Womens celebrations - Parliamentary debate

ADDRESS BY THE PREMIER OF THE NORTHERN CAPE, MRS HAZEL JENKINS, ON THE OCCASION OF THE HOUSE SITTING TO CELEBRATE WOMEN’S MONTH, 23 AUGUST 2011, PROVINCIAL LEGISLATURE.
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Mister Speaker and Deputy Speaker

Members of the Executive Council

Members of the Provincial Legislature

Friends and Compatriots

It is a distinct honour and privilege for me to address this august house in celebration of women’s month. The month of August is one of the most important months on the national calendar of events.

It is indeed during this month that we honour and salute the brave women of the generation of 1956 who led a decisive struggle aimed at overcoming the deep-seated social, political and economic challenges that confronted the masses of our people.

During Women's month we celebrated their dedication, courage, and their vision for a world where women and men, boys and girls, live together as equals. Together we must continue to act to ensure that women and men in our country can live as equal beneficiaries of development. It is only through women’s full and equal participation in all areas of public and private life that we can hope to achieve the sustainable, peaceful and just society promised in our government’s programme of action.

Honourable Speaker, allow me to quote Indira Gandhi, the late Indian Prime Minister, who remarked that “By excluding women, men are depriving themselves of a fuller emancipation or growth for themselves”. She further remarked that “To be liberated, a woman must feel free to be herself, not in rivalry to man but in the context of her own capacity and her personality. We need women to be more interested, more alive and more active not because they are women but because they do comprise half the human race. Whether they like it or not, they cannot escape their responsibility nor should they be denied its benefits. Women are traditionally conservative but they also have the genius of synthesis, to adapt and to absorb. That is what gives them resilience to face suffering and to meet upheavals with a degree of calm, to change constantly and yet remain changeless”.

Her message was clear that there cannot be true freedom without the full emancipation of women and that women have the right to participate equally and meaningfully in all spheres of society.

Honourable Speaker, the historic march of the 1956 generation of women was a turning point in the role of women in the struggle for freedom and society at large. Since that eventful day, women from all walks of life became equal partners in the struggle for a non-racial and non-sexist South Africa.

We are inspired by these women patriots who took up the fight for gender equality and freedom. We are inspired by the likes of Lillian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa and Sophia Williams-De Bruyn to name a few of the core leaders.

We must keep alight the flame of hope and progress that these revolutionary women have ignited. We are forever indebted to these women who have fought and provided us with leadership towards equality.

I have seen myself what women, often in the toughest circumstances, can achieve for their families and societies when they are given the opportunity. The strength, industry and wisdom of women remain humanity's greatest untapped resource.

In celebration of women’s month the Government recognizes the crucial roles rural women play in reducing poverty, reducing hunger among their children, and contributing to social stability in their communities.

Indeed, we draw strength and inspiration from the brave and courageous heroines who proved to the nation and the world that women have exceptional leadership qualities and the power to change the world.

We call upon the women of today to emulate the visionary leadership of the heroines of 1956 who set out to build a safe and secure country for our children to live in.

We are pleased to report that our government is on course to attain the noble goal of uniting our country to build a non racial, non sexist and democratic South Africa. In pursuit of this goal, our government repealed all the racist, repressive and discriminatory laws that undermine the dignity and integrity of women to ensure that women realise their full potential.

Despite some progress, in our country and around the world, women continue to be marginalized, abused, discriminated against, and deprived of basic needs because of their sex. There also continues to be systematic discrimination against women in education, health care, employment, and control of assets. Untapping the potential of women will result not only in increased opportunities for women and girls, but also in concrete improvements in the national economy, peace and security, and development.

In 1984, during the January 8th statement, the late OR Tambo said: “It will be our special task this year to organize and mobilize our womenfolk into a powerful, united and active force for revolutionary change. This task falls on men and women alike – all of us together as comrades in the struggle…our struggle needs and demands this potentially mighty force. Our struggle will be less than powerful and our national and social emancipation can never be complete if we continue to treat women of our country as dependent minors and objects of one form of exploitation or another. Certainly no longer should it be that a woman’s place is in the kitchen. In our beleaguered country, the woman’s place is in the battlefront of the struggle…”

The centrality of OR’s message then was that our national and social emancipation can never be completed if women continue to be treated as “…dependent minors and objects of one form of exploitation or another.

