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08 March 2020

 Minister in the Presidency for Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities, Ms Maite Nkoana-Mashabane,

Premier of the Free State, Ms Sefora Sisi Ntombela,

Ministers and Deputy Ministers,

Premiers of our Provinces present,

Speaker of the National Assembly,

Leaders of various political parties and organizations

President of the ANC Women’s League, Ms Bathabile Dlamini and all Officials of the Women’s League present Fellow South Africans,

It is my privilege to be here in the Free State as we join the global community in observing International Women’s Day.

 

International Women’s Day is an opportunity to assess how far we have come in advancing gender equality across all spheres of society, and on what more needs to be done to give effect to the rights of women and girls worldwide.

 

It is also a time when we give recognition to women who have excelled in various spheres, many of whom are here with us today.

 

We recognise that our peace, stability and prosperity rests on our enduring commitment to the constitutionally guaranteed right to equality between men and women, between black and white, and indeed between all our citizens.

 

This year we mark a number of milestones in the continental and global fight for gender justice.

 

Firstly, it is the end of the Decade of African Women (2010-2020), whose purpose was to re-invigorate commitments to gender equality and women’s empowerment.

 

Secondly, it is the 20th anniversary of the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women that acknowledges the impact of armed conflict on women and girls and affirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace-building and in post-conflict reconstruction.

 

Thirdly, it is 25 years since 17,000 delegates representing 189 countries met in the Chinese capital, Beijing at the landmark Fourth UN World Conference on Women.

 

Among them was a delegation from South Africa, having held our first democratic elections just the year before.

 

The adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action changed the trajectory for the empowerment of women worldwide.

 

South Africa signed both the Declaration and Platform for Action the same year, and committed to five-yearly reviews of our progress in key areas such as women and education and training, gender-based violence, women’s rights, women and the economy, and women in power and decision making.

 

In the same year, 1995, one of the first legislative acts of the first democratic Parliament was to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

 

As noted in our most recent five-year report submitted to the UN last year, we have made significant advances in improving the lives of our country’s women in the social, political and economic spheres, particularly with regards to their rights and representation.

 

We have implemented policies and programmes to give practical expression to the rights of women and girls to education, to reproductive health care, to basic services, and to social support.

 

Women are equitably represented in government.

 

Last year we achieved 50/50 parity in Cabinet for the first time, and 47% of MPs are women.

 

We continue to strive to ensure sufficient gender representation in key sectors such as the judiciary and the armed forces, and are actively engaging with the private sector to ensure women are better represented in positions of management.

 

We have a raft of gender-responsive laws around reproductive health, sexual orientation, access to justice, customary law, and protection against domestic and sexual violence.

 

As our country report notes, “the nature of vulnerability that women face in 2019 is markedly different to the vulnerability women faced in 1994.”

Fellow South Africans,

 

We must acknowledge that despite our progressive laws, vast discrepancies exist between the protection the laws offer and their actual implementation.

 

We must further acknowledge that violence against women and the stark reality that women continue to bear the brunt of poverty undermine our efforts to meet the commitments we made in Beijing.

 

South Africa is not unique in this regard.

 

The global consensus is that despite our progress, real change has been agonisingly slow for the majority of women and girls in the world.

 

The sad reality is that today not a single country can claim to have achieved complete gender equality.

 

Women and girls continue to be undervalued; they work more and earn less and have fewer choices; and experience multiple forms of violence at home and in public spaces.

 

That is why providing women with the necessary support to enable them to become financially independent is critical.

 

Not just because their economic inclusion is central to any country’s development, but also because economic marginalisation and economic dependency leaves women vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

 

This year South Africa assumed the chairship of the African Union.

 

We aim to use our chairship to bring women into the mainstream of economic activity and to drive a concerted programme of action to stamp out gender-based violence across the continent.

 

Specific actions have been identified and we hope to secure the cooperation of other member states, and to work in partnership with civil society, labour and the private sector.

 

We will urge all AU member states to devote adequate budgetary allocations for women’s empowerment, to set aside at least 30% of all government procurement for women-owned businesses, to reduce barriers to financial services for women-owned businesses, and to pass legislation that ensures equal work for equal pay.

 

We will leverage the continent’s ambitions towards the industrialisation and digitisation of Africa under the African Continental Free Trade Area to benefit women.

 

In South Africa, we continue to work to broaden the participation of women in our economy.

 

We have introduced the SheTradesZA platform to assist women-owned businesses to participate in global value chains and markets.

 

Over the next five years, the Industrial Development Corporation has set a target of providing R10 billion of government and partner funding for women-empowered businesses.

 

To create a larger market for small businesses, we also plan to designate 1,000 locally produced products that must be procured from SMMEs.

 

The Procurement Bill will soon be presented to Parliament as part of our efforts to empower black and emerging businesses and advance radical economic transformation.

 

With respect to gender-based violence, we want to ensure that there is a concerted, visible and consistent global transformative advocacy campaign to prevent violence against women and children.

 

We are urging all AU member states to ratify the International Labour Organization’s Convention on Violence and Harassment in the workplace by the end of 2021.

 

We are advocating the adoption of an AU Convention on Violence against Women.

 

We are also promoting the repeal of discriminatory laws within five years and ensuring that laws relating to women are in line with all regional and global resolutions and protocols.

 

As AU member states we need to commit to implementing an essential services package as a national standard for responding to gender-based violence, with an emphasis on the need for high-quality police response.

 

In line with this, we must move with renewed determination to overcome our national challenges.

 

In South Africa, women and girls continue to be subjected to extreme levels of rape, sexual offences, femicide, domestic violence and intimate partner violence.

 

The recent case of eight-year-old Tazne van Wyk whose body was discovered in a storm water drain in Worcester drives home the cold reality that women and children are dying daily, at the hands of men, known and unknown by the victim.

 

We are implementing an Emergency Response Plan and have reprioritised R1.6 billion to support it until the end of the current financial year.

 

Working with partners in civil society, we are focusing on closing the legislative and other loopholes that result in perpetrators of gender-based violence being released where they reoffend.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

In delivering our acceptance speech at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia last month, I recalled the words of Egyptian women’s rights activist Nawal el Saadawi, that women are half the society; you cannot have a revolution without women, and you cannot have democracy without women.

 

On this International Women’s Day let us work together to ensure that the interests of women are mainstreamed, that their rights are protected and enforced, and that they are empowered to participate in economic life and have a share in our nation’s wealth and prosperity.

 

I wish all the women of South Africa, of the continent and of the world a happy International Women’s Day!

 

I thank you.