Speaking Notes for Dr Naledi Pandor, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, at the Gertrude Shope Annual Dialogue Forum, 3 September 2021

Progamme Director: Ambassador Mxakatho Diseko,
HE Mr Audun Halvorsen,
Honourable Deputy Minister Ms Candith Mashego-Dlamini,
HE, Madame Benita Diop,
Mme Gertrude Shope,
Acting Director-General of the Department,
All panellists joining,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me begin by being really excited about the elastreous list of women leaders who are going to be part of the forum. Many of you are individuals that I have had the honour to work with closely, women leaders that I admire, commitment, both to intellectual scrutiny, intellectual endeavour and the advancement and achievement of the agenda of gender equality. I won’t name you because I don’t wish to leave out anyone but to each and every one of you, my admiration and my warm greetings.

I would like to welcome to the Sixth Gertrude Shope Annual Dialogue Forum. I wish to begin as my colleagues have done by acknowledging and thanking our partners, particularly the Government of the Kingdom of Norway as well as the people of Norway for their ongoing support to South Africa and of Couse the AU Office of the indefectible Special Envoy on Women Peace and Security, Madame Diop. A woman I have come to admire and respect. As my colleagues have said, 2021 has been a turbulent year, as a result of the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. We as the global community continue to battle with this pandemic which has dramatically impacted and changed all our lives.  It has affected the way we live, the way we conduct business and our work and the way we interact with each other. I don’t know if there is anybody who’s missing a hug or a hand shake more than I am but this has caused a deep feeling of loss in all of us.

This year the Forum takes place against the backdrop of the celebration by South Africa of the 150 years since the birth of Mme Charlotte Mannya Maxeke. Our Government has accordingly declared 2021 as “The Year of Charlotte Maxeke” in honour of the legacy of this icon of our people. She is often honoured as the mother of black freedom, Charlotte Maxeke is a pioneer of women’s education and emancipation. Among many of her achievements, she was a prolific writer who wrote in her mother tongue on the social and political ills of her time and was part of the inception of the liberation movement in South Africa. Mme Maxeke continued to address the concept of the ‘women question’. Decades later just as with the race question, the women’s question remains unanswered, but no less pertinent. It is for this reason that the 2021 Women’s Month was celebrated in South Africa under the theme: “The Year of Charlotte Mannya-Maxeke: Realizing Women’s Equality”.

The patron of our Forum, Mme Shope has spent her life confronting and responding to this women question. During her time in the liberation struggle, along with many phenomenal women, she continued with the work begun by Pioneers such as Mme Charlotte Maxeke, she fought against the triple oppression of women and oppression based on race, on gender, on class. The name, Gertrude Shope belongs to a rare breed of women whose impact on the political progress of our country is yet to be fully appreciated. I believe we are really fortunate and blessed, we are privileged that she has celebrated her 96th birthday in the past month, on the 15th August.

I have mentioned Charlotte Maxeke’s ability to write on her times and as we reflect on what we do in response to practically responding to the “Women Peace and Security Agenda I want to urge as well, that we consider and ensure that we write ourselves about these Pioneering women and their continued influence in the ongoing search for responses to the women question, our dialogue forum this year is themed: “Situating the Women Peace and Security Agenda in Africa’s Post COVID-19 recovery phase”. The theme is aimed at highlighting the significance of the Women Peace and Security Agenda in the sustainable post-COVID-19 recovery phase that will we hope, stimulate equitable and inclusive growth. And Excellency Madame Diop, I would remind you at this point that you and I have a task of ensuring that our commitment to the financial inclusion of women is realised. Commitments were made at our meeting of the assembly of the African Union in 2020, February. Those commitments some have been on it, others have not. Several of our Heads of States agreed that they would provide funding to initiate the fund that you so eloquently set out with other women leaders at that women’s meeting that we attended in the course of the Assembly. I believe realising the objectives all of you spoke of at that meeting, will be part of stimulating this equitable and inclusive growth we all seek.

We all know today that what started as a health crisis has turned into a socio-economic and financial insecurity crisis that is threatening the livelihood of millions of people not only in our country South Africa, not only in Africa but globally. A number of studies have indicated that the pandemic has resulted in a widening gap in societies and has disproportionately affected women and girls. As an example, as all of you know, in several countries the lockdown restrictions led to increased cases of gender-based violence and femicide, with some homes becoming enclaves of cruelty, rape and violence against women and children who were trapped with abusive family members.

The pandemic has also disproportionately affected women working in the care economy as well as in the sector of economic activity that we like to refer to as informal, despite its significant contribution to livelihoods and therefore to our countries’. What has happened is that we have had an even bigger increase in job insecurity. Those mothers who eke out a living each day by selling their wares on the street corner have lost a livelihood and their families are now hungry. In many of our countries, in response to the economic fallout, we devised interventions to support businesses to recover. My sense says, our responses were more attuned toward established formal business sectors and really did not provide support to that mama eking out a living on the corner of a street or from her home. We need to find a way of transiting women in these informal sectors into the format sector. That will assure economic inclusion in Africa and will be a genuine way of creating empowerment of women and greater job security and improved livelihoods. The Generation Equality Forum has reported that, in 55 high- and middle-income countries, 29.4 million women over the age of 25 lost their jobs in the first phase of the pandemic.

