Address by the Minister of Education of South Africa , Naledi Pandor MP, at the women's day celebration in Kingston , Jamaica.
27 August 2008
High Commissioner, Adv Faith Radebe
All honourable delegates
I'd like to congratulate the people and athletes of Jamaica for the excellent performance at the recent Beijing Olympic Games.
It's a pleasure to be here today. Thank you very much for inviting me. We're very pleased that you have agreed to join us here to-day to join our continuing focus on the challenge of ensuring the full liberation of women in our world, and the pursuit of gender equity in our societies.
The task of creating societies, laws and institutions that give full opportunity and recognition to girls and women is one that many grapple with on a daily basis. There has been progress. Statistics in most countries point to the advances.
Women enjoy access to fields and disciplines that were male domains in our recent past. In many countries, women occupy high political office, girls enjoy equal access to education and girls outnumber boys in most university systems.
I greet all women and men who are here today. Your presence is important in that it signifies increasing recognition that gender equity is an objective all of us must pursue because women's struggles are human rights struggles and concern us all.
As you all know, the history of women's struggle is rooted in women's struggles for economic, political and social justice.
The 9 August is celebrated each year in South Africa as Women's Day. It commemorates the famous non-racial women-led protest against the pass laws in apartheid South Africa . On 9 August 1956 women courageously marched on the Union Buildings, the offices of the executive, and told the Prime Minister that by planning to extend the pass laws to women, he had interfered with the women and he had struck a rock.
When the date was declared a public holiday women agreed that the entire month should be dedicated to women, to their struggles, their triumphs, and the agenda for continuing the advance toward the total liberation of women. The time is used to review progress towards our full recognition in all spheres of life, as well as evaluating strategies to achieve this.
I thank the Bureau of Women's Affairs of Jamaica for partnering South Africa in this programme; I hope the collaboration will grow from strength to strength.
South Africa has made significant progress in women's empowerment in our first decade of democracy. We have over 30% women MPs, 40% cabinet posts, more than 50% in academic institutions and increasing numbers of women in managerial and supervisory positions. Jamaica has similar statistics in several areas. Nevertheless, a more detailed analysis in both countries reveals many troubling features.
In both Jamaica and South Africa , women and young people still struggle to gain access to equal pay and equal work. Women and girls are often victims of domestic violence and in many countries when choices about access to schooling are made, girls are often left behind. All of you are aware that wherever there is civil strife or local conflicts, women, girls and young boys become victims of war.
The reason for a women's month lies in our belief that we must remain vigilant and vigorously examine action by government, the private sector and public institutions.
It's taken many years for women to achieve the advances we celebrate today. Women in South Africa recognise that the struggle for liberation laid the basis for post-democracy achievements; they are also aware that the political progress and the support by leaders should be recognised as an opportunity and not as the conclusion of the fundamental task of altering our society into one that recognises and supports the needs and aspirations of all males and females.
Women assert this perspective due to the reality that many barriers confront women. For example, South Africa has just concluded the first successful court challenge by a female traditional leader who fought off male relatives who wished to assume the throne. The chief will be installed this week.
Therefore, although today we are celebrating women's achievements, we must be aware that there's more work to be done to achieve full equality in the public sphere. Culture and religion continue to be used as tools of oppression in many parts of the world.
Gatherings such as this one affirm past tools of struggle. Women can and should establish progressive networks for advancing a women agenda worldwide. Jamaica is similar to South Africa in having many commitments to equity; both countries should work closer together and use their organisational strength to win more victories for women.
South Africa has made great progress through law and practice in creating an enabling environment for the participation of women in decision-making and in governance.
I know that Jamaica has also made serious commitments to redress imbalances that impede gender equality.
However, more women are unemployed than men, and we remain vulnerable to sexual abuse and HIV & AIDS infection.
During the State of the Nation Address this year, President Thabo Mbeki committed the South African government to do its best to live up to accelerate change and do – Business Unusual.
The President asserted: “We speak of Business Unusual not referring to any changes in our established policies but with regard to the speedy, efficient and effective implementation of these policies and programmes, so that the lives of our people should change for the better, sooner rather than later”.
Therefore the theme that shapes our celebrations this year, “Business Unusual: All Power to Women”, challenges us to think creatively about how we can speedily, efficiently and effectively implement and not just talk.
In the education sector in South Africa “business unusual” has led us to focus on four priorities in the education sector.
First, we've taken steps to improve the participation and performance of girls and women in science and technology.
This is a world-wide problem; many developed countries have struggled with gender inequalities in the sciences.
We must change the perception that science is for males. Every country has to build a wider base of science competent youngsters in order to support local and international innovation.
Second, we've taken steps to encourage girls and boys to stay in school beyond the compulsory school phase.
Girls have work commitments that can take them away from schooling, the effect of HIV on families often leaves girls with heavy family care burdens, and schoolgirl pregnancy can have a negative effect on girls' chances of continuing their education.
All these, and other complex social factors have implications for the access and success of girls and boys in different ways.
The higher dropout rate of boys at the secondary school level is an area of concern.
The ministerial committee on learner retention that I appointed last year highlighted this point in its recent report.
There is a gender imbalance growing in South African universities and here in Jamaica as well. Already some girls are struggling to find life partners with a similar education level, a reversal of the situation barely 30 years ago.
Third, we have taken steps through policy and law to discourage gender-based violence.
Sexual harassment and violence can have an extremely disruptive impact on girls at school and university.
While we do not always have reliable statistics, we cannot deny the extent of these problems.
Fourth, we are giving attention to curriculum responsiveness and pedagogy, because this is a gender issue.
This is an area that has not been given adequate attention by equity practitioners.
Our focus is on teaching approaches and learning materials being gender sensitive, as well as on teaching young people to be gender-responsive and gender-aware.
The performance of girls in relation to boys in maths and science is closely related to formal and informal messages that are transmitted through the curriculum and teaching methods.
I am encouraged by the fact that our countries share similar sentiments in relation to the liberation of women and girls from various constraints that they face in their lives.
I am also aware that our challenges in this regard are similar.
As great women in leadership, women in business, in the arts, scientists, women in politics, women in farming, women as entrepreneurs, working hand in hand with our male counterparts, let us confront barriers that stand between women and justice in our countries.
Let's not forget the sentiments that characterised us throughout our struggles against oppression, the sentiments of selflessness and concern for the good of others.
Let's inspire young women and young men in our communities to transcend the fear of change and embrace equal rights and justice for women and men. This is a condition for sustainable development in our countries.