_: Patriarchy as an ideology or socio-economic system that defines gender relations has been promoted worldwide for centuries by those in power. Its perpetuation has been made possible amongst other things by myths and fallacies that portray men as born superior to women.
The mythological ideas which are the fibre of patriarchy have been entrenched to a point that the structural relations in our society continues to reinforce the gender inequalities as can be witness in our own situation. Men are presented to us as a Divine Gift that women must serve at all times. This is a myth that continues to enslave our women.
As women, we are made to play a second fiddle to men in many aspects of life. At work we are generally relegated to the lower rungs of the organisational ladder. When we get at home we are expected to attend to the whims and demands of men. The end result is that many of our sisters and mothers have become numb to the situation and accept it as normal.
This is the reality we are exposed to and made to accept. At one stage, Albert Einstein had this to say about such state of mind or consciousness: “No problem can be solved by the same consciousness that created it. We need to see the world anew.”
Basically, it means that it is within our potential as women that we can chose to live like we do or chose to change the status qou by acquiring a new way of looking at the world. We need a paradigm shift because, as Einstein says, we cannot address the challenges we faced through the same consciousness or tools of analysis that created the challenges. We have to take charge of our own development and transformation.
At the leadership level of government, we are very clear about the importance of transformation of our society across the board. We understand that there can be no true freedom as long as women in our midst remained chained by chauvinistic practices found in our communities. Consequently, we have spearheaded various intervention programmes and institutions aimed at empowering women in particular.
As a result, we have amended various legislations such as the Customary Marriage Law, the Gender Commission and others to address gender-based discrimination and oppression. We have also been able to place the gender issues into the mainstream of social discourse. Women issues are no longer at the periphery but streamlined as societal matters.
As people of South Africa we are conscious of the historical oppression and institutionalised racism that people had to endure in the hands of the apartheid government. We are conscious of the indignity and humiliation that people had to suffer because they were not allowed in the cities and towns they helped to build unless they were labourers with permits to show.
But as women in particular we know very well about the scourge of triple oppression. We fully understand the oppression suffered at home, the exploitation we are subjected to at workplace and the humiliation and oppression we endured as the result of male testosterone.
Ladies and Gentlemen
Without any shadow of doubt, whatever progress we have achieved was made possible by the groundbreaking efforts of the heroines who went before us and made ultimate sacrifice.
Today, we come together because we share collective memory, first as women and as people of South Africa. We thus remember a throng of 20 000 strong women of all races, from the cities and towns, homelands and villages, who in August 1956 marched to Pretoria the then seat of oppressive government. United as women irrespective of their social standing or racial background led by Lillian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Sophie Williams and Radima Moosa these heroines sent a loud message that “enough was enough”.
Our gathering takes place at a time when the country is reflecting on the gallant act of the progressive-minded generation of women of 1956 who in spite of the brutality and viciousness of the apartheid regime, stood up and demanded freedom, equality and dignity. August is a very special month in the history of our country and its people. We owe it to these great women.
So as we look back to our endearing heroes and heroines from our volatile past, the challenge today is to figure out how best we harness our collective abilities, skills and potential to continue to re-shape and better our present day society. Let us ask ourselves: what is the legacy that we would like to bequeath to future generations? How would we like the future generations of South African women to remember each one of us? Through introspective questioning we can begin to focus on what matters most in the development of women and society in general.
It is, therefore, with great pleasure that I embrace the initiative announced by Absa’s Retail and Business Bank today. Your Women Development Programme sounds like the ideal tonic to grow and empower more young women so that they could succeed in leadership roles. The statistics revealed earlier in relation to the figures pertaining to our Captains of Industry are very worrying indeed. I have no doubt that your Women Development initiative will help to redress the gender imbalances that still exist at the level of corporate leadership.
I hope, too, that the 20 women who have been chosen to pilot this six-month programme will do everything in their power to grab this opportunity and make a real success of it. Remember, your success could pave the way for scores of other Absa women to become the strong leaders of tomorrow which is required in the workplace and in society at large.
Now, more than ever, all sectors of South African society can only benefit from Public-Private Partnerships and, as the government of Gauteng, we look forward to working with the likes of Absa so that we could combine our resources to successfully fight those gender battles that still need to be fought.
Even if you do not do anything else this Women’s Month, let us simply commit ourselves to discovering our strengths and to help those we care about find theirs. You’ll be amazed at the impact this could have in your own lives, your workplace, in the promotion of socio-economic growth and a brighter future.
Finally, I would like to thank Absa for affording me this opportunity to speak at your Woman’s Month celebrations today. I must emphasise that your presence here will inspire me to do much more in my capacity as Premier to advance the gender agenda for South Africa’s women.