Premier, Mr. Senzo Edward Mchunu
Members of the KZN Executive Council
Senior Government Officials
Members of the media
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is my singular honour to be asked to deliver a keynote address on this august occasion. At the outset, let me thank the leadership of the province of KwaZulu-Natal led by the Honourable Premier, my brother and my comrade, Hon Edward Mchunu for hosting an event of this nature. As a woman and gender activist, I take solace in that gender issues are no longer consigned to gender desks or gender officers but are now part of the mainstream politics and government programmes. We thank the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Government for this initiative.
This month marks 60 years of the Women’s Charter; 58 years of the historic Women’s March; 96 years since the industrious and a visionary woman named Charlotte Maxeke started the first formal women’s organization (Bantu Women's League). And, of course our country celebrates 20 years of democracy, peace and prosperity.
As we celebrate these momentous occasions, lest we forget that the Twentieth century South Africa was a divided society. Harsh, repressive laws limited the movements and opportunities of Black, Coloured and Indian people as an all-white government ensured that privilege was maintained by the white minority. However, it was particularly harsh to Black women who were not only regarded as sub-human but were treated as minors.
In 1948, the Afrikaner National Party rose to power with their policy of apartheid and implemented laws that far more rigid and ruthless than before. The various races were forbidden from mixing socially and were forcibly moved to separate living areas.
Those most outraged by the system of discrimination became anti-apartheid activists and in so doing risked imprisonment, torture and exile. Much of the 20th century in South Africa was characterized by this struggle for justice and racial equality. This was compounded by the struggle for gender equ ality, both in South Africa and the world over. The system of patriarchy and the ‘women’s work’ stereotype had to be broken before women, particularly Black women, could achieve equal status with men.
Women in South Africa played a prominent role in the struggle for equal rights long before any formal women’s organizations came into being. As early as 1912, in what was probably the first mass passive resistance campaign in our country, Indian w omen encouraged Black and Indian miners in Newcastle to strike against starvation wages, and in 1913, Black and Coloured women in the Free State protested against having to carry identity passes, which White women were not required to do.
In 1918, Charlotte Maxeke started the first formal women’s organization (Bantu Women's League) which was created to resist the pass laws. In the 19 30s and 19 4 0s there were many instances of mass protests, demonstrations and passive resistance campaigns in which women participated. By 1943, women could join the ANC and by 1948, the ANC Women’s League was formed with Ida Mtwana as its first president.
The women’s struggle became more militant in the 1950s. Thousands of Black, Coloured and Indian women took part in the Defiance Campaign in 1952, which involved the deliberate contravention of petty apartheid laws. But, the year 1954 marked the turning point.
Sixty years ago on the 17th April 1954 visionary women of all races from across the length and breadth of our country, met in Johannesburg at the founding conference of the Federation of South African Women (FSAW) and adopted what became known as the Women’s Charter. The Charter expressed the philosophy and aims of the newly established organisation. In short, the charter was a rallying call for total emancipation of women and calling for an end to the segregation, sexism and apartheid regime. The charter recorded unambiguously the aspirations of women; in part it called for:
1. The right to vote and to be elected to all State bodies, without restriction or discrimination.
2. The right to full opportunities for employment with equal pay and possibilities of promotion in all spheres of work.
3. 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.
4. For the development of every child through free compulsory education for all; for the protection of mother and child through maternity homes, welfare clinics, creches and nursery schools, in countryside and towns; through proper homes for all, and through the provision of water, light, transport, sanitation, and other amenities of modern civilisation.
5. For the removal of all laws that restrict free movement, that prevent or hinder the right of free association and activity in democratic organisations, and the right to participate in the work of these organisations.
Programme Director; we are pleased that 20 years into our democracy, the key aspirations of these visionary mothers, sisters and women have progressively been realised. We must admit that a lot has been achieved but much more needs to be done to completely eradicate the legacy of triple oppression of women in particular Black women.
Responding to this challenge the ruling Liberation Movement, the ANC in its 53rd National Conference held in Mangaung, 2012, resolved that whilst progress has been made in the development of women, there is a need for the establishment of a Ministry that focuses on women development. The conference emphasised that there is still a need to effectively implement programmes and policies geared towards the development of women, in particular those that live in abject poverty, the disabled and the most vulnerable in society this includes access to opportunities and access to free basic services. It called upon all of us to continue to systematically fight patriarchy in society. The conference further called for the increased access to economic opportunities for women, this includes targeted procurement from women companies, SMME’s and this includes transforming the economy to represents women demographics.
We can report here that yes indeed there is a dedicated Ministry for women Affairs. Siyabonga! ANC led government.
Despite the gains of the last 18 years, challenges remain. Stats SA’s Gender Statistics report, released in July 2013, puts it all quite baldly. South African women are still less likely to be able to read, and less likely to have a tertiary education. Most of the population who lives under the food poverty line – less than R305 per individual per month – is female. Though the average life expectancy of women is better than for men, female deaths peak earlier, between 30 and 34. When women die, often nobody troubles to register the death. “That happens because there is nothing to inherit from a woman and a lot to inherit from a man,” Statistician General Pali Lehohla explained at the report’s launch.
Tonight, we call upon all sectors of society to begin a last mile of this emancipation by breaking the remaining barriers that still stand in the way of women’s total freedom. We know that when it comes to equity in the workplace in particular the private sector women are underrepresented for no other reason except that they are women.
Research indicates states that while women make up 43.9-% of the 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 chairpersons (9.7%) are women. This situation is totally unacceptable.
However, we are pleased that the public sector is again leading the pack with the introduction of the Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill. The Bill calls for the progressive realisation of at least 50% representation of women in decision-making structures in all senior management in the public service. It also aims at improving access to education, training and skills development.
The Bill seeks to promote and protect women's reproductive health, and eliminate discrimination and harmful practices, including gender-based violence.
We particularly thank the President of the Republic uBaba Jacob Zuma for championing the greater inclusion of women in the national executive. The struggle of the Class of 1954 and 1956 was indeed not in vain. We salute in order of no preference the sacrifices of women like Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa, Sophia Williams-De Bruyn, Bertha Gxowa, Albertina Sisulu and 20,000 women who took part in the historic march on the apartheid government on 09 August 1956. We owe a debt of gratitude to all women who were part of the struggle and others who contributed in various ways.
In conclusion, Programme Director, it will be amiss if we don’t raise our voice and condemn in strongest possible terms the recent spates of women hijackings that often results in children’s death at the hands of criminals. This phenomenon must be rooted out immediately. We call upon our colleagues in the Security Cluster to do whatever it takes within the confines of the law to protect women and children.
At the opening of the first parliament in 1994, President Nelson Mandela declared, "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."
I thank you!