20 August 2012
Co-Convenors of the ANC Progressive Business Forum, Cdes Daryl Swanepoel and Renier Schoeman
ANC Chairperson, Ms Baleka Mbete
Minister of Public Enterprises, Mr Malusi Gigaba
In her novel, Nervous Conditions, published in 1988, a prolific African woman writer from Zimbabwe, Tsitsi Dangarembga, drives home a brutal truth quite familiar to us women.
The narrator remonstrates that: “She could not go back to school” even though she “loved going to school” and she “was good at it” (p. 15).
Her father, a stock patriarch, retorts: “Can you cook books and feed them to your husband? Stay at home with your mother. Learn to cook and clean. Grow vegetables.”
This scenario dramatises the oppressive reality of possessing a woman’s body in the epoch of patriarchy.
Today “women account for two-thirds of the world’s illiterate adults, and girls account for two-thirds of the world’s children without access to education” (World Revolution.org).
To reach new frontiers, women go through ‘hell’. We’re here therefore to toughen and forge new alliances for resolving the condition of being ‘woman’ – in itself ‘a nervous condition’ like the status of being ‘native’ in a maddening colonial society.
We do emancipatory events, like the ANC Annual Progressive Women in Business Summit, as therapeutic sessions, to diagnose and prescribe potent portions to empower women and society. Freedom for women is freedom for all.
Since the 1994 democratic breakthrough, great strides have been made on women’s empowerment and emancipation. Many have testified, factually, to gains we’ve made.
We celebrate the 56th Anniversary of the Great Women’s March of 9 August 1956 in protest against the worst apartheid symbol – the infamous pass laws.
When conscious that women’s rights are human rights, as you’ve done by being one with patriots who want to see real change in material lives of women, not tokenism, we begin to perceive the fundamental role women should play in society. Affirming women is not an option. In Beijing (Platform for Action, 1995), we have agreed that:
“Women contribute to the economy and to combating poverty through both remunerated and unremunerated work at home, in the community and in the workplace. The empowerment of women is a critical factor in the eradication of poverty.”
Women have been in the forefront of the struggle for a better life. President Jacob Zuma reminds us in the Bloemfontein Lecture in honour of Charlotte Maxeke (3 August 2012), that:
“The 2012 National Women’s Day took place during a significant year, the celebration of the ANC’s 100 Years of selfless struggle. It was a struggle in which women played a pivotal role to bring about freedom and a society free of poverty, inequality and racism.”
This month, including through the Progressive Women in Business Summit, we honour heroic deeds of women. We evoke the value of Women’s Day to show why we must create sustainable ways for women to reach their full potential. In this time, as the President has rightly said:
“We pay tribute to many generations of women for sacrifices, patriotism, hard work and commitment. We salute Charlotte Maxeke, the founder of the Bantu Women’s League, a precursor to the ANC Women’s League, a woman of substance who was a pioneer in many fields – science, education, missionary work, social work and leadership.”
We pay tribute to revolutionary women of Africa. With a blend of passion and zeal, they’d steered African Heads of State to designate this the Decade of Women (2010 to 2020). We are thrilled by the election of Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as Chair of the African Union Commission.
In keeping with the Platform for Action (1995), our government has done much progressively to review policies with the full and equal participation of women. It has created social security systems where they did not exist to place individual women and men on an equal footing.
The Constitution of 1996 says, “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.” It thus takes forward the spirit of the 1954 Women’s Charter and the 1955 Freedom Charter.
Notwithstanding the trajectory of transformation, South Africa is ranked among unequal societies. Women bear the brunt of poverty, inequality and joblessness.
The United Nations’ (UN) World Food Programme Gender Policy and Strategy estimates that 60 percent of chronically hungry people are women and girls (Bua News, 7 March 2012).
The UN Women’s progress report (2011) says “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”.
It says: “Too often, justice institutions, including the police and the courts, deny women justice”. In January 2012, South Africa had only 67 female judges, and 170 men on the bench. The highest court in the land had 9 men and only 2 women judges.
On female representation at board and management level, the 2011 Women in Leadership Census says: “Change has been marginal,” especially in the business sector.
“Although women make up more than half the South African population and 45% of the workforce, this is not reflected in the leadership of the workforce.” There were only 15 women CEOs and 18 women chairpersons from a total of 339 companies.
It says in the Foreword: “If left to market forces and without any enforcement mechanism, this situation will continue.” We know that like wealth, empowerment does not trickle down. This is a challenge for all of us.
Intensifying the campaign to support women in starting up enterprises and growing existing ones, as well as affirming and supporting women farmers through, among other things, land acquisition, equipment and skills, are some of the means the ANC Women’s League believes will accelerate empowerment.
We would begin to fast-track women’s involvement in the economy were we to get financing institutions to avail funding for women’s empowerment programmes.
We will empower women to the extent that we strengthen measures for tackling gender-based violence and abuse. We need law reform on bail and sentencing, legal literacy and more access to the courts.
It is only in a transformed and truly non-sexist society that we can speak of real empowerment for women. For me this Summit is paramount in so far as it contributes to the process of transformation and women’s empowerment.
Real empowerment means creating a humane society wherein no young woman is made to “stay at home” and “grow vegetables.” Real empowerment is better education. There can’t be justice when “girls account for two-thirds of the world’s children without access to education” (World Revolution.org).
We have policies for stimulating economic empowerment. The key question is whether we all have the will to act, or we don’t. Gender disparities in economic power-sharing are a factor in the poverty of women (Platform for Action, 1995). It cannot be right for women to “earn only 10% of the world’s income” when they “work two-thirds of the world’s working hours” and “produce half of the world’s food” (World Revolution.org).
Focus on education is key to empowering women and obtaining the 50/50 quota. Education has a tremendous multiplier effect that brings lasting benefits to individuals and communities.
Let’s enable young women to reach their full potential. You can make it happen! Let’s build unity. When we are united, it brings hope to our people and breathes defiance to patriarchy.
Let’s revive the spirit of sisterhood wherever we are, in organs of state, on the factory floor or in executive boardrooms.
As I’ve said, education is critical. Girls love “going to school” and are “good at it.” Women in business know the potential of women-led industries and enterprises. Do not pull the ladder. Extend it. Open windows of opportunity for others. Your presence here confirms your resolve to lift others up.
In sum, women possess the power to change lives, like brave women who stormed apartheid beerhalls and whipped the men to hell and back, like Jesus did the temple villains!
Young women will be beneficiaries of change to the extent that we create together the right climate for real empowerment. I agree with the Co-Convenors of the ANC Progressive Business Forum that: “Effective communication between government and the business community has been a vital key to the economic successes we have achieved in the past.”
We need to keep alive this dialogue that had been created by the ANC Progressive Business Forum since its launch in 2006.
I thank you.