Address on the Struggle of African Women as the struggle for all by Mrs Angie Motshekga, Minister of Basic Education, Reggio Emilia, Italy
9 Mar 2012
Mayor of Reggio Emilia, Mr Graziano Delrio
SA Ambassador to Italy, Amb Thenjiwe Mtintso
President of the Province of Reggio Emilia, Ms Sonia Masini
Town Councillor for Equal Opportunities, Ms Natalia Maramotti
We are truly honoured to be here. Thank you for making this possible. This is quite an experience especially in the week the world celebrated International Women’s Day united by a single purpose – critical reflection on challenges and gains of women.
It is only a short while since we were together in South Africa during the Reggio Children Conference on Early Childhood Learning, in June 2011.
There we expressed appreciation of strong ties binding us. We committed to taking our relations to greater heights. Indeed today serves to solidify our unbreakable ties.
We treasure the friendship Reggio Emilia and the Italian solidarity movement had extended to us during the struggle to exorcise the world of the apartheid crime against humanity.
You honoured one of our greatest liberators and former African National Congress (ANC) President Mr Oliver Tambo at a time when the apartheid state sought to project his liberatory stance as terrorism.
The Freedom of the Commune di Reggio nell’Emilia you bestowed on him indeed fills us with warmth of home. In 1987, you granted another ANC stalwart, Mrs Albertina Sisulu, honorary citizenship. For all this we say: ‘Thank you!’
The late Albertina Sisulu is an epitome of the women’s struggle who gave her life that we may be free. Indeed I would go so far as to dedicate this moment to her memory. The struggle of African women was closest to her heart.
I feel honoured to convey to you this message that this year we’re celebrating the Centenary of Africa’s oldest liberation movement and current ruling party of South Africa – the ANC.
The best we can do to express gratitude is to sustain the work of building a society that cherishes progressive values and ethos you sought to promote through your support.
A society we want to offer humanity so that together we can build a better Africa and a better world is one that would be united, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous.
We are here to advance humankind’s legitimate struggle for freedom, peace and justice, assured that we have laid a solid foundation for democracy, progress and caring societies.
In spite of the global economic meltdown, there is much to celebrate on the women’s front.
A recent UN-Women report on the 2011 activities of the United Nations Trust Fund in Support of Actions to Eliminate Violence against Women, has confirmed great strides against gender violence and inequality. It has noted that:
“The international community is witnessing a historic opportunity to intensify progress towards ending violence against women and girls.
“Over the past 25 years, female life expectancy has increased, gender gaps in education have been closing and economic opportunities for women have been expanding...
“Legal reform processes in favour of women’s rights during the same period have also been significant: globally, 139 countries have included gender equality guarantees in their constitutions, with 125 countries specifically enacting laws criminalising domestic violence.”
In 2009, the legislature of Rwanda had the highest proportion of women in the world with 56% of members of parliament being women (ipsnews, 2009).
After the first democratic elections of 1994, South Africa took a ‘no-look-back’ path towards a new value-based society bent on entrenching human rights and equal opportunities for women.
“Not only has the ANC and its government opened democratic spaces in society for the participation of women in all spheres of life and for the creation of real democracy and a non-patriarchal society, but it has also led the same campaign in (the Southern African) region and the (African) continent (Mtintso, 2009).
The ANC government has also played a critical role in the adoption of the Southern African Development Cooperation (SADC) Gender Protocol with its programme for gender equality and the commitment of the not less than 50% quota for women in all decision-making structures in SADC countries by 2015 (Ibid).
Accordingly, South Africa is implementing gender-sensitive policies which have been given impetus by the adoption of the 50/50 gender parity by the ruling party.
As we speak, 43% of Cabinet ministers are women, with 44% in Parliament.
Progressive laws in the country include the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act, Employment Equity Act, Domestic Violence Act, Sexual Offences Act and the Civil Union Act.
By 2009, the country was in the sixth best position in the Global Gender Gap Index by the World Economic Forum. It had made significant improvements in female labour force participation (ipsnews.net).
During the broader struggle against oppression, we’ve all been conscious of the fundamental role of women in society. Africa’s approach to the struggle of women has always been located within the broader struggle for liberation.
