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Address by His Excellency, President JG Zuma on the Occasion of National Women's Day Celebrations Marking 100 years of Women's Struggles

9 August 2013

Ministers and Premiers,
Deputy Ministers, MECs, Mayors,
Leaders of political parties,
Religious leaders and traditional leaders,
Veterans of the liberation struggle,
Leadership of women's organisations,
Fellow South Africans

Malibongwe!

Sanibonani, Dumelang, Abuxeni!

We gather on this day every year to celebrate the heroism of women who marched to the Union Buildings on 9 August 1956.

The year 2013 is special as we are marking 100 years of women's struggles for liberation from all forms of oppression in this country, under the theme; "Centenary of Working Together towards Sustainable Women Empowerment and Gender Equality"

Today we recall the struggles of generations of women towards the achievement of a free, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous South Africa.

Women had begun protesting against beerhalls around 1908 but the first major milestone took place on 23 September 1913.

The extraordinary Charlotte Maxeke led about 700 women on a march against pass laws to the Mayor's office in Bloemfontein.

Founding ANC secretary, Sol Plaatje visited those arrested in Kroonstad prison. He wrote in the Tsala ea Batho publication;

"They don't care even if they die in jail. They swear they will cure that madness; they will stop their protest only when the law prevents policemen from stopping and demanding passes from other men's wives''.

In 1914, the government relaxed the women's pass laws and the resistance ended in 1914.

In 1918, the government threatened to re-introduce pass laws for women and the protests continued. That same year, Charlotte Maxeke started the first formal women's organization, the Bantu Women's League which later became the ANC Women's League.

In October 1913, just a month after the Charlotte Maxeke march, a group of Indian women passive resistors led by 16 year old Valliamma Mudliar began defiance activities by hawking without licences in Vereeniging.

They crossed the Natal border and encouraged the Indian and black coal mine workers in Newcastle to strike.

Valliamma was later arrested, found guilty and sentenced to three months in prison with hard labour on 22 December 1913. She had taken ill in prison and died on 22 February 1914 after her release. Life in prison had been too harsh for a 16 year old girl.

Announcing her death, Mahatma Gandhi said; "So great was her enthusiasm for her people that she gave her life for them''.

Women's struggles continued and amongst the key activities were the following;

· A march in 1930 in Potchefstroom against lodgers' permits.
· A march in February 1954 by about 700 women to the administration building in New Brighton township, Port Elizabeth against residence permits.
· A protest by 1000 women in October 1955, in front of the Native administration building in Durban and around the same time, hundreds of women marched through the streets of Cape Town against permit regulations.

We also recall the 1957 anti-pass revolt by women in Zeerust and the struggles by women against beerhalls in areas such as Cato Manor in Durban in 1959.

The 9 August 1956 march by 20 000 women to the Union Buildings, organised by the Federation of South African Women, was the biggest.

Last month, we launched at the Government Printing Works in Pretoria, four smart Identity Card printing machines which are named after and the four remarkable leaders of the march Sophie de Bruyn, Rahima Moosa, Lillian Ngoyi and Helen Joseph.

In this way, the contribution of women to the struggle for equal citizenship and to freedom of movement and association in this country was further enshrined.

We celebrated that special moment with Ms Sophie de Bruyn the only surviving member of the leadership core of that 1956 historic march. Women continued to play a key role in the struggle after 1956 and suffered immensely over many decades. Women in the 60s, 70s and 80s faced even more severe police brutality.

Many were jailed and persecuted and many became the face of the resistance against the vicious apartheid regime, women such as Winnie Mandela, Albertina Sisulu, Sister Bernard Ncube, Fatima Meer and a host of others.

Some women joined Umkhonto Wesizwe and took up arms to free their country and many served prison terms such as Thandi Modise, Marion Sparg, Barbara Hogan and others.

Indeed women were not bystanders in the struggle to free this country, they were active participants throughout the years.

Thanks to the struggles of women, our country's Constitution recognises women as equal citizens, with equal rights and responsibilities. The democratic dispensation also continues to be driven by this sensitivity to the rights of women, recognising women's rights as human rights.

