s emancipation is not just a struggle for women only.

This point is well-illustrated by the historic Women’s Charter adopted on the 17th April 1954, at the founding conference of the Federation of South African Women in Johannesburg.

It states:

“We women do not form a society separate from the men. There is only one society, and it is made up of both women and men. As women we share the problems and anxieties of our men, and join hands with them to remove social evils and obstacles to progress’’.

We celebrate Women’s Day and the achievements of women together, as men and women.

In this regard we also like to thank the ANC for providing guidance and leadership on this issue of gender.

In its highest decision making structures namely, the National Conferences, the ANC took deliberate progressive resolutions to promote gender parity.

Since its unbanning, the ruling party took a resolution in the 1991 to adopt a thirty per cent women representation in all its structures, and in its 2007 conference took a fifty percent quota, to ensure the empowerment of women.

These resolutions have influenced the developments of women’s empowerment we see today.

This has influenced the progress we see today within our private and public life.

We also recommit ourselves to take the struggle forward, for the true emancipation of women and our communities, working together as men and women.

I thank you

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