Among others, this approach was best characterised by former ANC President Oliver Tambo who said in September 1981, at an ANC women’s conference, in Luanda, Angola: “The mobilisation of women is the task not only of women alone, or of men alone, but of all of us, men and women alike... There is no way in which women in general can liberate themselves without fighting to end the exploitation of man by man...”
Women, particularly in rural areas and informal settlements, still face poverty, gender-based violence, HIV and Aids and other poverty-related diseases. Such is a situation untenable when rural women and girls comprise one in four people worldwide (Bachelet, 2012).
In other countries, including in Africa, they still suffer, with children, as defenceless victims of civil strife.
Women have always been at the forefront of the liberation struggle and they are still at the forefront of the continuing struggle for economic emancipation and empowerment for all.
They have played a key role in giving South Africa a freedom charter in which is found the declaration that “only a democratic state, based on the will of all the people, can secure to all their birth right without distinction of colour, race, sex or belief”.
It is a declaration whose spirit is contained in the African Charter for Human and People’s Rights which states that:
“The State shall ensure the elimination of every discrimination against women and also ensure the protection of the rights of the woman and the child as stipulated in international declarations and conventions.”
It is this vision that informs the 50/50 gender parity that we believe will go a long way in making the struggle of African women the struggle for all, and in the process, making the achievement of African women the achievement of all.
Humanity stands to benefit from the struggle and emancipation of women in Africa, in the diaspora, and in the rest of the world.
It is this that makes it imperative “to intensify progress towards ending violence against women and girls”, to close the “gender gaps in education” and to expand “economic opportunities.”
Education has a tremendous multiplier effect that brings lasting benefits to individuals and communities.
Necessarily, our focus should be on education and empowerment of women precisely because our continent has huge potential that the world can tap into particularly in the light of the recent economic crisis.
We have all reasons to prioritise increasing girl-learners in gateway subjects, with focus on Mathematics, Science and Technology.
At the 56th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, Ms Michelle Bachelet of UN-Women dramatised how mobile phones can change the world for rural women, who feel safer and more independent because of their phones.
In Asia, Latin America and Africa, where women have been given the chance to succeed through increased educational opportunities, families have been found to be much stronger, economies are growing, and societies are indeed flourishing.
“When you free the potential of women, you grow faster. You grow differently too. Women can provide innovative ways to stimulate entrepreneurship... Involving women is likely to have a positive impact on economic and social advancement” (Mtintso, Interview with ipsnews, Nov 2009)
As part of the fight to end poverty, we have deemed it necessary to intensify the campaign to support women to start up businesses and grow existing ones, as well as ensuring women farmers are affirmed and supported through land acquisition, equipment and skills. Development of rural women has got to be a key component of our work.
We share the UN’s view that rural women hold much of the knowledge needed to increase food security, prevent environmental degradation and maintain agricultural biodiversity (Report of the Secretary General on empowerment of rural women, E/CN.6/2012/3)
South African President Jacob Zuma has reminded us that: “The cardinal role that women in all countries and from all walks of life play in their societies can no longer be underestimated and reduced to the traditional, predominant stereotypes which tended to perpetuate gender discrimination and limit women’s role and capabilities to certain inferior positions in society, and in particular, in the workplace...
“In a development-based environment, the fundamental premise for the entry onto the economy, even at subsistence level, is equal access to enabling resources. Women and especially rural women, if they are to survive, must have equal access to land, water, credit, technology, education and health services. But more importantly they must play an active role in the decision-making processes that set economic activity in motion” (Message, 14 March 2011).
Partnerships and engagement with civil society are very key to the success of our programmes.
Working together we can do more to remove barriers that stand in the way of empowering women, especially rural women.
This should not be done as an act of kindness or mercy. It is an economic imperative fundamental for progress and sustainable development.
Our assembly here together in the City of Reggio Emilia signifies a triumph of the human spirit. It says we can and must work together as governments, the private sector, non-profits, students, associations, local bodies and the broader civil society authentically to resolve the longest revolution of humankind – the revolution of women.
We fought together “to end the exploitation of man by man”. There is no reason why we can’t fight together to end the exploitation of women by culture, traditionalism and patriarchal structures of society.
Once more, please accept our gratitude for the warm welcome and hospitality afforded us since we came on Monday.
Issued by: Department of Basic Education
9 Mar 2012
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