_: From today until the end of the month, the government and people of South Africa will be commemorating Women’s Month under the theme: “56 years of women united against poverty, inequality and unemployment”.
The month of August was declared Women’s Month by the democratic government of South Africa as a tribute to the thousands of women who marched on the 9th of August 1956 to protest against the extension of Pass Laws to women. Each year, we utilise Women’s Month as a platform to focus the attention of the nation on issues of women empowerment and gender equality.
I can state without any fear of contradiction that, as a country and government, we have registered significant progress in the promotion of women empowerment and gender equality. An array of measures introduced since 1994 to promote women empowerment and uphold gender equality, have drastically improved the position and conditions of women in our country.
Women occupy influential positions in government and play an important role in decision-making processes. The living conditions of the majority of ordinary women have undergone significant qualitative change. Women now have access to housing, water, electricity, education, social services, healthcare and other services.
We are making progress in addressing the primary health care needs of women and girls as reflected in the decline of child and maternal mortality as well as mother-to-child transmission of HIV rates. We are encouraged by these developments, but believe that more still needs to be done.
There is consensus that South Africa has some of the most progressive policies that are aimed at advancing women empowerment and gender equality. However, the challenge remains the actual translation of these policies and legislative frameworks into implementation. While significant strides have been made to empower women and promote gender equality, women still bear a disproportionate burden of the triple challenges 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. In addition, a life of abuse, discrimination and violation of human rights remain the harsh reality for the majority of the women in our country.
I am pleased to announce that the process of developing the women empowerment and gender equality policy that will lead to the Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill is at an advanced stage. The national policy is proposing guidelines for promoting women empowerment and gender equality. The Draft 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 believe that one of the key areas that can be critical in advancing women empowerment and gender equality is the budget. Early this year, we launched the Women and Budgeting Initiative in partnership with the Motsepe Foundation. Together, we need to reflect on the budgeting process and economic frameworks and how these can constrain or promote the development and implementation of policies aimed at empowering women and vulnerable groups.
We are fully aware that budgets have been instrumental in perpetuating gender biases globally. We also know that budgets can be instrumental in transforming and redressing existing gender inequalities. Mainstreaming gender into budgeting processes is critical to building an equal society. We believe that gender-responsive budgeting can be a tool to promote the socio-economic rights of women, children and people with disabilities, and is key in reducing inequality in our country.
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.
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 we fight poverty in the countryside, we must recognise that in South Africa this scourge bears a female face. We must therefore make a solemn commitment to continue our sustained offensive against discrimination and abuse of women and girl children as part of our war on poverty. The rural profile of South Africa continues to be one of female-headed households, growing poverty, human rights abuses and increased gender-based violence, unemployment and high prevalence of HIV and Aids.
Working together with the Department of Land Reform and Rural Development, we want to facilitate women’s access to land. We are determined to ensure that women, including women with disabilities, become the main beneficiaries of the land reform processes. This is because the challenges of rural development, food security and land reform affect women disproportionately. Together, we have a responsibility to ensure gender equality and women empowerment in the countryside.
Together, we must ensure that the progress we have made as a nation to promote women empowerment and gender equality is not reversed. This explains women’s relentless opposition to the Traditional Courts Bill. Rural women’s lack of access to resources and basic services is compounded by their unequal rights in family structures, as well as unequal access to family resources, such as land and livestock as well as oppressive traditional practices.
We are concerned that the Bill will perpetuate this state of affairs. As government, we are painfully aware that women’s dependence on husbands, fathers, partners and family members has increased women’s vulnerability to domestic violence, rape, incest, abuse, and murder.
With regard to violence against women, we remain concerned that the combined figures of all sexual offences, including rape and indecent assault, indicate an upward trend of 2,1% in 2010/11 compared to 2009/10. Cases of murder of women increased by 5,6% and sexual offences against children increased by 2,6% during this period. We are also confident that the strengthening of law enforcement measures, particularly the re-establishment of Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences (FCS) units within the SAPS will assist in turning the tide against these crimes.
As government, we are taking the war against gender-based violence to a higher level. Cabinet approved the establishment of the National Council Against Gender-based Violence, which is a high-level multi-sectoral national response to the scourge. Led by the Deputy President, we are confident that the work of the Council will lead to a significant reduction in the incidents of violence against women and children. The National Council Against Gender-Based Violence will be launched on the 25th of August 2012.
Congratulations to Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma
On behalf of the women of our country, I wish to congratulate one of the greatest and most extra-ordinary patriots and heroines of our struggle, Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, on her election as the Chairperson of the African Union Commission. She is an inspiration to all women across Africa and the world. Indeed, 15 July 2012 will occupy a special place in our hearts and on the African calendar, for it heralds the dawn of progressive and decisive leadership.
We wish her success as she prepares to assume one of the most challenging tasks on our continent. We are very proud of her and her legacy. We have confidence that she will represent us well as Head of the AU Commission.
Charlotte Maxeke lecture
This Saturday, we will be paying tribute to one of the greatest leaders of country, Ms Charlotte Maxeke, through a memorial lecture which will be delivered by President Jacob Zuma in Bloemfontein. During this Women’s Month, it is important for all of us to reflect on the important roles played by selfless leaders such as Charlotte Maxeke and her generation in liberating our country. As we commemorate Women’s Month, we must also reaffirm our commitment to ensure that her legacy lives on.
Women’s day programme
The main event will take place at the Union Buildings from 9:00. The Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities in collaboration with the Department of Arts and Culture, Gauteng Provincial Government and the City of Tshwane are working together to ensure a successful commemoration. The programme for this year Women’s Day commemoration on August the 9th will unfold as follows:
The formal programme of 9 August will be preceded by the following key activities:
Night Vigil – City Hall, Tshwane (8 – 9 August 18h00pm –6h00am)
On the eve of Women’s Day, women will hold a night vigil in memory of the 1956 March and in honour of the women who contributed to the attainment of freedom in our country. An interdenominational prayer and worship will be held in memory of all the heroines and women veterans who took part in the march.
Unveiling of the Women’s Memorial Site (Sod Turning Ceremony at Lillian Ngoyi Square)
One of the major activities planned for this year’s celebration is the launch of the Women’s Monument at Lillian Ngoyi Square in Tshwane on the morning of the 9th of August.
The monument is in memory of all the women who took part in the 1956 Women’s march to the Union Buildings. It will be a living monument which includes the multi-purpose centre, will provide space for formal and informal training for women, provide market access for local crafts and provide information to the young generation about the women’s struggle for emancipation.
March to the Union Buildings
The leaders, dignitaries and women will march from Lillian Ngoyi Square to the Union Building where they will join the formal programme. Through this march, participants will be reliving the 1956 march and the journey that 20 000 women travelled in pursuit of our liberation struggle.
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.
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.