_: Good morning This year, we are commemorating Women’s Month under the theme: “56 years of women united against poverty, inequality and unemployment”. This theme is a vivid reminder that the women of South Africa bear the uneven brunt of the effects of poverty, inequality and unemployment. It is also a clarion call for all of us to do more than what we have been doing in order to ensure that the vision of a better life for all becomes a living reality for all women.
I am confident that no one can challenge me when I make the assertion that as a country and government, we have registered significant progress in the promotion of women empowerment and gender equality. Our policies and programmes that we introduced since 1994 have assisted to improve the living conditions of women. Women now have access to opportunities, rights and services that were a dream about twenty years ago.
Despite this progress, women still bear the most burden of the triple challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment.
As government, we remain concerned at the continued exclusion and under-representation of women at executive level of many corporate companies. The results of the 2011 Businesswomen Association (BWA) South African Women in Leadership Census paints a sad picture.
It is disheartening that in this day and age there are still companies that have a 0% women representation of directors and executive managers. According to BWA census, women are clearly in the minority amongst their male counterparts in the leadership positions. Women hold only 4.4% of CEO/MD positions, 5.3% of Chairperson positions, and 15.8% of all Directorships. The same report indicates that in the public service, women hold 35% of all Senior Management positions.
BWA and all of us who are committed to building a society based on equality are understandably concerned at the continued exclusion of women and the slow pace at which they were being incorporated into the corporate space at senior level. It has become clear that the empowerment of women cannot be left to market forces. We are confident that through the Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill, we will be responding to the calls made by BWA and many women of our country who find themselves discriminated against on the basis of their gender.
The women of our country will be pleased to hear that the Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill will be tabled before Cabinet during the 2012/13 financial year. This will help enforce compliance in both government and the private sector. South Africa has made commitments through the Constitution, various pieces of legislation and international conventions to respect, promote, protect and advance the rights of women. We have a duty and obligation to honour these commitments.
We continue to work tirelessly to ensure that the New Growth Path and the Green Fund are gender and disability responsive. Working together with government departments and other partners, we are facilitating opportunities for women in rural, peri-urban and informal settlements to participate in green economy projects such as solar energy, water purification, agriculture, construction, waste management and tourism.
The department will also monitor the extent to which women and people with disabilities benefit through the preferential procurement system in government. The department will continue to encourage companies and organisations of women to register on government entities and departments’ supply chain databases.
Working together with the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, we want to facilitate women’s access to land. This is because the challenges of rural development, food security and land reform affect women disproportionately.
We are also facilitating financial support and training for women farmers and women’s co-operatives with our national and international partners. We are painfully aware that financial dependency on husbands, fathers, partners and family members has increased women’s vulnerability to domestic violence, rape, incest, abuse, and murder. We remain convinced that empowering women will help us win the war against poverty, inequality, unemployment and abuse.
As a department, we are encouraged by the almost universal opposition to the Traditional Courts’ Bill. As a result of the relentless and unequivocal position adopted by the women, this Bill will not see the light of day. We have consistently stated that this Bill, in its current form, will not stand the Constitutional test, and that as a nation, we must guard against all attempts to reverse the progress we have registered in the area of women empowerment and gender equality.
With regard to violence against women, we remain concerned that the figures released by the Minister of Police last year suggest an upward trend. Violence against women undermines the gains of our freedom and affects women’s ability to become productive citizens. There is also another disturbing trend of hate crimes in our society. As a society committed to the values of human rights and democracy, we must loudly declare that: An assault on gays and lesbians is an assault on our democratic society.
Defending the rights of gays and lesbians is a defence of our democracy. Discrimination against the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender and Intersex communities (LGBTI) must be fought on all fronts. This is indicative of a pervasive culture of intolerance and violence in our society.
In order to help us confront this scourge, government will launch the National Council Against Gender-Based Violence on the 25th of August 2012. Among other things, the Council will facilitate the provision of help and response to victims and survivors of gender-based violence, adopt comprehensive measures in addressing all forms of violence against women and children as well as women with disabilities and to coordinate the 365 Days National Plan of Action Against Gender-based Violence.
The Council will be chaired the Deputy President, Mr Kgalema Motlanthe, with a dedicated Secretariat located in the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities.
We consider the media as our critical partners throughout Women’s Month, because our view is that inadequate access to information has meant that the majority of women continue to remain vulnerable, marginalised and unable to participate in the mainstream of society because they are not aware of their rights as well as the services and opportunities that they can seize in order to change their lives for the better.
The continued portrayal of women as sex objects may contribute to a climate where women continue to be treated as objects. It is critical that all of us who have the power to influence mindsets and public opinion remain mindful of the need to helping restore the dignity of women. How powerful institutions such as government, the media and civil society treat and portray women can mean the difference between empowerment and continued marginalisation of women.
Working together, we will be able to overcome a life of indignity, abuse and oppression that continues to define the daily experiences of the majority of women. Working together, we can succeed in ensuring that all the women of South Africa are empowered to taste the fruits of our freedom and democracy.