We acknowledge that we still have a lot of work to do to achieve full equality and also to improve the living conditions of women and the status of women in public and private sectors, but a firm foundation has been laid.

Our country has specific objectives for women's empowerment. Women must participate actively in the economy as entrepreneurs and also as workers depending on their choice and circumstances.

Violence and the abuse of women and girls must come to an end. More girls must take up science, technology, engineering and Mathematics and more education opportunities must be made available for women and girls.

We want to promote access to land ownership by women in order to promote food security for many households in distress.

We want young women to develop their self-confidence and to seize leadership opportunities.

Women should play a role in the ongoing pursuit of all these goals and should not just be beneficiaries.

I would like to report briefly on some of the progress made and also work that is still being done to achieve these goals.

With regards to women's access to decision making positions, the South African Parliament which had a mere 2.7 per cent representation of women before 1994, now has 42 per cent since the 2009 democratic elections following a consistent improvement after each election.

This puts our country in the fourth position worldwide with regards to women's representation, according to the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report 2012.

We have 13 women Cabinet Ministers and 16 women Deputy Ministers. Out of nine premiers, five are women, which means the majority of provinces are governed by women.

We have not reached the 50/50 parity goal but progress is being made towards that destination.

More must still be done to promote equality in the public sector but even more work in the private sector which continues to lag behind. The Commission for Employment Equity Annual report 2013 indicated that white males occupy 80% of top management positions in the private sector.

At senior management level, white males account for 69% of all positions.

Thus the achievement of equality at both race and gender levels remains stagnant in the private sector.

Government is finalising work on the Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill, which will enforce gender equity compliance within both government and the private sector.

Compatriots,

Besides leadership at decision making level, we judge our success in terms of access to basic services such as quality health care, education, safety and security, water, sanitation, electricity, roads and housing which reach the majority of South African women.

Census 2011 indicated that access to basic services such as piped water, electricity and refuse removal have more than doubled over the period 1996 to 2011 but there are still gaps that need to be addressed.

The usage of electricity as the main source for cooking has increased from 45% to 73% between 1996 and 2011.

The profile of households that occupy formal dwelling structures generally depicts an upward trend for all provinces.

A foundation has been laid but more work must be done. The national infrastructure programme has prioritised the provision of basic services in the 23 poorest districts in the country and other areas where there are still people who do not have easy access to water or electricity.

With regards to health care, our country continues to be shining example in the fight against HIV and AIDS, with an increased life expectancy.

One of our greatest success stories is the remarkable 60% reduction in mother-to-child transmission of HIV from about 8% in 2008 to 2,7 by last year.

We also praise women for making up 65 percent of the more than 20 million people have to date been tested for HIV since 2010.

With regards to education, South Africa has achieved the Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education before the 2015 deadline, and our education system can now be recognised as having attained near universal access.

We have also achieved gender parity in terms of access to primary, secondary and higher education enrolment.

We have also witnessed a steady increase in female enrolment and graduation in higher education, especially in the field of science, engineering and technology. The percentage of female student in these fields grew from 43% in 2000 to 50% in 2009 and continues to grow.

Compatriots and friends,

While we are making progress, we acknowledge that hunger and food insecurity are still a reality for many households.

Inequality in terms of race remains massive as indicated by the last Census which reported that the income of the average white household remains six times that of the average African household. Women bear the brunt of inequality, poverty and unemployment more.

We are making some inroads in reducing the proportion of people experiencing absolute poverty.

This we have achieved through amongst social grants which are the most effective poverty alleviation mechanism of government, benefitting more than 16 million people, especially vulnerable children.

Access to free health care in clinics, subsidised housing and municipal services, no-fee schools and school feeding schemes are some of interventions aimed at alleviating poverty which benefit women primarily.

To attack hunger directly, last year government launched the Integrated Food Security Production Intervention Programme to assist smallholder farmers, communities and households to produce basic food.

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries as well as the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform have made available 390 million rand for the food security programme.

The programme will be run over a period of ten years until 2022. Intensive ploughing took place in seven provinces last year, namely Eastern Cape, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, Northern Cape, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and North West and the harvesting of maize and beans is taking place currently.

