Opening remarks by Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane on the Pan African Women Day on the Theme : “From Commitment to Action: Taking Forward the African Women’s Decade: 2010-2020”

My dear honorable colleague, Minister Noluthando Mayende-Sibiya,
President of Pan African Women Organization, Madame Koite,
Secretary-General of PAWO, Mrs Yatima Nahara,
Director for Women, Gender and Development Directorate of the African Union, Ms Litha Musyimi-Ogana,
Ambassador Designate, Dr Mohau Pheko,
Representatives of the Progressive Women’s Movement of South Africa,
Representatives of the South African Women in Dialogue,
Esteemed Ambassadors,
Ladies and gentlemen

Madame Programme Director,

It gives me great pleasure to welcome all of you to this auspicious event which is jointly hosted by the DIRCO; the Pan African Women’s Organization (PAWO); the Ministry for Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities; the Progressive Women’s Movement of South Africa (PWMSA); and the South African Women in Dialogue (SAWID). I feel honoured to be in your midst as we celebrate, for the first time in the Republic of South Africa, the 48-year anniversary of the Pan African Women Organization’s Day.

The simultaneous commemoration of the Pan African Women’s Day in the 53 countries of Africa, is a tribute to the dynamism of African Women, who have always played their part in liberating this Continent, by amongst others showing great courage and leadership. As African women, we should be proud of the reputation we hold worldwide, that of being committed to justice, freedom and peace. We are known for our sheer self determination, hard work and above all, our readiness to improving the living standards of our families, our children and our grand children. These values of self-sacrifice underpin the very
fundamental objectives of our mother organization, the Pan-African Women Organization.

Established in 1962, PAWO has played a significant role in building African unity and solidarity among women during a crucial period in the struggle for political emancipation.
It is important to note that PAWO preceded the OAU; perhaps in the same way that the Women's Charter preceded the Freedom Charter. There is no denying as a fact that those African women, who are our pathfinders, have really played a strong leadership role in Africa. We need to honour since we all know that the role of African women is not always recognized and/or acknowledged. The dream of a peaceful and prosperous Africa has been delayed by this lack of recognition of the important role women can and are playing.

Madame Programme Director,

Please allow me to pause and salute the ANC Women's League for the leadership it provided in getting PAWO off the ground. The ANC Women's League has kept the revival of PAWO on its agenda and has had consultations with women in SADC. This is in preparation for the continent-wide conference that is being planned for next year and seeks to encourage women to understand PAWO in the context of it as a tool intend on fighting poverty; the scourge of HIV and Aids; and the promotion of peace in the African Continent.

As we celebrate this day, we recall that the Assembly of the African Union (AU) recently declared 2010-2020 to be the “African Women’s Decade”. Our understanding of this declaration is that - it amounts to a call for all AU Member-States to participate in the identification and implementation of programmes that target and seek to emancipate women.

It is worth noting that 2010 marks an important year for Africa in that, at least 17 countries are celebrating their jubilees as independent states. Here we are talking about countries such as Cameroon, Togo, Madagascar, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Benin, Niger, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Chad, Central African Republic, Gabon, Senegal, Mali, Nigeria and Mauritania. 

In another sign of maturing democracies in Africa, in the next five years, more than 20 African countries will go for elections. Critical to the outcomes of these elections is that such issues as the feminization of poverty and increasing infant and mortality rates will come to the fore and be discussed, to make the next decade an African Decade of Women.

The African Decade for Women, which will span the years 2010 - 2020, is also a mechanism to accelerate the implementation and attainment of the goals stated in the various declarations, protocols and conventions the AU has adopted. Among them, four key documents – Section 4/L of the AU Constitutive Act; the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa; the Solemn
Declaration on Gender Equality; and the African Union Gender Policy.

We cannot talk of the advent of women emancipation without mentioning the Beijing + 15 Review Conference. This is because our collective future is guided by the challenges that were long deliberated upon. Those challenges include women still lagging far behind their men folk in areas such as access and control of productive resources; our women continue to have less access to education than men; there are less employment and advancement opportunities available; women’s role and contribution to national and continental development processes are neither recognized nor rewarded; women continue to be absent from decision-making structures and processes; and, although women bear the brunt of conflicts, they are generally excluded in peace negotiations.

The recent African Union Summit, held in Uganda, discussed challenges facing the majority of women and children, under the theme: “Maternal, Infant and Child Health and Development in Africa”. The theme’s importance becomes evident when we recall that the UN General Assembly is due to review progress made in the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The attainment of 4th and 5th MDGs as they relate to children and infants, including mothers respectively, is critical for the socio-economic development of Africa. It is therefore important that we, as members of PAWO, continue to prioritize maternal, infant and child health on Africa’s development agenda.

As member states, we recognise the urgent need for accelerated action and increased support for building stronger national health systems in order to further scale-up and leverage the gains being made in expanding service delivery to achieve their universal access targets, while at the same time, speeding up progress on maternal and child health.

The AU identified solutions to these as outlined in the Actions for Accelerated Achievement of Maternal, Newborn and Child Health and Development in Africa, and these actions, can only be achieved by employing strong commitment and political will for implementation at continental level but also through implementation at national level.

