Comrades and compatriots,
Celebrating a Centenary of women’s empowerment, leadership and participation within the gracious interior of the National Assembly where laws are made indeed confirms you can’t hold tight the lid of a boiling-pot forever. Today is a victory in itself!
Women are on the march and have always been at the forefront of the struggle.
It’s reason enough to celebrate that we’ve transformed Parliament under the ANC from a dominantly male club with a few contending voices into a model for building a society of equals, a non-sexist society.
From 2.7% in 1994 we now command as women 42% representation in Parliament. It is in this way that we can articulate strongly the women’s perspective in policy-making.
We pay tribute to women of our country and continent during this special women’s month, in the centenary of the women’s struggle for liberation.
We salute all heroines who in 1913 marched against passes for women, the draconian 1913 Land Act and unjust laws.
We say Halala! to Cde Charlotte Maxeke. She led with distinction the 1913 women’s march in Bloemfontein, and in 1918 gave South Africa a well-organised women’s movement, the Bantu Women’s League, the forerunner of the ANCWL.
Our challenge going-forward is to create conditions more conducive for sustaining and scaling-up women’s empowerment in all areas of life, for young women in particular.
To level the playing-field we’ve got to rid our country of all forms of violence against women and children. We trembled with indignation at the Modimolle monster who orchestrated gang-rape and torture of his ex-wife and at other sexually-motivated violations of rights and dignity of women.
The recent outrage in the country around the whole matter of gender-based violence clearly casts us a nation that’s serious about defending women’s rights. But the road is long to travel. We observe national Women’s Day and Women’s Month in memory of women marchers of 9 August 1956.
This ensures we’re not complacent with the legislative and constitutional gains for women. Memory is a weapon!
You know it’s a fact that we’ve made huge strides in affirming women. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2012 confirmed categorically that we’re fourth worldwide on women’s representation.
The majority of provinces are under women’s leadership with 5 of the 9 premiers being women. The challenge is to leverage the shifting balance to open economic opportunities for women.
The private sector in particular displays still unimpressive movement on women’s representation at top management. Patriarchy is still well and alive. And thus the need to sustain women empowerment.
Let’s squash patriarchy and oppressive cultures with the might of foundations for equality and empowerment that we have laid under the ANC government.
The ANC is in the front trenches of gender struggles, in theory and in practice. We lead the way, inside and outside the ANC, towards 50/50 gender parity since the ANC 52nd National Conference. This resolution did much to demonstrate the ANC’s unfaltering commitment to the protection and affirmation of women.
We’re accelerating this work to address directly development needs of women. The National Development Plan demands that transformation of the economy should involve active participation and empowerment of women.
What we do to defend and empower women will show how serious we are in building a caring, equal, and just society.
Even as we celebrate Women’s Month and the Centenary of the women’s struggle, the marginalisation of women in certain areas is threatening to compromise progress.
This we see for instance in the persistent impoverishment of rural women and the poorest of the poor. It is this that informs today’s theme and the 2013 theme for Women’s Month, that is:
“A Centenary of Working Together towards Sustainable Women Empowerment and Gender Equality”.
This also says we should intensify efforts to give women land during and beyond the centenary of the 1913 Land Act. This is one way of addressing human needs for all, and ensuring food security for all our people.
The building-blocks are there to sustain and intensify women’s empowerment and gender equality. Since 1994 a lot we have changed as women and progressive men of Africa.
South Africa is today a constitutional democracy where gender equality is a constitutional imperative.
We’re signatory to international instruments for the protection and promotion of rights of women and children, including the Beijing Platform for Action, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the African Union Protocol and the SADC Gender Protocol.
We have in place a Constitution with an entrenched Bill of Rights guaranteeing equality before the law.
Since 1994, we’ve put in place a range of legislation to create an enabling environment for women’s empowerment. In all spheres of government, we’re doing our best to affirm women.
In addition to our forward strides, we’re poised to pass into law the Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill to enforce gender equity.
We can and indeed must do better, all of us, as a nation, men and women, to improve the lot for women, during and beyond this month of women.
An assault on a woman is an assault on all of us, to the benefit of none of us. If you defend a woman, you defend a nation!
In the democratic space we celebrate today we want to work with women and patriotic men to clear all obstacles on the road to sustainable empowerment.
It is only when we work together as equals that we can build a united, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous state.
It is for the whole of society to build on the foundation work that government has done for women, to make it possible that they lead quality lives under conditions favourable to self-development, skilling and economic opportunities.
Encroachments on women’s safety and right to life show these matters of national priority need all of us, working together. In many cases, we know the perpetrators. But we choose silence, and increased pain.
Last year a Medical Research Council study isolated intimate partner violence as the leading cause of death of women homicide victims with 56% of female homicides being committed by an intimate partner.
On its part government is stepping-up access to justice. Over the next 3 years we’re spending R3.1 billion on the construction of courts and other infrastructure projects.
Again we welcome the reopening of sexual offences courts.
It is collaborations and partnerships we need coupled with high levels of civic responsibility. These are proving to be effective.
For instance in education we’re using strategic partnerships to meet the safety needs of learners.
We’ve linked schools to police-stations and are appealing to communities to support the fight against violations of rights, from bullying to sexual violence and abuse.
Already 18 300 schools are linked to police-stations. Next year all public schools in the country will be linked to police stations.
We work in partnership with many partners in the NGO sector to support schools and victims of gender-based violence.
Among others there’s Soul City, LoveLife, Sonke Gender Justice, Childline and many more.
Of course these collaborative efforts are replicated in other areas in and outside government.
We welcome efforts of faith-based communities and traditional leadership in promoting rights of women.
The media, individuals and non-profits are making a difference with their advocacy work, like People Opposing women Abuse, Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre and many companies through their corporate social investment projects.
But we need to do more to mobilise community support.
All of us have a role to play.
Lastly, empowering women, as a people, across the gender divide, is the only path towards a better future for all of us.
Empowering young women socially and economically shouldn’t be an optional extra but a precondition for building consciously a caring, loving and successful nation.
Empowering young men and boys with the gospel of gender equality and a human rights culture, from our homes, is a sure way towards building peaceful, crime-free communities wherein children can grow in harmony oblivious to all cares of gender difference under the heat of the sun.
We’ve learnt in the 100 Years of the Women’s Struggle against racism and sexism that the longer you try to cover the lid of a boiling pot, the faster the waters of resistance will boil.