Address on National Women's Day by Minister of Basic Education and President of the African National Congress Women's League (ANCWL), Mrs Angie Motshekga, Limpopo
9 Aug 2011
Comrades and compatriots,
At one level, this day, 9 August, which we mark each year, as National Women’s Day, is cause for celebration. It presents an opportunity for us to recall the 1956 heroic march of women.
On another level, this day, dedicated to women, reminds us that, like a hurricane, the historical gender injustice still wreaks havoc in women’s lives in spite of the many advances we have made to improve material conditions of women.
The beautiful plains and valleys of our country are littered still with stories of women terrorised by men and culture, at home, in communities and in the workplace.
Every year, when August comes, we pay special attention to voices of women yearning for a better deal, for gender equality and real women’s emancipation.
The mind-forged manacles (London, William Blake) of male domination will get even tighter until we stop colluding with violators of women’s rights – as silent victims, as terrified onlookers and as fearful witnesses.
I was very shocked by allegations of bullying of female officers in the police force in Durban. Media reports suggested a ‘gender war’, defined by slurs, with male officers calling policewomen “lazy beauty queens”.
This was way too alarming in the build-up to Women’s Month. We must seriously take stock of how our laws and law enforcement agencies are faring on protecting women. Police-officers are very key in this regard.
South Africa received United States First Lady, Michelle Obama, in June. She met with women hosted by the Young African Women Leaders Forum. She told them the encounter was a start of a conversation with women from all over the globe.
I recalled my recent visit to Saharawi where women told a litany of horrendous acts to which they were subjected. They showed what it meant to call for a global conversation with women in spite of all hitherto efforts meant to improve the lot for women.
The young must emulate bright stars from the African firmament. They must embrace them as sparkling role-models. We have our bold and our brave to celebrate. Our own Terry Pheto stars in The Bold and the Beautiful. She is, as one newspaper says, “unquestionably the pride of South Africa”!
Politically, this is a good time to pay tribute to gallant women of our country and continent. Today we salute women who caused all the trouble for the racists and sexists when they marched to Pretoria, on 9 August 1956, to present the women’s claims against passes and related atrocities.
In August, we honour women for heroic deeds. We celebrate Charlotte Maxeke, Lilian Ngoye, Ida Mtwana, Ruth First, Helen Joseph, Amina Cachalia, Albertina Sisulu, Adelaide Tambo, Bertha Gxowa, and many others.
We thank all women who voted in May. We must make councillors accountable. But this we must do without anarchy and mumbo jumbo.
Progress we made to dismantle “the master’s house”. Yet roots of gender injustice still prevail. The centre has not moved adequately! This is confirmed by a recent report of UN Women.
The report does note some progress in pursuit of justice for all women. This report, on Progress of the World’s Women, reminds us that “the foundations for justice for women have been laid: In 1911, just two countries in the world allowed women to vote — now that right is virtually universal”.
Yet it laments the persistence of the historical gender injustice. It reminds us that “in many countries of the world, the rule of law still rules women out”. It says that “in the developing world, more than one third of women are married before the age of 18,
missing out on education and exposed to the risks of early pregnancy”. And that:
“In every region, there are laws that discriminate against women, in relation to property, the family, employment and citizenship. Too often, justice institutions, including the police and the courts, deny women justice” (UN Women, 2011).
Gender wars in the Durban police-station are the tip of the iceberg. We have to intensify the war to remove all obstacles to the empowerment of women. The dyed-in-the-wool elements of patriarchy must be a subject of our wrath. In this way, we can be able to prepare the ground for enhancing “women’s opportunities for economic empowerment”.
It is time to maximise our efforts. It is not enough to turn an insult into a PR exercise. Enough is enough! That’s what we must say, and say it with the fury of a fuming dishcloth ready to burn the ear of a naughty child.
We cannot rest when around 5.6 million people are living with HIV. And ask yourself, ‘who are at the receiving end of this life-consuming epidemic?’ We’ve got to rein in men and boys who like worms are turning our nation into a sick rose.
We are faced with climbing numbers of abandoned children. Reportedly, Gauteng has over 800 babies abandoned between 2007 and 2010.
We must take a stand, like women who stormed beer-halls of apartheid. They whipped the men in there to hell and back, like Jesus did the temple villains!
It is time to demand a non-sexist society. It is time to stop internalising the pain and to stop protecting women-abusers. We’ve got to stop saying, ‘he will change one day’, or, ‘what will become of me and the children?’ and at worst, many say, ‘he beats me every day, but he loves me!’
These are some of the debilitating stereotypes we must deconstruct on our way towards women’s empowerment.
We come from far! Wathint’abafazi, wathint’imbokodo!
It is this battle-cry that got us where we are, freely celebrating the wondrous work of impeccable women like Albertina Sisulu, who, in desperate times, took desperate measures, at a high cost, to change the course of history.
Freedom did not come on a silver-platter. Hence the need to enhance women’s opportunities for economic empowerment, as required by the 2011 theme for Women’s Month.
What is to be done?
Karl Marx once said, “philosophers have interpreted the world, the point however is to change it.”
We’ve got to guide women so that they can benefit from the favourable climate created by the current legislative and constitutional dispensation which favours women.
We must grasp the nettle of the historical gender injustice. Among others, we must revisit labour legislation well aware of claims that our labour terrain favours organised labour. We’ve got to assess the efficacy and enforcement of legislation like the Employment Equity Act, especially in the private sector.
Lastly, we must escalate the commitment to address the gender question like we’re addressing the national question. We must mainstream gender in every aspect of life. Gender, race and class intersect, as in any other ex-colony.
Women have power. It needs to be channelled better. In The Voice, by Gabriel Okara, it is the women, who “blow the embers to living flames”, who keep the fire burning. Together we must end the historical gender injustice. Only in this way can we accelerate women’s opportunities for economic empowerment.
Source: Department of Basic Education
Issued by: Department of Basic Education
9 Aug 2011
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