Executive Mayor: Cllr Moeketsi Moshodi
Members of the Media
Ladies and Gentlemen
"The story of women's struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights" so eloquently said Gloria Steinem an American feminist, journalist, and social and political activist who became internationally recognized as a leader of, and spokeswoman for, the feminist movement in the late 1960s and 1970s.
We meet tonight to celebrate the International Women’s Day under the 2015 global theme that says, Make It Happen! This international theme is aimed at encouraging effective action for advancing and recognising women. Time for talk shops, conferences, and symposia is long gone. Now, is the time to act! Time for action!
Our local theme for tonight is more hip and happening, it simply says: “SHAKE IT OFF AND STEP UP”. This is a clarion call to all women across the length and breadth of our country to rise to the occasion and reap the fruits of our democracy. It says:
I am free!
I am a woman of substance!
I shall rise!
I shall be the best that I can be!
Comrade O.R Tambo summed up the problem facing women when he opened the ANC Women`s Conference in 1981:
“The struggle to conquer oppression in our country is the weaker for the traditionalist, conservative and primitive restraints imposed on women by man-dominated structures within our Movement, as also because of equally traditionalist attitudes of surrender and submission on the part of women.”
Today I say let us shake off the vestiges traditional attitudes of submission. Let us imbibe on the spirit of no surrender. Let us rise and be counted. We owe it to ourselves and future generations to seize with both hands the opportunities presented to us by the new South Africa.
Today let us we pledge to strive together, sparing neither strength nor courage, until every woman in every corner of South Africa can indeed rise up and say, Today I am free. Today’, I’ve shaken off the traditionalist attitude. Today, I am stepping up and starting my own business.
In our beautiful country 2015 is indeed an epic year. Our fledgling democracy finally turns 21 years old in April. We will celebrate peace, non-racialism, non-sexism, democracy and prosperity.
Later this year we will mark the 61st year of the Women’s Charter. The charter recorded unambiguously the aspirations of women; in part it called for: “Equal rights with men in relation to property, marriage and children, and for the removal of all laws and customs that deny women such equal rights.”
It is also the Fifty-Nine years of the historic Women’s March. The 1956 historic Women's March, on Pretoria, struck a blow to the apartheid regime. Women sang: ‘Strijdom, you have tampered with the women, you have struck a rock.' It is now a historic fact that women, the Class of 1956 won a significant milestone in that the apartheid regime’s attempts to force women to carry Dompass and permits never materialized.
And, it has also been Ninety-Seven years since one of our own – an industrious and a visionary woman named Charlotte Maxeke launched the first formal women’s organization, the Bantu Women's League.
In this epic year we also celebrate the 60th anniversary of adoption of the Freedom Charter. The Freedom Charter was the statement of core principles of the South African Congress Alliance, which consisted of the African National Congress and its allies the South African Indian Congress, the South African Congress of Democrats and the Coloured People's Congress. It is characterized by its opening demand; The People Shall Govern! Unequivocally it stated: “Every man and woman shall have the right to vote for and to stand as a candidate for all bodies which make laws”. Indeed, our new 1996 Constitution is predicated on the text of the Freedom Charter. We can proudly say that today there is no legislative and/or institutionalised exclusion of women in South Africa.
Last but not least we also celebrate the 25th anniversary of the late President Nelson Mandela affectionately known as Madiba’s release from 27 years of prison. Upon his release Madiba pledged to dedicate the remaining years of his life in the service of humanity.
Madiba was for the better part of his life a great campaigner for equality of races and sexes. It came as no surprise that at the opening of the first post-apartheid Parliament in 1994, Madiba declared as follows:
"Freedom cannot be achieved unless women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression... Our endeavors must be about the liberation of the woman, the emancipation of the man and the liberty of the child."
The struggle remains the total emancipation of women from many ills that afflict our country including gender-based violence, and not-so subtle discrimination based solely on the basis of gender. Compounding the problem of course are the "triple challenges" of unemployment, poverty and inequality that affects all South Africans. However, we know that women carry the burden of these challenges. Research indicates that while women make up 43.9-% of the South African workforce, they constitute only 21.4% of all executive managers and only 17.1 % of all directors in South Africa. Less than 10% of South Africa CEOs and Board Chairpersons (9.7%) are women. This situation is totally unacceptable.
While the battle of the boardroom is being fought fiercely, women also suffer another burden - that of poverty. In its diagnostic report, the National Planning Commission had this to say: “Poverty among women-headed households is higher than the average and women continue to earn less than men, even though differences in years of education have largely been narrowed. About 61 percent of women live in poverty, and 31 percent live in destitution, compared with 39 percent and 18 percent of men respectively. The decline in poverty since 1995 has been relatively small given rising per capita income, a growing economy and significant social policy interventions (Bhorat & Van der Westhuizen 2011a).
Therefore, while we celebrate the strides that have been won in the last 20 years, we must remember that the struggle for total emancipation of women and freedom of the girl child is far from over.
Tonight I want to say we can only achieve Madiba’s dream if we implement some of these following recommendations from various feminist researchers i.e.
- A key role in building women’s capacity is good quality education that encourages independent, critical thought, fosters self-confidence and provides young girls with a vision of their future.
- Address discriminatory practices in recruitment and pay equity, facilitated through the proper enactment of laws against discrimination.
- Career breaks impact negatively on women’s leadership aspirations, therefore measures should be instituted to eliminate the adverse impact of career breaks through well-paid leave and right of return to posts.
- The provision of family-friendly work environments, such as the provision of crèches at work for nursing mothers and flexible work schedules, will go a long way to keeping more women at work.
- More rigorous public campaigns to challenge gender stereotypes and the establishment of programmes to increase fathers’ parenting roles are needed.
- Women need to be legally literate to ensure the proper implementation of legislation against discrimination.
In conclusion we take solace in that according to the Human Science Research Council’s 2014 report entitled “Women leaders in the Workplace” it shows that lot indeed has been achieved in the last 20 years. The report’s author Jane Rarieya says eloquently that the past 20 years of democracy in South Africa have seen significant strides being made to ensure that gender equality has become a societal reality.
Indeed, South Africa has received international recognition for these efforts and is currently ranked 16th in the world by the Global Gender Gap Index, a framework used by the World Economic Forum (WEF) to capture the magnitude and scope of gender-based disparities among countries in the areas of economic participation and opportunity; educational attainment; health and survival; and political empowerment.
Let me reiterate my earlier point that 2015 is year of action. Let us grab opportunities and shine. I thank the organisers for this beautiful celebration of women. We carry with us the burden of millions of other women out there who do not have the opportunities we have. Therefore, if you can rise, bring someone with you.
I thank you.