Ladies and Gentlemen, as government our main focus is to facilitate the empowerment of women to become equal participants in the economic, social and political spheres. Government acknowledges the historical inequities that have disadvantaged women, limiting development opportunities and representation in decision-making positions. However over the past 17 years of democracy, government made deliberate efforts to improve the status of women. Today I can state with full confidence that women representation in Parliament increased drastically from 2, 7% during apartheid to 27% after the historic 1994 elections and reached 44% after 2009 general elections.

South Africa is number four amongst countries with a highest number of women in parliament. 43% of Cabinet Ministers are women. Although a number of women councillors has unfortunately declined from 40% to 38% after 2011 Local Government Elections, the ANC-led government remains committed on its endeavour of 50/50 representation in all spheres of government.

As the government we continue to promote the appointment of women into management positions in the public service and state-owned enterprises including career progression from lower ranks where women are already in majority. However a need for the promotion and appointment of women to decision-making positions in the private and other sectors can no longer be over emphasised.

Neither can our national and social emancipation be complete if we do not free our society of the scourge of violence against women and children.

As a responsible government we will continue to respond decisively to the despicable act of violence against children and women. It is sickening to hear from time to time that children under the age of five are raped and brutalised. These savage acts of violence and crime eat way at the moral fibre of our society. The abuse of alcohol in the province is also a serious problem and often leads to domestic violence.

Poor women and children, especially those from rural communities, are more likely to be victimized because they have fewer protection, less privacy and fewer resources. Domestic violence and abuse is a prevalent and life-threatening social problem facing our society. Domestic violence has a negative effect on children who are not directly abused themselves, but who witness abusive behaviour between their parents and other grown-ups.

Besides violence against women, poverty and unemployment are the biggest challenges facing women. In today’s world, women are more likely than men to be poor and at risk of hunger because of systemic discrimination they face in education, health care, employment and control of assets.

According to the World Bank, 75 percent of the poor in developing countries live in rural areas. In many rural communities worldwide, women care for the children, grow the crops, generate income, and bear the burden of domestic responsibility. Yet, in some developing countries, rural women own less than 10 percent of agricultural land, have poor access to education and health care, and have even fewer opportunities to get training, credit, and other tools to improve their livelihoods.

As of present, the deadly HIV/AIDS epidemic is spreading through the globe, and girls are six times more likely than boys to contract the virus. We have no choice, but to intensify the fight against this scourge which is threatening to decimate humanity. Access to quality health-care remains a critical measure of the quality of life that women must enjoy.

Mister Speaker, the last decade has witnessed remarkable progress for the advancement of women in areas of political representation and women venturing into previously male-dominated fields. Despite this progress, Women's Month serves as an important reminder of the work that has yet to be done.

It is beneficial to educate women and girls because they, in turn, will ensure the education, health care, and better nutrition of their children and families. We must support the efforts of women to increase their household incomes by empowering them to start or expand businesses because it is known that women are drivers of sustainable economic growth.

We encourage women to participate in the economic sectors such as mining, construction, manufacturing, the green economy, Information and Communications Technology (ICT), and engineering.

Our government has also established the Ministry of Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities to integrate women’s affairs into the mainstream of our society. It sends a clear message that our Government is committed to improve the lives of women and the poor in a society where the triple oppression of women reigns unabated. Women, children and those with disabilities are still at the receiving end of societal oppression.

Mister Speaker, let's work together to ensure that gender inequality, violence against women & children, HIV/AIDS, poverty and the leadership role of women in democratic governance remain high-priority issues on the agendas of all spheres of government. I know we can work together and achieve justice for all women and create an equitable and gender-empowered world for the present and future generations.

Malibongwe!!
Igama Lamakhosikazi!!

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