Speech by the Premier of the Northern Cape, Ms Hazel Jenkins, on the occasion of the Women’s Month Celebration

Speech by the Premier of the Northern Cape, Ms Hazel Jenkins, on the occasion of the Women’s Month Celebration, 09 August 2010, Petrusville

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Programme Director

Honourable MEC’s

The Mayor of Petrusville, Mme Zondiwe Jack

Councillors

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

We are all gathered here to celebrate with pride the most important event on the National Calendar dedicated to women, namely our National Women’s Day, which is a special day dedicated to the further empowerment and elevation of women in all spheres of social, cultural and economic endeavours.

Under the custodianship of the Ruling Party, our beloved African National Congress, women have gradually occupied critical positions in diverse fields such as the Arts, in science, in politics, in education etc.

This day celebrates and commemorates South African women over the decades and clearly represents a re-affirmation of our commitment to strive for a society free of all kinds of discrimination, more especially discrimination against women.

At the outset, we as the provincial government have committed ourselves to build a caring and truly non-sexist society that protects its women and children. Moreover, we have further committed ourselves to build a society that loves, cares and respects its women and children and treat them with unconditional and utmost dignity that they rightfully deserve.

We remember this historic day in 1956 when thousands of women marched to the Union Buildings, led by great heroines of our struggle against apartheid such as Lillian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa and Sophia Williams-De Bruyn.

We take this opportunity to salute and pay tribute to all women and civil society organisations in our country in particular and across the globe for their courageous and resolute fight for gender equality. We salute them for their selfless contribution to creating a non racial, non sexist and democratic South African.

The theme for this year’s commemoration of National Women’s Day and Month is: “Working together for equal opportunities and progress for all women”. The theme is a national call for a united and cohesive approach towards achieving gender equality by ensuring that all women have equal opportunities in all facets of life.

This year also marks the commencement of the Decade of African Women (2010-2020) as adopted by the African Union. The objectives of the Decade are to preserve and build on the resilience and unflinching strength of African women to leverage on global and regional political goodwill for the advancement of African women with a specific focus on youth and women at grassroots level.

Programme Director, the 2010 Women’s Month programme focuses on poverty reduction and improving the socio-economic status of women. Our country, and the African National Congress in particular, has taken a number of steps to mainstream gender perspectives in poverty reduction strategies. These strategies have led to the implementation of income support programmes such as women in housing, women in mining and energy, women in subsistence farming and other programmes for the development and upliftment of rural women.

Significant progress, Ladies and Gentlemen, has also been made on legislative reforms to facilitate gender equality and improved representation of women in decision making structures. Representation of women in the Northern Cape Provincial Legislature has increased from 25 percent after the first democratic elections in 1994 to 44 percent after April 2009 elections. South Africa proudly stands at number three amongst countries of the world with the highest number of women in parliament. The number of women members of Cabinet (Ministers and Deputy Ministers) increased from 18 percent in 1994 to 40 percent post 2009 elections. This achievement, Ladies and Gentlemen, is primarily as a result of the vision, foresight and hard work of the Ruling Party.

There is also steady but tangible progress in representation of women at senior levels of the public service which at the end of 2009 stood at the national average of 36%.

Ladies and Gentlemen, on the other hand, and in spite of the efforts of the Ruling Party, both gender and race representation figures in the private sector remain very disturbing and they are a major setback to our overall effort to transform our economy. There is still under-representation of women as paid employees in general, and the challenge worsens at top management levels of the private sector. It is a fact that sixteen years into our democracy, we still have white male holding 63 percent of top management positions in the private sector while African women are at less than three percent with, Coloured and Indian women at one percent each.

Our analysis of various studies available indicates that if we continue at the current pace of transformation, it will take us almost 40 years to attain 50-50 gender parity. We cannot allow that and certainly will not! Concerted measures have to be taken to hasten the process of gender and racial transformation in our country. The status quo cannot remain unchanged, for as with past struggles, the vigour and determination of women will see this figure rise drastically within the next few years. We as the ANC, will not make any apology to anybody in improving the lot of women.

Programme Director, other challenges facing women includes poverty which is a major problem for women in South Africa. The systematic and socially-engineered location of women to rural areas has been directly responsible for the poor conditions under which the majority of South Africa’s rural communities live. Old apartheid laws, coupled with repressive customs and traditions, disempowered women in ways that will take generations to reverse. While the democratic government under the leadership of the ANC has established enabling legislation, it must move towards delivery to alleviate and, eventually, eradicate poverty.

Ladies and gentlemen we are also no doubt aware that, HIV/AIDS is a very serious problem in South Africa. It affects women much more disproportionately to men. Inevitably the power imbalances between women and men in interpersonal relations, reinforced by grossly unfair traditions and customs, contribute to this growing pandemic.

On this note, Ladies and Gentlemen, we as a country, are obliged to express our collective gratitude to the husband and wife research team of Salim and Quarisha Abdool Karim who announced the World’s first vaginal microbicide prevention gel at the recent International Aids Conference held in Viena, Austria. This good news come as another boost for South Africa’s international image, just after hosting the most successful World Cup in living memory. This announcement of the ARV based gel has shown to reduce a woman’s risk of HIV infection by 39%. Although it will take a while before the gel is generally available, it is welcome news in our relentless fight against HIV/AIDS.

Another challenge is violence against women, which remains a serious problem in South African society. The high incidences of rape cases, as well as other forms of physical and psychological abuse of women and girls, are evidence of this. The criminal justice, safety and security systems are now beginning to deal with this crisis in a gender-sensitive manner. It will continue to be a major challenge, especially as it is compounded by its interrelation with poverty and HIV/AIDS.

Access to basic needs such as education, housing, welfare, fuel and water has also been influenced by unequal gender, race and class relations. This inequality of power between women and men has inevitably led to the unequal sharing of resources such as information, time and income as well.

On the employment front, differential access to employment opportunities exists. Whilst theoretically women currently have access to a broader scope of positions in the labour market, these new opportunities are accessible to a narrow pool of women who have had access to skills development, education and training. In large measure, women’s employment remains either within traditional female occupations or within the domestic and farming sectors, all too often as casual workers. They are concentrated within positions which are low paying and which have high rates of turnover.

It is important to note that in this regard, the Ministry for Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities is developing the Gender Equality Bill which, it is envisaged, will enforce gender parity measures across all sectors of society.

Programme Director, progress has been made in increasing access to education for girls and we have to ensure that skills development programmes focus on empowering women into careers that are still male dominated. To enforce mentoring of girls into various careers, we will, on 19 August, be supporting the Take a Girl Child to Work campaign.

Government recognises that the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment are central to all efforts aimed at combating poverty and stimulating sustainable development.

Partnerships with civil society and the private sector remain crucial in ensuring collaborative efforts in implementing the national development agenda of the ANC, which inherently strives for the expansion of women's economic and social opportunities.

Ladies and gentlemen, much effort has gone into ensuring full participation by all sectors in this year’s Women’s Month celebration. We are indeed confident that this month is going be a period when all of us as South Africans reflect on the advances made by women and to recommit ourselves to address the many challenges on our path to creating a truly non-sexist and democratic society.

Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to conclude on this National Women’s day, with the following touching piece of journalism from Janet Smith which appeared in the Saturday Star over the weekend:

“One of my favourite stories is about a young boy who told us that he was proud of his father, who is unemployed, because he cooks for them and puts them to sleep every night. Those moments of love were much more important than anything else to that child”. Ladies and Gentlemen, trust in love, love and more love.

Let us work together for equal opportunities and progress for all women.

I thank you

Ndiyabulela

Baie Dankie

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