Unilever Executive Vice-President, Mr Luc-Olivier Marquet
Unilever Senior Public Relations Manager, Ms Sphelele Mjadu
Unilever Social Mission Marketing Manager, Ms Queen Mgobhozi
Senior Officials of the DBE and Provincial Education Department
SGB Chairpersons and members present
Educators and Learners
Ladies and Gentlemen
Programme Director; it gives me a great pleasure to speak at this august occasion, namely the celebration of the International day of the Girl Child. Today, we celebrate, yet again, a great partnership between our Department and Unilever.
When our partnership began, it was purely on the National School Hygiene Programme. Towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, there seems to be a great deal of synergies between the business strategies of the Unilever South Africa and what the basic education sector hopes to achieve for the people of South Africa. Our partnership has since expanded naturally, to include other areas such as Nutrition as well as Sanitation.
More recently, I shared my vision to hold open community dialogues between school girls and women of influence, to discover practice ways of addressing the complex challenges faced by school girls in our country. Unilever has come forward to support this vision through one of its brands, Dove, and I am delighted to announce on this International Day of the Girl Child that we will be holding intergenerational dialogues between women and girls in various South African communities. The aim is to encourage girls to be self- conscious and empowered. We will also connect them with opportunities and intervention programmes led by women and some special men, who fully understand and appreciate the agenda of the girl child. This is one of the smart ways of Keeping Girls in School, beyond the usual Sexual and Reproductive Health programmes.
As a country, we have achieved a lot in the last 25 years of our democracy. In many African countries, far more boys attend school than girls. In South Africa, primary school enrollment rates are roughly equal. As per the last survey, the primary school enrollment rate for boys was 89.7 percent; for girls, it was 90.9 percent.
However, these enrollment rates hide the large racial disparities that exist in South Africa’s education system. In general, black girls are at a severe disadvantage compared to white girls in receiving quality education. Hence, we cannot pop champagne and have song and dance about the rising numbers of girls at schools given the disparities of race.
One reason for the racial disparities in South Africa’s education system is the racial disparity in poverty. In 2018, 27.2% percent of South Africans mainly blacks were unemployed. The poverty rate for Africans is 38 times higher than that of whites. Millions of people classified as black or Coloured under apartheid live in townships and informal settlements in extreme poverty, while a majority of whites live in cities and suburbs.
This racial inequality is detrimental to black girls attempting to achieve the same education as white girls and boys. All girls are also at a disadvantage in attaining quality education because of the patriarchal nature of South African society.
Women occupy a lower social status than men and are socialized to work in the home and be mothers. This deemphasizes the importance of receiving an education.
Girls and women are four times more likely to be HIV-positive than boys and men, which may lead them to drop out of school. Girls are also often forced to drop out of school to care for family members living with HIV/AIDS which limits girls’ opportunities to pursue careers that could lift them out of poverty.
The rate of crime in the townships, in which millions live, particularly gender-based violence, is extremely high compared to those in the suburbs of major cities. Many schools are far from children’s homes, forcing children to walk long distances to school. This exposes girls to the risk of violence on their travels to and from school. Violence against girls in school is a serious issue in South Africa. Girls face sexual harassment and assault in schools from both fellow students and teachers. These occurrences cause girls to fear going to school, and some to stop going altogether. Girls cannot learn well under these circumstances. Even more frightening is the scourge of rape.
The rape of South African women is among the highest in the world, according to a Statistics South Africa (Stats SA).
“A total of 250 out of every 100 000 women were victims of sexual offence, compared to 120 out of every 100 000 men,” the 2016-17 Victims of Crime report stated. Using the 2016-17 South African Police Service statistics, in which 80% of the reported sexual offences were rape, together with Stats SA’s estimate that 68.5% of the sexual offences victims were women, we obtain a crude estimate of the number of women raped per 100 000 as 138. This figure is among the highest in the world.
Various programs have been developed to work to improve girls’ education in South Africa. One is the Girls Education Movement (GEM), which was launched in South Africa in 2003. The program aims to give girls equal access to education, make schools safer for girls and improve the quality of girls’ education. GEM is run via school-based, boys and girls clubs and has been implemented in each of South Africa’s nine provinces.
Technogirls is a project that works to support girls in pursuing careers in math, science and technology — typically male-dominated fields. Girls from rural disadvantaged communities are given priority in the selection process. Girls who are selected become interns in various companies and enter a mentoring and skills development program with scholarship opportunities.
