Cde Magope Maphila – President
Cde Mugwena Maluleke – General Secretary
Members of the SADTU National Executive Committee
Representatives of the Tripartite Alliance
Comrades and Compatriots
Fellow South Africans
Revolutionary greetings to SADTU! As we know SADTU is and remains a truly disciplined force of the left. Cde Chairperson, it is indeed an honour and privilege to address you today as we celebrate the 2018 International Women’s Day event.
Hoping to build on the momentum created by movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp, the International Women's Day 2018 campaign chose #PressforProgress as this year's theme. The theme signals that more action must be done to address the emancipation of women from the grip of the ideology and reality of patriarchy. Now, more than ever, there is a strong call-to-action to press forward and progress to gender parity. There is a strong call to #PressforProgress motivating and uniting friends, colleagues and whole communities to think, act, and be gender inclusive.
Programme Director, the struggle for women emancipation has been around since time immemorial. For example, 150 years ago, in his Letter to Kugelmann, penned on December 12, 1868, the German philosopher, and perhaps the greatest social scientist of the Nineteenth Century, Karl Marx wrote –
“Anyone who knows anything of history, knows that great social changes are impossible without feminine upheaval. Social progress can be measured exactly by the social position of the fair sex, the ugly ones included.”
One Hundred and Fifty Years later, the position of women remains precarious at best. Successive generations of governments and revolutionaries, are yet to grasp the mettle of understating that social progress can be measured by how society treats its women and children.
To illustrate the firm grip of patriarchy on the present condition of women, let us look at the women representation in parliaments around the world. According to the UN Women, the power to make laws that affects women, is firmly in the hands of men. The report states that –
- “Only 22.8 per cent of all national parliamentarians were women as of June 2016, a slow increase from 11.3 per cent in 1995;
- “As of October 2017, eleven women are serving as Heads of State, and twelve are serving as Heads of Government;
- “Rwanda had the highest number of women parliamentarians worldwide. Women there, have won 63.8 per cent of seats in the Lower House; and
- .”“Globally, there are 38 States in which women account for less than 10 per cent of parliamentarians in single or Lower Houses, as of June 2016, including four Chambers with no women at all
On 08th March 2018, the African Union (AU) released a new report on Women’s Rights in Africa, to assess the status of women in African countries. The report is presented in partnership with United Nations Human Rights (Office of the High Commissioner) and UN Women, as a contribution to the AU’s Africa Year of Human rights with a particular focus on the rights of Women.
In the nutshell the condition of women is a nervous one. The report says one in three women (33.3%) in Africa, report having experienced physical, and (or) sexual partner violence; or sexual violence by a non-partner. More terrifying, is the scourge of harmful practices, like child marriage and female genital mutilation. Globally, an estimated 130 million girls and women alive today, have undergone female genital mutilation, mainly in Africa; and 125 million African women and girls alive today, were married before the age of 18.
In our beautiful country, 2018 is indeed an epic year. Our fledgling democracy finally turns 24 years old in April. We will celebrate peace, non-racialism, non-sexism, democracy and prosperity.
Later this year we will mark the 64th year of the Women’s Charter. The Charter recorded unambiguously, the aspirations of women. In part, the Charter 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 62 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 materialised.
In this epic year, we also celebrate the 63rd anniversary of adoption of the Freedom Charter. The Freedom Charter unequivocally 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. This very same progressive Constitution marks its 22nd anniversary this year. We can proudly say that today there is no legislative and/or institutionalised exclusion of women in South Africa, but the struggle for total emancipation of women and girls is far from over.
We also celebrate the 28th anniversary of the late President Nelson Mandela release from 27 years of prison. Upon his release, Madiba pledged to dedicate the remaining years of his life in the service of humanity.
But, most importantly, the year 2018 marks the centenary of the esteemed Member of the Order of Mapungubwe, Nobel Peace Laureate, Isithwalandwe, Seaparankwe, utata Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, affectionately known by his clan name Madiba. Inevitable, we, and peoples of the world regard Madiba, “as one of the greatest sons of Africa to ever walk on planet earth.”
Madiba is known worldwide for his humility and generosity of spirit. Yet, less known is the fact that Madiba was first and foremost a feminist at heart. He was for the better part of his life a great campaigner for equality of races and sexes. He understood just like Karl Marx did 150 years ago that, “social progress can be measured exactly by the social position of the fair sex…” In his Address at 46664 Concert in George (19 March 2005) Madiba said –
“For every woman and girl violently attacked, we reduce our humanity. For every woman forced into unprotected sex because men demand this, we destroy dignity and pride. Every woman who has to sell her life for sex, we condemn to a lifetime in prison. For every moment we remain silent, we conspire against our women. For every woman infected by HIV, we destroy a generation.”
Eleven years earlier Madiba in his maiden State of the Nation Address had said – "Freedom cannot be achieved unless women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression...”
As we confront the challenges of the excesses of patriarchy, we continue to draw lessons and inspiration from Madiba’s life. We shall use this historic occasion to unite, rebuild and renew our vows to ensure the liberation of the women, the emancipation of the men and the liberty of the children. These are precondition for the success of our fledgling democracy.
This year, we also celebrate the centenary of another giant of our struggle, umama Albertina Nontsikelelo Sisulu. Through her remarkable life and outstanding contribution, she defined what it means to be a freedom fighter, a leader and a diligent and disciplined servant of the people. Through her leadership, she embodied the fundamental link between national liberation and gender emancipation. “As we mark her centenary, we reaffirm that no liberation can be complete; and no nation can be free until its women are free”, said President Cyril Ramaphosa in his reading of his inaugural State of the Nation last month.
And, it has also been 100 years since one of our own – an industrious and a visionary woman named Charlotte Maxeke launched the first formal women’s organisation, the Bantu Women's League. Comrade Maxeke was a colossal figure in the protracted liberation struggle, especially on the question of women emancipation landscape inside and outside of the African National Congress (ANC).
Comrade Maxeke was a revolutionary, a pioneer, a trade unionist, a gender activist, and a deeply spiritual person, who dedicated her entire life to the struggle for the liberation of her people, especially women. She was one of our own – the daughter of the soil, a pioneer, and a true revolutionary.
Together with other stalwarts of women struggles, including the leaders of the 1956 Women’s March, we owe a debt of gratitude to these daughters of the soil. We say to all the departed, we will not fail your people. The struggle for women’s total emancipation is in the safe hands.
Another struggle stalwart, Comrade Oliver Reginald Tambo, the longest serving President of the ANC, summed up the problem facing women, when he opened the ANC Women`s League 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 and 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 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 owning my own life.
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 9.7% of Board Chairpersons, 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 24 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, namely –
- “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; and
- “Women need to be legally literate to ensure the proper implementation of legislation against discrimination” [HSRC Review Jane Rarieya: 2014].
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 24 years. The report’s author Jane Rarieya says eloquently that the past 24 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 2018, 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, so said Charlotte Maxeke, bring someone with you.
I thank you.