Address on the Occasion of the National Women's Day Celebrations
09 August 2005
Programme Director, Ms. Maite Nkoana-Mashabane,
Premier of Limpopo, Sello Moloto,
Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
Mayor of Sekhukhune District Municipality,
Ladies and gentlemen
Fellow South Africans:
I understand that this year's theme for women's month is "Women building a South Africa that truly belongs to all - Building on Beijing". I think it is appropriate that we have adopted this theme particularly because this year we are also celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Charter.
Today we pay tribute to the women of South Africa because of the central role they played in liberating this country. These heroines did not merely play a supporting role to men, but acted as a conscious and militant force of the liberation struggle, even sacrificing their own lives so that we could be free.
Accordingly, any process which, consciously or unconsciously undermines the full emancipation of women is fundamentally hostile to our objective of building a South Africa that is democratic, non-racial and non-sexist and which truly belongs to all the people.
Clearly then, it is important for all of us as South Africans, to answer the question whether we are doing enough to build a South Africa that truly belongs to all, whether we have made any progress with regard to the issue of the emancipation and empowerment of women.
It is important that we do not just talk about women empowerment because it is fashionable to do so. We must continuously measure the progress we are making in this regard so that we can determine what we should do next to improve on our performance. Accordingly, it will be necessary to make an audit of this progress in both the public and private sectors.
There is no doubt that the public sector has made some progress on the issue of women's empowerment. For instance, in 1997 we had 31,57% of our ministers and deputy ministers were women while today the figure is 44,89%.
The current figure for women in the national parliament is 32,75%, while the average representation at the Provincial level is 32,3% with seven out of nine provinces now having met the minimum 30% quota for women representation. As far as local government is concerned, in 2003 women comprised 28% of councillors, which was a marked increased from the previous period. In this regard, we have a very good opportunity to improve in this area with the forthcoming local government elections.
Further, there are 27% women in the senior management level in the public service. While these figures represent progress from what was the case in 1994, it is obviously not enough and as government we will continue to deal with this challenge until all of us, as South Africans, feel that this country truly belongs to all.
I mention these figures because I would like that as South Africans we should use the occasion of the Women's Month to expedite the process of empowering women and assess whether we are doing what we should to advance the objective of the emancipation of women.
Last year, the Businesswomen's Association in association with a USA research institute, Catalyst, produced a report that indicates that women constitute 14,7% of all executive managers and 7,1% of all directors in the private sector. This is clearly an unsatisfactory situation.
On this important day that celebrates our heroines, we will like to call on corporate leaders to ensure that they move forward faster with regard to this important matter of women emancipation. Clearly, it is not possible to realise our full economic potential while we continue to marginalise women who constitute the majority of our people.
The empowerment of women does not only relate to high positions in both the public and private sectors. This empowerment must mean that the ordinary women in the rural areas should be freed from the daily arduous and back-breaking tasks of walking long distances to fetch wood and carry river water.
This emancipation must mean that we make the necessary progress to arm women with education, with skills and information so that they can participate meaningfully in the economic and social development opportunities that are available in our country.
We should continue to increase the participation of women in the economic life of our country, by among others as government, strengthening our tender processes so that through government interventions we can see visible change in the lives of the women of South Africa.
We should further engage the private sector so that they also source their services and products from women-owned and managed businesses, taking the necessary measures to promote, mentor and empower business women.
In addition, we have a duty to work with employers and trade unions so as to bring to an end the continuing sexual abuse of working women at the work place as well as those seeking employment.
Undoubtedly, women will never be fully emancipated if their human rights are violated. We therefore have a duty, as a nation, to unite against the marauding animals that rape and abuse women and children and continue to shelter in our communities.
As communities, we need to ask ourselves as to what has happened to our practice of Ubuntu when these inhuman things happen among us without us taking initiatives, within the law, to uproot them. We should not shirk our responsibilities by ignoring the abuse of women and children on the basis that it is the task only of the police to deal with these matters.
Again, to empower our women we should accelerate the process of development in both the rural and urban areas so as to liberate them from the debilitating and hopeless existence which does not promise a better and brighter tomorrow. This we should do, by working better together to fight poverty, disease and help improve the health of our people.
Of importance, we need to deal better with the challenge of gender and disability, because women with disabilities face double jeopardy as women and as disabled people. This applies equally to young and adult women.
I am saying that we have to pay special attention to this challenge because often we find that women with disabilities are open to more abuse than other women and in cases where a disabled child is born, even if the parent is not disabled, some men will abandon the family.
Disabled girls and women face many challenges as learners and if they are lucky to be employed, they still face formidable obstacles.
Indeed, by engaging in all these measures of empowering women we are building on the important decisions taken at the United Nations conference on women in Beijing in 1995.
Among other things, the task of the empowerment of women means that as South Africans, we should increase our collaboration with other international partners, especially the rest of our continent.
As we know, in 2004, the African Heads of States adopted a Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa which, among other things, prescribes that 50% of those who serve in the African Union and in all structures of our governments have to be women.
We are proud as Africans that we have a good example to follow with regard to this target as represented by the case of Rwanda, for instance, which leads the world with women constituting 49% of that country's parliamentarians.
Today we celebrate the bravery and sacrifice of women throughout South Africa, and salute the women who marched in 1956 as well as the women who continue to "march" to advance the cause of democracy, peace, development and human dignity for all.
As we continue our march towards a better life, we should continue to seek better and more effective ways of accelerating women's empowerment and emancipation. In this regard, I am told that there is currently a process involving government, working together with civil society organisations, the Commission on Gender Equality and the Legislatures to develop a National Programme of Action on Women's Empowerment and Gender Equality for the next ten years. I urge everyone to contribute to this process.
On 11th August, the Presidential Working Group on Women will have its second sitting. At this gathering, women representing various sectors of our society will share with us their views about the direction we should take so as to make better progress to increase the pace of the emancipation of women.
To celebrate Women's Month I will like to urge that government at different levels as well as the private sector should ensure that they have the necessary mechanisms that will help all of us to accelerate the process of empowering women. This is critical if we are not to confine dealing with the important matters facing women only during the 9th of August.
Since our liberation in 1994, we have achieved much in our efforts towards a better life for all. More still needs to be done. However, if we do not fully empower the women of this country, and advance towards genuine gender equality, the better life for all to which we are committed will remain a mere dream.
As we continue to celebrate the Freedom Charter and rededicate ourselves to its vision that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, we will spare no effort in the continuing struggle to ensure that liberated South Africa also fully belongs to the women of our country.
I wish you all a very pleasant Women's Day.
I thank you.
Issued by The Presidency
Private Bag X1000