We therefore applaud the AU’s Conference of Health Minister held recently in Uganda for their call for better alignment, strengthening, implementation and allocation of budgetary resources – in an effort to address the acceleration in the reduction of maternal and child mortality in  Africa. As a country, South Africa fully aligns itself with this call, for we must resolve to significantly improve the health and welfare of the mothers, infants and children as the basis for our future growth and advancement.

And so as we meet this morning, we want to reflect on the many challenges that beset us as women and our young girls, at the centre of which is the question of women empowerment and gender equality. Here in South Africa, when we got liberated from the triple exploitation of us being black, women and workers, we took it for granted that women emancipation will be a natural by-product of our struggle for democracy. We were wrong!

During this time, we are also reminded of the prophetic words of the late President of Mozambique Comrade Samora Machel, when he said:
“The emancipation of women is not an act of charity, or the result of a humanitarian or compassionate attitude. The liberation of women is a fundamental necessity for the Revolution, the guarantee of its continuity and the precondition of its victory”.

It is my wish that our discussions and subsequent resolutions will be based on a real understanding of gender oppression and the way it manifests itself in our society – if we truly are targeting the elusive notion of gender equality.

Most of us who have been around for sometime will remember that during the ugly days of Apartheid, women we considered mere breeders of future generations of labour.  As if that was not enough, women in the rural areas and elsewhere became the sole minders of the elderly, the disabled and their children. In short, women have carried the main load of responsibility for survival and generational reproduction.

Our history is telling on centuries of women subjugation as they were deprived and marginalized in many ways, resulting in most of them being recipients of the lowest levels of health and education services, including training and skills development.

Madame Programme Director,

I am sure you will agree with my observation that today we have the space, time and the necessary resources to change this disturbing mindset of women subjugation. With your permission, may I raise a few issues or questions that I want to throw back at all of us, to talk about and guide each other on?

  1. Is it not about time for us women to develop an interest in budgetary processes within our government structures and our homes? Obviously the budgetary prioritization of programmes and projects that will help the poor, the majority of whom are women, will reflect on how much will be spent to directly assist women in changing their lives and their status. We need budgets or policy tools that have gender breakdowns for purposes of analysis and further improvement on a continuous basis.

  2. What are we saying about the supposedly high drop-outs by girls, especially at secondary level? We need to find ways of ensuring that we resolve the unique challenges associated with educating the girl child, especially issues of culture and tradition that continue to discriminate against the girl child. For example, the girl child is the first to be instructed to pull out of school in order to mind her siblings while parents are working elsewhere; the sexual harassment by their peers and; by educators who often look at them as sex objects.

  3. Are we doing enough in cultivating women entrepreneurs (not tender-preneurs) so that they are enabled to play their rightful roles in building our economy? In this regard, I wish to thank the Dti for their timely intervention.

  4. The other disturbing reality is the question of when will women in their numbers resemble their representation in the workforce? We note with a heavy heart the poor representation of women in leadership positions. Is it not about time to quicken our steps by making sure gender remains a central theme in the transformation of business in South Africa? I suspect that the problem lies in company cultures that frustrate the transition by women from junior to senior management, citing amongst others, the marriage and children “barrier”.

    This barrier argues that young women will at some point get married, have children and relocate with their husbands, making them unreliable options for solid succession plans to senior positions. We need to speak and share experiences on how to battle this hostile business cultures that present both direct and indirect barriers for the advancement of women in business. Important to me though is we should embrace this challenge with a “no concession ethic” in the workforce, i.e. we need to expect no special favours simply because we are women.

  5. We also need to demystify the notion of a “two-career tournament” which argues that women, in terms of their career progression pathway, are best suited to follow the social sciences stream to study marketing, public relations and human resources, whilst their male counterparts are best suited to follow technical disciplines such as engineering, finance and operations. Please tell me, who designed the magnificent Soccer City stadium where the soccer world gathered during the FIFA World Cup? Who is the Minister of Defense? Don’t we have women pilots, women engineers, women chartered accountants? So let’s help each other bury the notion of a “two career tournament”.

Fellow colleagues and our young women and girls, my opening remarks were mainly meant to help paint a canvass upon which today’s deliberations could consider as one of the backdrops. My call today is very clear and that is: let’s identify and deal with those subtle gender discrimination practices that prevents women from advancement, before they become the norm. I can assure you that when we liberate ourselves from all these forms of gender discrimination, we will at the same time be liberating our own men-folk from the unwarranted prejudices about women that some of them still have.

Let me take this opportunity to wish you a conference rich with fruitful discussions and implementable decisions. As the theme of our conference states “From Commitment to Action: Taking Forward the African Women’s Decade: 2010-2020” – we need to claim the next decade and make it a decade when we will action our commitments. I look forward to a rich interactive session on the theme of this conference, and a flow of vibrant ideas on how we can collectively take forward the struggle towards the full emancipation of women.

I therefore encourage all of you to make this the start of an enriching conversation between government and civil society, as we deliberate on the achievements and challenges that we face in making the excellent gender commitments that we have made regionally, continentally and internationally.

Malibongwe Igama la Makhosikazi malibongwe!
Ga le retwe leina la basadi ga le retwe!
Wathintha Abafazi – Wathintha imbokodo!

Thank you!

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