The programme has encouraged people to go back to the land and is running concurrently with the land reform programme aimed at reversing the impact of the Land Act of 1913 which rendered scores of black households without decent land for food production and residential use.

Compatriots,

Beyond promoting food security we want to see women participating actively in the economy.

Government has programmes in place to support women entrepreneurs such as Isivande Women's Fund, Bavumile programme and Technology for Women in Business. Despite this support, women enterprises are still battling and remain trapped in the informal economy.

Our research indicates that the slow progress by women-owned and run enterprises is a result of fragmented support mechanisms.

Government is exploring the establishment of a "One-stop-shop'' for women entrepreneurs that would provide services such as access to finance, markets, information, technology and infrastructure.

Compatriots,

Improving access to justice for women remains critically important.

Over the next 3 years, government will spend 3,1 billion rand on the construction of courts and other infrastructure projects.

A further R96 million will be spent on day to day maintenance and 291 million rand on the rehabilitation of court facilities.

To further improve access to justice, this year's Legal Aid budget stands at one billion rand.

Government has also increased the value of money that can be claimed in small claims courts from R7000 to R12 000 in order to assist those owed money. Our aim is to have a small claims court in all the 387 magisterial districts.

To further improve child maintenance payments, we have introduced the Electronic Funds Transfer system.

This year we have also increased the centres for the payment of Guardian Fund benefits from 10 centres last year to 29 to date.

The value of the fund is currently nine billion rand and it contributes to the improvement of the quality of life of thousands of orphaned children.

Compatriots,

The fight against women and child abuse continues to rank high in our priorities.

We announced earlier this week the reopening of sexual offences courts so that we can deal decisively with those who commit crimes against women and children.

The courts will complement the work of the police Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences units.

The conviction rates continue to improve in crimes committed against women and children.

A total of 1 194 (one thousand one hundred and ninety four) life sentences were handed out by the courts to offenders between 2010 and 2013.

For crimes against children below 18 years, the conviction rate was 75 percent during the last financial year and for crimes against women 18 years and above the conviction rate was 83 percent.

We congratulate the criminal justice system personnel for hard work, and the women and children for cooperating with the police under very difficult circumstances.

A week ago I signed the Combating of Trafficking in Persons Bill into law. South Africa will not tolerate such horrendous crimes against humanity.

Compatriots,

Work must continue as well to promote the rights of women with disabilities by ensuring their access on an equal basis to productive employment and decent work, economic and financial resources.

Fellow South Africans

On this special occasion of celebrating women's achievements, allow me to acknowledge South African women who are the face of the country in the global arena in various fields.

In the African continent, we have Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma serving as the Chairperson of the African Union Commission.

Former Deputy President Baleka Mbethe serves as a member of the African Union's African Peer Review Mechanism Panel.

We also have former Public Service and Administration Minister, Ms Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi serving as the Special Envoy on Gender for the African Development Bank.

We are proud of the contribution to the world of our Dr Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and Ms Rashida Manjoor, the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women: its causes and consequences.

The UN Secretary-General recently announced the appointment of former Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka as the UN Undersecretary for Women. Ms Sheila Sisulu continues to make her mark at the United Nations World Food Programme.

We are also proud of our Oscar- winning Hollywood actress Ms Charlize Theron, who is also the UN Messenger for Peace. Ms Theron has made herself available to her country to promote the fight against HIV and AIDS especially amongst the youth and young women.

We also acknowledge the hard-working and respected musician Ms Yvonne Chaka Chaka, who is the United Nations Children's Fund Goodwill Ambassador for Malaria in Africa and also the UN Millennium Development Goals Special Envoy for Africa.

Both Ms Theron and Ms Chaka Chaka are recipients of the World Economic Forum Crystal Award for their humanitarian work.

Fellow South Africans,

We are proud to be able to celebrate 100 years of women's achievements in building this country.

Women from all walks of life and in every corner of the country continue to contribute to the national goal of building a truly united, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous South Africa.

Let us work harder together to make South Africa a better place for all.

Malibongwe igama lamakhosikazi!

I thank you.

Issued by The Presidency Pretoria