Pretoria: An array of measures introduced by government since the dawn of democracy to promote women e mpowerment have drastically improved the position and conditions of women in the country.
“As government and the country, we’ve made significant strides in the promotion of women empowerment and gender equality,” Women, Children and People with Disabilities Minister Lulu Xingwana said at the official launch of Women’s Month at Freedom Park on Saturday.
The minister said the naming of smart ID card printers after struggle stalwarts including Sophie de Bruyn, Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph and Rahima Moosa was a clear sign by government that the nation was healing and the identity and dignity of women were being restored.
Xingwana said under the African National Congress-led government, women occupied influential positions in government and were playing crucial roles in decision-making processes.
“The living conditions of the majority of ordinary women have undergone significant qualitative change, as women now have access to housing, water, electricity, education, social services, healthcare and other services.
“We are encouraged by all these developments, but we believe that more still needs to be done with regard to the total emancipation of women,” she said.
Xingwana said there was consensus that the country had the most progressive policies aimed at advancing women empowerment and gender equality.
However, she said the challenge remained the actual translation of the policies and legislative frameworks into implementation.
While significant strides have been made to empower women, women still shouldered a disproportionate burden of the triple challenge of poverty, inequality and unemployment.
“Women continue to be marginalised and discriminated against in terms of economic opportunities, the labour market as well as access to land, credit and finance,” Xingwana said.
The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform has made a commitment to ensure that women access land, and Xingwana said they were determined to ensure that women, including those with disabilities, became the main beneficiaries of the land reform processes.
The minister also announced that the Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill has been submitted to Cabinet.
The bill seeks to promote women empowerment and gender equality, and enforces compliance in both government and the private sector.
Xingwana joined hands with a group of women to form a 2km human chain on Reconciliation Road, which links Freedom Park and the Voortreker Monument.
The President of Dameskring, Mignon Smit, said: “Joining hands creates awareness of women’s historical struggles and our ability to come together and heal the nation.”
Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) Deputy CEO: Intergovernmental Coordination and Stakeholder Management, Nebo Legoabe, said the human chain was a true reflection of South Africa’s unity in diversity.
“To me it feels good to come together with women from other racial groups, with the view to continue building a peaceful and prosperous South Africa as part of the build-up to the 20years celebration of freedom and democracy next year.”
One of the women in the chain, Annelize Kay, said: “This is the beginning of something that is going to yield positive results for our country in terms of promoting reconciliation and unity.”
When Nelson Mandela was elected as the first President of democratic South Africa, his administration declared August as Women’s Month to pay tribute to the thousands of women who marched in 1913 and 1956 respectively.
Throughout this month, government and the people of South Africa will commemorate Women’s Month under the theme, ‘A centenary of working together towards sustainable women empowerment and gender equality’.
This year’s commemoration coincides with the centenary of the 1913 Natives Land Act, which also deprived women access to land.
In 1913, the apartheid government in the Orange Free State declared that women living in urban townships would be required to buy new entry permits each month.
This led women to collect thousands of signatures on petitions and organised massive demonstrations to protest the permit requirement.
In June 1913, an anti-pass defiance campaign took place, the first recorded incidence of protest by black women against the Union government.
Charlotte Maxeke led about 700 women, who marched to the Bloemfontein City Council in the then Orange Free State to petition the mayor.
The campaign gained momentum and spread to other areas in Bloemfontein, with unrest spreading throughout the province and hundreds of women were sent to prison.
Another heroic march led by women took place on August 9, 1956 to the Union Buildings to protest against the extension of Pass Laws to women.