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Opening address by President Cyril Ramaphosa at the inaugural Women Economic Assembly

Programme Director,
Minister in The Presidency for Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities, Ms Maite Nkoana-Mashabane,
Chairperson of the Women Economic Assembly, Ms Futhi Mtoba,
Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
Gauteng MEC for Economic Development, Mr Parks Tau,
Leaders of industries,
Representatives of all participating organisations,
Friends,

We convene today to inaugurate the Women Economic Assembly.

Through this initiative, we are embarking together on a journey to reshape our economy and to change the lives, the opportunities and the prospects of millions of South African women.

We have come together to give effect to one of the founding provisions of our Constitution: that our nation should be founded on human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms.

For as long as women shoulder the greatest burden of poverty, for as long as they are more likely to be unemployed, for as long as they are paid less than their male counterparts, for as long as they struggle to start businesses, for as long as they face discrimination in the workplace, for as long as women confront these and other challenges, our vision of an equal and just society will remain elusive.

The Women Economic Assembly is a multi-stakeholder initiative to advance women’s economic empowerment and inclusion.

Since the dawn of our democracy, we have worked to transform our society, to bridge the material divides between black and white, between men and women, between boys and girls, between urban and rural.   

We have made significant progress in several areas, not least in the provision of health care, education and essential services and infrastructure to the poor.

But we have not fundamentally transformed patterns of ownership, control and benefit in our economy.

The empowerment of women is therefore an integral part of our effort to achieve inclusive growth, create jobs and expand economic opportunities for all.

It is a task that requires dedicated and unrelenting attention.

In addition to being underrepresented in almost every part of the economy outside community, social services, domestic and informal work, women are virtually absent as owners in key industries like steel, energy, mining and agriculture. 

The unemployment rate among women is nearly 37 per cent, compared to 32 per cent among men. 

In 2018, women’s median monthly earnings were 76 per cent of those of men.

These disparities are not only the product of a profoundly imbalanced economy; they also arise from – and contribute to – gender inequality in society.

Forty-two per cent of children in South Africa live only with their mother, compared to four per cent who live only with their father.

The great divide in parental responsibility translates into a great divide in economic opportunity and circumstance.

It is equally disturbing that of the reasons given by children aged 7 to 18 years for not attending school, 17 per cent of females cited family commitments, while only 0.3 per cent of males did.

It is therefore abundantly clear that the economic empowerment of women is not a technical exercise, achieved merely by improving policy and introducing progressive programmes.

It is fundamentally a process of fundamental social transformation, in which every institution, every sector and every citizen must be involved.

There is another reason why this initiative is so vitally important.

The economic empowerment of women is one of the pillars of our National Strategic Plan of Gender-Based Violence and Femicide.

By improving the economic circumstances of women, we are reducing their vulnerability to abuse and violence.

By being less economically dependent on male partners, women have a better chance of leaving an abusive relationship.

That is why a significant portion of the R21 billion that national government departments have allocated to implementing the National Strategic Plan over the next few years is dedicated to economic empowerment programmes.

This Assembly builds on that commitment, bringing together key social partners to pursue a common national goal of inclusive economic transformation. 

There is huge unrealised potential in the design of industry value and supply chains and preferential procurement to empower women.  

Every government department, public institution and private company can and should implement mechanisms to fast-track preferential procurement for women-owned enterprises. 

The Presidency, working with departments such as the Department of Women, Social Development, Small Business, Rural Development and Land Reform, and the National Treasury, has mapped out a strategy to achieve 40 per cent preferential procurement in the public sector.   

Current public procurement accounts for 9 per cent of GDP, which is about R500 billion annually.   

Of this amount, 12 per cent went to women-owned enterprises in the first and second quarter of 2021.

Government, working together with industry, has started building the capability of women-owned businesses to submit proposals to provide goods and services in the public and private sectors.

Around 1,300 women in the Eastern Cape, Free State and Limpopo have so far been supported to do business with the government through this extensive capacity- building programme.  

These are women business owners who have been trained in compliance and registration, procurement and regulatory framework, financial literacy, marketing and access to markets and finance and growth opportunities.  

It has been very encouraging to hear stories like those of Ms Nokuthula Maphanga from Limpopo, who attended one of the capacity-building workshops.

Her electrical engineering company doubled its annual turnover to the value of over R2 million during the COVID-19 period. 

She shared that the first workshop she attended provided valuable information about different service offerings from various departments and organisations, especially on access to funding.  

She says that self-employed women usually struggle to secure funding for their businesses and normally do not know who to approach.  

Through this work, we are building a pipeline of women who are ready to respond to procurement calls.   

We know that even as we expand procurement opportunities for women in government, it will never be enough to answer the need.

Business, as the key driver of economic growth and employment, needs to step forward.

Business needs to deliberately and actively use industry value and supply chains as key tools for economic transformation. 

Through value chain transformation, we can promote the development of SMMEs owned by women, youth and black people.

By giving them the opportunity to produce value-added goods and services, companies enable these SMMEs to attract investment and employ more people in productive activities. 

In today’s engagement, I look forward to the commitments and the bold practical steps that the business community is taking to advance women’s participation in supply chains. 

There are several targets that we should seek to advance through these commitments and plans:

Firstly, to increase the number of women-owned enterprises within the sector;

Secondly, to establish an ecosystem of support for female business owners;

Thirdly, to increase employment of women and youth with set targets;

Fourthly, to rebuild township and rural economies in an inclusive manner;

Fifthly, to create an enabling policy environment; and,

Sixthly, to encourage similar commitments in related industries.

If effectively implemented by all stakeholders, our actions will benefit not only the women of this country, but the whole economy through employment creation, increased production capacity and accelerated economic growth.

I wish to encourage other industries and economic sectors to join this initiative and make their commitments and action plans for women’s empowerment. 

I wish to commend all those industries, companies and stakeholders who are embarking together on this journey.

Let us use this Assembly as a platform for greater and more meaningful progress.

Let us demonstrate what is possible so that others may be encouraged to follow.

Through this work, we are building a better economy, a better society and a better life for the women of our country.

I thank you.