The United Nations Educational and Scientific Cultural Organization (UNESCO) works to ensure that every person has access to a quality education. The continent of Africa and gender equality are two of UNESCO’s top global priorities, and UNESCO is active in promoting gender equality in South Africa’s education system.
As Government together with our partners, we also have programmes that are designed to assist learners to improve their lot in life. These programmes are not necessary aimed at the girl child. The most successful programme to date is the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP). This programme alone has positively changed the landscape in terms of access to nutritious meals every school day and improved school attendance and alertness. The Programme currently reaches over nine million children every schooling day.
We also have the National School Hygiene Programme that is proudly sponsored by Unilever. A few years back, we launched a game changer namely the National Deworming Programme throughout the public schooling environment. The deworming project is part and parcel of the Integrated School Health Programme. These two programmes namely the deworming initiative and National School Hygiene Programme are interlinked.
But, the struggle for women emancipation is as real today as was the racism and segregation of the 20th century. The real struggle of the 21st century is the struggle for non-sexism, a forward march to smash patriarchy and its unearned male privilege.
Today, we must raise our voices for the attainment of equal rights and treatment for the transgendered community, for the gender neutral persons and all the LGBTQ+ community.
The United Nations paints a picture of a world that is anti-women, and anti-black child. The success of girl child still bears the imprint of the 20th century. Indeed, that century was about men, and their egos. They even managed to plunge the world into two World Wars resulting in untold suffering for women and girl children the world over.
Although, we didn’t have a head start, women and girl children are expected today to enter a world of work that is being transformed by innovation and automation. The buzz word today is all about the 4th Industrial Revolution.
Educated and skilled workers are in great demand, but roughly a quarter of young people – most of them female – are currently neither employed or in education or training. (UN Stats).
The United Nations estimates that of the 1 billion young people – including 600 million adolescent girls – that will enter the workforce in the next decade, more than 90% of those living in developing countries will work in the informal sector, where low or no pay, abuse and exploitation are common.
Today on the warm shores of South Africa, as we mark the International Day of the Girl, we are working alongside all girls to expand existing learning opportunities, chart new pathways and calling on the global community to rethink how to prepare them for a successful transition into the world of work.
Programme Director; I want to dispel the myth that as we all know that the girl children are under siege from the remnants of patriarchy; therefore, they are victims in need of some pity. No. As Dr Flavia Bustreo, Assistant Director-General at the World Health Organisation, says, “Girls are resilient and have an enormous untapped potential to contribute to healthy and peaceful communities.” It is this resilience and untapped potential that we must unleash. Today, and every day, let us do everything we can to listen to girls and empower them with the individual abilities, social support and the resources they need to survive, thrive and transform their communities, even in the most difficult of circumstances.
We meet here today to launch a programme that intends to allow the girl child to reach for her potential. The Dove Self-Esteem Project helps girls all around the world to build self-esteem and positive body confidence. I like the conceptualization of the Dove Self-Esteem Project that of envisioning a world where beauty is a source of confidence and not anxiety. I am happy to report that this project has reached over half a million girls in South Africa. Within the available resources, the aim is to reach 1 million girls by the year 2020.
This project is extremely important especially in the age of body shaming and its harmful aftermaths. We must assist girl children to enjoy a positive relationship with their bodies for them to reach their full potential. As we know, research has shown that body shaming can cause serious damages to the victim and affects them psychologically, emotionally as well as physically. Over a period of time, it can lead to self-body shaming, comparison, self-criticism and several other issues such as low confidence, low self-esteem, and even depression. Individuals might prefer to avoid social occasions altogether and retreat into a shell. Also, they might start developing a serious eating disorder. For instance, in 1996 when Donald Trump (now President of America) named Miss Universe contestant Alicia Machado ‘Miss Piggy’ as she had gained weight after the pageant, the remarks lead her to have a severe eating disorder.
This launch today of the Dove Self-Esteem Project is a springboard for us as a nation to start having an honest conversation. As previously stated, we intend to host intergenerational dialogues for women and young girls. The aim is to engage on issues that affect the education and participation of the girl child in the economy of the country, beyond Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights. These conversations must connect resilient, successful women (role models) with girls through interactive dialogues to influence career choices, intervention, ensure child participation and groom future female leaders. We must address the intangible in-order to unleash a giant in every girl child. The significance of programmes such as the Dove Self Esteem Project, which affirms young girls as equal citizens in their own right, is critical in the effort to achieve what MaSisulu has affirmed that “no liberation can be complete and no nation can be free until its women are free”.
I thank you.