Speech by the Minister of Education, Naledi Pandor MP, at the opening ceremony of the Girls' & Boys' Education Movement Empowerment Camp, Roodevallei Country Estate, Pretoria.
8 December 2008
UNICEF Representative in South Africa , Ms Aida Girma
Guests from Liberia , Botswana and Uganda
Teachers and officials
GEMMERS and BEMMERS
I'm very pleased to welcome you all to the 2008 Girls' and Boys' Education Movement Empowerment Camp (GEM/BEM). The GEM and BEM movement is developing into a social movement of choice for disciplined and ambitious young people. I'm confident that this camp will be successful in achieving its objectives and that you will leave here enlightened, confident and more focused on completing your education.
May I also take this opportunity to welcome our international visitors to the Camp and to wish them a happy stay in our country.
The countries represented by our guests have had GEM and BEM clubs for some time and have built strong GEM Movements. We are looking forward to using this opportunity to learn from Uganda , Liberia and Botswana about the roles and functioning of GEM and BEM clubs.
The overall purpose of the camp is to strengthen the GEM movement and the clubs.
The theme of the 2008 camp is “Enjoying Rights, Taking Responsibility and Making Positive Choices” . I hope that during the camp this theme will become alive for you, and you'll discover its relevance over the course of the week.
As young people in South Africa , you enjoy rights – the first element of the theme of the camp - that previous generations did not. It's important that you understand this historical context, in order to appreciate the opportunities available to you today.
The other countries represented here have been through similar challenges at different times in history. Botswana and Uganda have had independence for longer than South Africa , whereas Liberia has a younger democracy than South Africa . Building democracy, however, is important for all of us in the region.
Wednesday 10 December is International Human Rights Day. On Wednesday you will visit the Apartheid Museum to learn more about South Africa 's history, as well as our exciting Constitution and Bill of Rights.
This year we also celebrate the 60 th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights. The United Nations adopted the Declaration of Human Rights after the Second World War, and although human rights have become an accepted part of our common vocabulary, we are still far from achieving human rights for all.
We all have to take responsibility for upholding human rights in our daily lives – the second element of the theme of the camp.
The Bill of Responsibilities, developed by the Department of Education in partnership with the National Religious Leaders' Forum, sets out the individual responsibilities that come with being a citizen in our democracy. It sets these responsibilities out in simple terms and we hope the Bill will be used widely in our schools to educate young people about the South African Constitution.
This camp also takes place during the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children campaign.
It is a sad reality that too many forms of violence against women and children continue in all our countries. Rape, trafficking of women and girls, child abuse, and sexual harassment, continue to be a feature of life for women in South Africa and on the continent.
Sexual violence and harassment is a barrier to learning and a violation of both learners' and educators' inherent right to equality and dignity as enshrined in the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (1996). This has been of major concern to the Department of Education and the Department has responded to this problem by developing Guidelines for the Prevention and Management of Sexual Violence and Harassment in Public Schools, in order to address this problem in a more visible manner.
The Guidelines are intended to support schools and school communities in responding to cases of sexual harassment and sexual violence that are perpetrated against learners within schools and those that come to the attention of school authorities. They set out standard measures to be taken to respond to situations of alleged and actual sexual violence and harassment across school communities. I understand that you will be given further information about the Guidelines during the week.
I encourage you to speak out when you feel you are being sexually harassed. Any “unwanted” sexual attention can be classified as sexual harassment. It's important to talk to someone you trust if you feel uncomfortable about unwanted sexual attention and use the Guidelines to understand what processes should be followed.
Injustices need to be actively challenged to be defeated, and creating a respectful and just society cannot be achieved without young advocates for rights and equality. All young people, both boys and girls have a responsibility to become advocates for human rights and constitutional values.
Eleanor Roosevelt famously said:
“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places – close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person: the neighbourhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world."
During this Camp, I hope you will develop great understanding about what it means to be a responsible citizen today.
I am very pleased that GEMMERS and BEMMERS from around Africa have joined us for this important camp. In South Africa , we face many challenges, but one of them is challenging xenophobia. It is a wonderful opportunity for our learners to meet young people from other parts of the continent and develop understanding about other countries in Africa. We hope that you'll build friendships across the countries, develop better understanding of each other's countries and particularly the role of men and women in our societies.
The third element of the theme for the camp is “making positive choices.”
Young people in Africa today face numerous challenges: the social effects of the HIV pandemic, pressures of drug and alcohol abuse, the results of early sexual activity (including unplanned teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases), and the many challenges of continuing your education in situations of poverty.
In South Africa , there are worrying levels of teenage pregnancy and early sexual behaviour. Girls who fall pregnant often face major challenges in continuing their education, and although our policy does not allow schools to discriminate against girls who have had children, the reality of every situation is different.
Young fathers do not always have to take responsibility for parenting in the same way as the teenage mothers. We also know that, as in many parts of the world, drug and alcohol abuse is a challenge to successful education for many young people.
As GEMMERS and BEMMERS it is important for you to recognize your own agency in life.
Knowing your rights and understanding the opportunities gives you the ability to actively take charge of your own lives.
GEM and BEM clubs hopefully provide you with the support to do this, as well as provide you with an opportunity to express your fears and concerns and find ways of resolving challenges.
The youth dialogues that we have held this year, connected to the celebration of Nelson Mandela's 90 th Birthday, have provided space for young people to express their views and fears.
It is important to provide spaces to hear the voices of young people. The GEM and BEM camps are one such place.
The DoE has strived to ensure that there are support structures to support the GEM/BEM clubs.
This evening we formally launch the GEM/BEM Guidebook, which has been developed to provide support and guidance to the clubs in South Africa .
We will distribute the Guidebook to all active clubs, and to those who plan to establish and run new GEM and BEM clubs. I would like to acknowledge the role played by our provincial gender focal persons and the teachers who manage and support GEM and BEM clubs. Your role is an important one.
I would like to offer sincere thanks to UNICEF for being our partner in building and supporting the GEM/BEM Movement in South Africa .
In particular, UNICEF has supported the attendance at this camp of Liberia , Botswana and Uganda .
We are grateful to UNICEF for their ongoing support to educational projects and look forward to a continued working relationship in 2009.
I would also like to thank those who are attending this camp with an interest in offering financial support to the movement in 2009. We look forward to developing new partnerships to strengthen GEM and BEM, and thank you for being here.
GEM and BEM clubs can contribute to the transformation of our country into a society that is free from all forms of discrimination, violence, and abuse, a society that affords girls and boys equal opportunities to reach their full potential, a society that raises responsible citizens who embrace the spirit of peace, equal rights and justice.