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Remarks by President Cyril Ramaphosa at the 2nd Women Economic Assembly, OR Tambo Building, Tshwane

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Programme Director,
Minister in the Presidency for Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities, Ms Maite Nkoana-Mashabane,
Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Dr Naledi Pandor,
Co-chairs of the Women Economic Assembly, Dr Futhi Mtoba and Ms Namhla Mniki,
Country Representative of UN Women, Ms Aleta Miller,
Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
Women in business,
Leaders of industries,
Members of the diplomatic community,
Donors, partners and friends,
Good morning.
It is a great honour to address the 2nd Women Economic Assembly.
When we convened the first Assembly last year, we were starting out together on a journey not only to improve the lives of South African women but to fundamentally transform our country.
The economic empowerment of women is truly transformational with far-reaching benefits for our economy and for our society.
This 2nd Women Economic Assembly is about turning our words into action, translating commitments into reality, and turning promises into concrete projects, opportunities and jobs for the women of South Africa.
It is essential to understand the context in which this Women Economic Assembly is taking place.
Next month we will be convening the 2nd Presidential Summit on Gender-based Violence and Femicide, where we will be taking stock of progress in implementing the National Strategic Plan to end GBV.
As we know, women’s economic empowerment is pillar five of the NSP, and the Women Economic Assembly is a key mandate of the plan.
Therefore, the outcomes of this year’s Assembly will inform the assessment we need to make on progress in fighting gender-based violence.
This Assembly is also taking place as we implement the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan to grow our economy, support livelihoods, create jobs and recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
And while the pandemic may be in abeyance, unemployment is not.
As Minister Nkoana-Mashabane said yesterday, the pandemic’s devastating impact on lives, jobs and livelihoods lost will continue to be felt for some time to come.
And it continues to be women that bear the brunt.
We know that more women are unemployed than men.
In the second quarter of 2022, 47 per cent of South African women aged between 15 and 64 years were recorded as economically inactive.
This means that almost half of the working age women in South Africa are out of labour force compared to 36 per cent of their male counterparts.
We know that most African women with jobs are employed in low-skilled, low-paying and insecure jobs.
We know that poverty is higher among women.
It is therefore critical that this Women Economic Assembly must produce outcomes that uplift, empower and expand women’s access to all levers of the economy.
In six months, we will be marking 20 years since the passage of one of the most important pieces of legislation of our democratic history, the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Act.
Black economic empowerment cannot be separated from women’s economic empowerment.
We cannot transform racial patterns of ownership of the economy without changing gendered ownership patterns and control.
This is what the Women Economic Assembly is all about, to change this.
While we have made substantial progress since the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Act was passed two decades ago, we must still have much more to do and much further to go.
A significant part of the work that lies ahead is to elevate the role and status of women within the economy, in all sectors and at all levels.
At yesterday’s panel discussion, Minister Ndabeni-Abrahams spoke about enterprise development being one of those areas in which we are falling seriously short when it comes to women-owned businesses.
In some areas, we have been going backwards, on issues like black management control, on skills development, and on giving more opportunities to black women by broadening procurement.
For this reason, as government we introduced the target of 40 per cent of public sector procurement for women-owned businesses.
That is why the Women Economic Assembly was convened for the first time last year.
It was convened to explore collaborative partnerships that will make 40 per cent preferential procurement from women-owned businesses a reality in both the public and private sectors.
This year’s aim is to activate public and private sector supply value chains to advance women’s economic empowerment.
There have been reports since yesterday on the status of the pledges and commitments made at the Women Economic Assembly last year.
It is pleasing to note the depth of commitment of our partners in the private sector to achieve gender transformation in their industries.
At the Gender Lens Investment Summit held in July under the auspices of the Women Economic Assembly, the Industrial Development Corporation committed R9 billion towards gender lens investing and the Public Investment Corporation committed R12.5 billion.
As the term implies, ‘gender lens investing’ is an approach that considers gender-based factors across the investment process to advance gender equality and better inform investment decisions.
Work is underway to establish a gender collaborative fund to provide earmarked support for women entrepreneurs ready to scale their businesses.
The automotive sector has also come on board.
The Automotive Industry Transformation Fund has committed to allocate 30 per cent of overall spend to advancing gender transformation in the industry.
This would total around R1.6 billion over five years.
Of 13 transformation businesses supported by the fund in 2022, 8 have been women-owned.
The automotive sector has highlighted its commitment towards meaningful capacity building to establish a pipeline of women leaders and owners, including a dealership development programme.
This is commendable work.
The agriculture sector has been a valued partner, committing to establishing a localised manufacturing infrastructure that will support women-owned businesses and building capacity and skills through training programmes.
The Women Economic Assembly encourages a range of sectors to commit to procuring more from women-owned businesses.
We expect that more announcements will be made in this regard before this Assembly closes.
We have heard presentations on the various value chain opportunities for women-owned businesses in several industries.
Indeed, building gender-responsive value chains is critical to a resilient economy because no economy can grow or thrive so long as half the population is excluded from it.
Our goal is for more pledges and commitments.
At the same time, for sustainability, we have to set and implement targets for gender transformation and the procurement of goods and services.
As we look at these targets, we need to also strengthen the ecosystem of support for women-owned businesses.
South Africa still has far fewer women entrepreneurs than many other countries.
As government, we have trained nearly 6,000 women-owned businesses in essential business skills to qualify in the tender process.
Our target is to train 10,000 women-owned businesses.
We are committed to using the policy and legislative tools at our disposal, such as employment equity legislation and laws that outlaw discrimination, to improve women’s representation in executive leadership and address the gender pay gap.
I am pleased that one of the topics under discussion has been how to leverage the opportunities presented by the African Continental Free Trade Area.
The AfCFTA is the singular most important opportunity for growth and sustainability in industry for women and young people on the continent.
Every effort must be made to ensure that this opportunity is explored and taken advantage of.
What we seek to do through the Women Economic Assembly is to provide a platform for ongoing action and to encourage all partners to raise their ambition when it comes to empowering women and women-owned businesses.
The number of success stories that have been showcased here shows that we are making a difference where it matters most.
This is thanks to the partnerships being forged here between the public and private sectors.
Our economy cannot thrive without the full and equal participation of women.
That is why the work of the Women Economic Assembly is of critical importance and value.
I congratulate the private sector leaders who have taken this agenda seriously.
Our approach has been to work in collaboration with you to ensure that your businesses succeed and thrive while at the same time contributing to transformation in our country.
It is encouraging to see these excellent results.
We hope that this will serve to encourage other sectors to become involved.
To women in business present here today, thank you for having faith in our economy.
Be encouraged to keep going despite the sometimes difficult environment.
It is always the fate of ground breakers to deal with systemic challenges.
Yet you are the hope for the coming generations of women business leaders and entrepreneurs, who will benefit from the achievements you have made.
I wish to thank all who have been involved in making this year’s Women Economic Assembly a success and congratulate you on a job well done.
Let us use this momentum not just to set the tone but to substantially and decisively advance women’s economic empowerment.
I thank you.