As we continue to grapple with the pandemic and as we seek to build back, better we are required to recommit and to turn our commitments into concrete actions. I suspect that we need creative imagination because it is my sense that relying on the usual institutions to respond may not actually be a sensible approach. Perhaps, we should ask every African women to donate 10 dollars to a fund we shall establish, for women’s empowerment and if every woman on the continent would agree, even if it is one dollar a month, that she would make eventually that 10 dollar available and we would award her with a certificate from the African Union that you contributed to empowering a woman. We would have an African fund that would begin to make a difference. I believe such an approach while unusual and perhaps hazardous and difficult to oversee Madame Diop, would restore African confidence, would build African consciousness and would create a new attitude in us to how we respond to our problems. So I challenge you today, and I challenge our program director, that let us try this thing, let us take responsibility for inclusion, for empowerment and let us see where such and adventurous and creative step might lead us.

In July this year, HE President Ramaphosa, addressed the Generation Equality Forum in Paris, he committed South Africa to continue to build a culture of peace in our domestics sphere and said work with other likeminded governments and social partners to build a culture of peace in the continent and globally. This work will be guided by our National Action Plan on Women Peace and Security approved by Cabinet in March 2020. The concrete, transformative and bold actions in that plan include the youth and women’s training programmes on Conflict Resolution, Mediation and Negotiation offered by DIRCO as well as this Gertrude Shope Annual Dialogue Forum. We know as South Africa, that we need such bold action.

Just as we are working hard in this year to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 pandemic, we experienced the most terrible civil unrests in in two out of the nine Provinces of our country, in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. The mayhem further compounded by our existing status of poverty and inequality but in fact made worse the socio-economic challenges and left the many who are vulnerable, majority of whom are women reeling in the aftermath of looting, destruction of property, destruction of infrastructure and loss of life. And we, who are working in this domain of women peace and security know that incidents of violence, incidents of criminality in large protest form are always followed by large attacks on women. In the middle of this crisis were really really excited to see South African women led by the Gertrude Shope Women Mediators Network organizing a South African Women Peace Table that mobilized women in their diversity to:

  • Engage in conflict de-escalation, management and prevention
  • Create unity of purpose and social cohesion; and
  • Discuss ways that will contribute meaningfully to rebuilding the South Africa’s peace infrastructure.

What was most fascinating about the violence that we experienced, was the response of the community to say this must stop and we will pay attention in our communities to creating peace and the Gertrude Shope Women Mediators Network made an immense contribution to drawing women in communities together. We are especially pleased with this initiative because it has shown how empowered women can act in supporting the restoration of peace and stability and in supporting and in supporting women living in vulnerable conditions. One of the valuable lessons drawn from this experience is that you do not only build peace because there is war, you build peace by investing in a peace infrastructure that can sustain you during times of crises like the one we experienced in July this year.
 
Since its inception in 2015, the Gertrude Shope Annual Dialogue Forum has always discussed the nexus between peace and development. We know and have asserted consistently that peace and security for women is an integral part of women’s growth and development. Leaders and decision-makers as well as policy implementers know that socio-economic growth is part of securing peace. So it is important for us to link peace socio-economic development.

Dear excellences and guests,

This Dialogue Forum must also pay attention to women in conflict and post-conflict situations in the continent and elsewhere in the world. We need to develop clear recommendations on how the WPS agenda can support these women in vulnerable situations. We must be mindful of the specific needs and perspectives of women and girls whose education and health rights are first to be compromised in stimulus packages. The current fears of women in Afghanistan call for greater attention to multilateral policies that establish frameworks of safety, we need to look at how we achieve the incorporation of such frameworks in international humanitarian law because existing law was written before full awareness to the gender agenda and so this is and aspect we must be giving more attention to.

All of us should persist in advocating for the implementation of the Women Peace and Security agenda with the aim of expanding the avenues for women to continue to contribute to a conflict-free Africa. I have been told for example, that women in Sudan are beginning to say, they were at the fore front of the revolution of the protest but now that a transitional council is negotiating a new set of laws and a constitution women are suddenly peripheral, this should not be allowed to happen.

For many years as South Africa, we have played a key role in championing the WPS agenda. This has included brokering and facilitating dialogues with women home and abroad.

For example we recall in 2002, South African women facilitated a dialogue between women of the DRC. This came against the backdrop that the Sun City talks at the time illustrated many of the barriers women face in accessing formal peace negotiations as well as the unconventional strategies they employ to overcome those barriers. At the urging of the United Nations and the chief mediator to peace talks, the Congolese government and rebel groups agreed to improve women’s representation on their delegations, increasing the proportion of women from 2 percent of delegates in earlier rounds to 12 percent in the later round of negotiations, this was still not enough, it was 40 of 340 delegates but it was a massive change from what had subsisted. The female delegates were informally supported by a women’s caucus of Congolese and regional civil society leaders. During the recent riots we had in South Africa, South African women again united to facilitate dialogues among themselves. These women were produced by this Forum since its inception in 2015.

This forum therefore remains an important platform for strengthening our commitment to the WPS agenda and I look forward to continuing the strong collaboration we have built since its reception. I suppose, program director, what I’m arguing for is that women should not struggle alone, that the WPS agenda is not a pleasant way of saying, women should be included. It is a space for creating collaborative action by women to ensure we achieve the objectives all of us articulate in this forum, we can’t leave any group of women alone and perhaps we need to create a monitoring committee of some kind to observe where there is conflict and to begin conversations with women in societies in conflict. So that when we arrive at the post conflict position, we are already organised as women in that conflict ridden society to begin articulating a new agenda. I think if we could pay that kind of attention including the work we do as a forum on developing women as negotiators, we certainly would achieve a massive step forward.

Let me conclude once more by thanking all our partners for their support and immense contribution to this critical programme. I have great faith in this forum, I believe it is doing incredible work and I think all we need to do is look at how we build it from strength to strength.

I thank all of you for being present here and I wish you well in your ongoing work.

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