Address by President Jacob Zuma to the High Level Event on Women’s access to Justice on the margins of the UN General Assembly, New York, 24 September 2012
His Excellency, President Sauli Niinistö of the Republic of Finland;
His Excellency, Ban Ki Moon, Secretary- General of the United Nations;
Heads of State and Government;
Madame Michelle Bachelet, Under-Secretary-General, Executive Director of UN Women;
Madame Shirin Ebadi, representing the Nobel Women’s Initiative;
Moderator, Madame Irene Khan, Director-General of the International Development Law Organisation;
Ladies and Gentlemen;
It is a great honour for South Africa to jointly co-host this high-level event on Women’s Access to Justice in collaboration with our esteemed co-hosts, the Republic of Finland and UN Women.
This gathering of world leaders and decision-makers presents an important occasion to reflect on the critical issues relating to women’s access to justice. It is also an opportunity to recommit ourselves to advancing gender equality in general.
Access to justice is a running campaign within our judicial system in the country. We are looking at how to make our legal system user-friendly and accessible to the women, the poor, the youth, and people residing in remote areas in the South African countryside.
Practical aspects for women include assistance in accessing justice in cases relating to land, inheritance and criminal justice in the cases of abuse.
This goes further to the protection of girl children and how we can make them able to use the legal system to promote and protect their rights.
The fundamental principle in all this is that women’s rights are human rights.
I therefore welcome this valuable opportunity for Member States of the United Nations, and representatives of international organisations and civil society to profile women’s access to justice.
The occasion provides an opportunity to reflect on both the achievements and the multiple and complex challenges facing women across the globe in accessing basic justice, freedoms and the enjoyment of their fundamental human rights.
Colleagues and friends
Today should also be a solemn reminder to us all that 17 years after the adoption of the Beijing Platform of Action, the implementation of the Platform of Action remains largely unfulfilled.
South Africa remains committed to the advancement of women’s rights, consistent with our constitutional framework, our values and our international obligations.
We are informed in our work by the period of colonial oppression and apartheid, where the State rode roughshod over the rights of the majority, the black people in the country.
Naturally, women were affected most, as they faced triple oppression – as black people, as women and also in terms of class as workers.
This has meant that women were more likely to have less access to basic services, to earn the lowest wages or not find employment or promotions and were likely to be less treated seriously when going to law enforcement agencies or the courts for redress.
These are some of the challenges we have been working to reverse since the dawn of freedom in 1994.
We believe we have done well so far.
Our country’s constitution promotes women’s rights as human rights, and also makes provision for a Commission on Gender Equality among other mechanisms.
Since gender equality is a national priority, all in society remain conscious of the need to mainstream gender transformation in their policies and programmes.
We are seeing results.
We have performed well in the area of political decision-making for women. We presently have 44% women representation in Parliament and 43% women at the level of Cabinet Ministers.
At the provincial level, five of the nine provincial premiers are women.
According to recent studies South Africa has the fifth-highest proportion of women on its corporate boards after Norway, Sweden, Finland and the US.
However, more needs to be done as women in South Africa still bear a disproportionate burden of multiple challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment.
To this end, we commit ourselves to pass into law by 2013 the Gender Equality Bill, in support of achieving 50/50 gender equality across government, public and private sectors, particularly at leadership and decision-making levels.
The Gender Equality Bill is truly transformational. All organisations, entities and companies will be required to meet the 50/50 gender equality target through the institution of specific gender parity measures, subject to monitoring and review by the Minister of Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities in our country.
I am conscious that as in other countries with large traditional and rural based constituencies, South African women still bear the brunt of financial dependency on husbands, fathers, partners and family members.
In this regard, they are particularly vulnerable to the dangers of gender-based violence.
We are stepping up the fight against gender-based violence and in particular sexual offences and domestic violence.
The South African Minister of Justice is soon to make an announcement on the establishment of a Special Sexual Offences Courts as an important tool to combat the unacceptable scourge of violence against women and girls.
Already we have transformative laws such as the Domestic Violence Act, Maintenance Act, Employment Equity Act, Child Justice Act, Children’s Act which promote the rights of women and girls.
Finally, we are proud to have, as part of the African Union, declared 2010 to 2020 the decade of the African Women. In promotion of this decade, we are committed to taking concrete steps to promote the empowerment of women on the continent.
In conclusion, allow me to reassure you that South Africa remains committed to doing all that is necessary to ensure the upliftment of women throughout our country while contributing to the promotion of the respect for women’s rights throughout Africa and the world.
I thank you.