Address by President Cyril Ramaphosa at Women’s Day celebration, Thusong Service Centre, Paarl

Friday, August 9, 2018

Minister in the Presidency for Women, Ms Bathabile Dlamini,
Minister of Arts and Culture, Mr Nathi Mthethwa,
Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
Premiers of our Provinces present,
Speaker of the National Assembly,
Members of the Sisulu Family,
Mayor of the Winelands District, Dr Elna von Schlicht,
Mayor of the Drakenstein Municipality, Mr Conrad Poole,
Stalwart of the liberation struggle, Ms Sophie de Bruyn,

Fellow South Africans,

We are celebrating Women’s Day in a historic year.

It is historic because we remember that one hundred years ago Charlotte Maxeke led women from across the country to form the Bantu Women’s League.

Charlotte Maxeke was born at a time when women were still considered ‘auxiliary’ members of the national liberation movement. The Bantu Women’s League defied not only the tyranny of racial oppression, but also the prejudice and discrimination that women daily confronted.

It advanced a vision of a society defined by freedom, dignity, equality and respect.

The struggles fought by the Bantu Women’s League affirmed black women as political activists and social reformers, leaders in their own right and agents of their own liberation.

This year we also celebrate the centenary of the birth of Mama Albertina Sisulu, one of the greatest leaders this country has known, a woman who inherited the fighting spirit of Charlotte Maxeke and the institutional legacy of the Bantu Women’s League.

We celebrate her extraordinary contribution to the struggle of the South African people for liberation.

Through Mama Sisulu’s courage and selflessness, she kept the flame of freedom burning even in the darkest moments of apartheid oppression.

She embodied the values that continue to guide our struggle for the emancipation of women and, indeed, the freedom of all people, everywhere.

Women’s Day is an opportunity to pay tribute to the remarkable women leaders who have been at the forefront of the liberation struggle.

It is on this day that we remember leaders like Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa, Sophie de Bruyn, Dora Tamana, Bertha Gxowa, Florence Matomela, Ruth First, Dorothy Zihlangu, Ray Alexander, Liz Abrahams, Dorothy Nyembe, Victoria Mxenge, Phila Ndwandwe, Nomkhosi Mini, Coline Williams, Fatima Meer, Florence Ribeiro, Emma Mashinini, Sister Bernard Ncube, Lydia Kompe, Dulcie September, Josephine Moshobane, Mildred Lesea, Helen Suzman and many others.

We pay tribute to the women who went to prison for burning their passes, who stood trial for treason, who defied unjust laws, who went on strike for a living wage, who joined the ranks of Umkhonto we Sizwe, who were banished, censored and jailed, who lost their lives to the murderous forces of the apartheid state.

Women’s Day is a celebration of the achievements of these women and millions more.

It is a celebration of the great achievements over many years of struggle to ensure that the role of women in society and in public life is recognised and affirmed.

It is a celebration of the many women who have excelled in fields from which they have traditionally been excluded, who today occupy positions of authority and responsibility.

It is a celebration of the great strides being made by young women in the fields of farming, medicine, science, arts, entrepreneurship and politics.

It is a celebration of our Constitution, the transformational laws we have passed and our ongoing efforts to ensure that women are equally able to occupy positions of responsibility and authority in all spheres of life.

It is a celebration of the road we have travelled since the Bantu Women’s League was formed a century ago.

Fellow South Africans,

On this Women’s Day, as we celebrate our achievements, we are bound to recognise that the struggle for the emancipation of the women of this land continues.

Our efforts to build a society defined by freedom, dignity, equality and respect are incomplete.

Poverty, hunger, homelessness, landlessness and unemployment define the lives of millions of our people.

Prejudice, discrimination, exploitation and violence are still present in our society, which – despite the progress we have made – has not yet fully emerged from our racist and patriarchal past.

Many South African women are still burdened by poverty, and oppressed by cultural practices, social convention and prejudice. The face of poverty and suffering is still worn by the women of our country.

Many are not able to have and access educational and economic opportunities. They are neglected in the provision of government services and are overlooked by the business community.

Patriarchy remains a defining feature of our society.

This Women’s Day, as we celebrate our achievements, as we recognise our many challenges, let us reaffirm our determination, together, as women and men, to build a non-sexist South Africa.

We must intensify and hasten our efforts to advance women’s emancipation and achieve meaningful gender equality.

We must start with a grave admission.

Across our society, in towns small and cities large, in homes, in schools, in colleges and universities, in our streets, our parks and open spaces, a war is being waged against women.

It is a war against women’s bodies, their dignity and their right to freedom, security and equality.

It is an affront to our common humanity and a betrayal of the values of our Constitution.

In ways that are both subtle and brutal, women are subjected each and every day to verbal, emotional and physical abuse.

In a society that has long struggled against gender-based violence, the assault on the integrity and humanity of women has reached unprecedented levels.

While it is difficult to establish the full extent of this epidemic – as many offences go unreported – studies show that the lifetime experience of South African women of gender-based violence is higher than the global average.

Disturbingly, a significant percentage of South African men admit to perpetrating violence against women.

Women are abused by virtue of the fact that they are women, transgender, are gender non-conforming or because of their sexual orientation.

Violence is perpetrated against women by men who are strangers, acquaintances, relatives or intimate partners.

The violence that women are subjected to crosses boundaries of race and class, culture and language.

Yet there is a real danger that because violence against women has become so pervasive, society is gradually unmoved and has stopped seeing it as unacceptable and abhorrent.

Instead of outrage, there is only weary acceptance.

Instead of action, there is only lamentation.

In answering the threat of complacency, last week, thousands of women mounted huge protests across the country as part of campaigns by #TheTotalShutdown movement and the Young Women’s Desk of the ANC Women’s League.

I can report, Aunt Sophie de Bruyn, that a large group of women marched on the Union Buildings, demanding, as you did 62 years ago, that the government addresses the plight of South Africa’s women.

Unlike you, Aunt Sophie, these protestors were met by a government of the people, a government democratically-elected with a clear and unequivocal mandate to transform society.

Unlike you, these protestors were met by a government that listens and that is determined to work with all South Africans to rid our country of this scourge.

It is a government in which there is no place for people who further victimise those who report violence against women or who protest against it.

We are committed to deal with any public servants especially our police officers who, through their treatment of survivors of violence, make the trauma and pain even worse.

We salute all those who took part in these protests, who had the courage to raise their voices, to articulate the anger, frustration, pain and disappointment of so many South African women.

We salute them for challenging those of us in positions of authority to act with greater purpose and urgency to end the war that is being fought against women.

We must acknowledge, as a government and as a society, that since the advent of democracy we have failed to ensure that the women of South Africa are able to exercise their constitutional right to peace and security.

In that sense, we have failed to live up to the promise of 1994.

We therefore share a responsibility to correct this failing, to work together across society to fundamentally change attitudes, practices and institutions to end violence against women.

The women of our country in their memorandum they submitted to me at the Union Buildings suggested, demanded, called for, the holding of a National Gender Summit where they want to do discuss matters of national importance about how South Africa can give them a best life their country can give them.

Government has agreed that this National Gender Summit should take place on 31 August to forge consensus on approaches to effectively and urgently deal with the crisis of gender-based violence, discrimination against women and gender disparities.

The recommendations of the Gender Summit must be comprehensive, guiding the work of government and the activities of all stakeholders.

Government is committed to doing its part through policies, programmes and practices that dramatically reduce levels of gender-based violence – and ultimately eradicate it – that ensure swift action against perpetrators, and which provide necessary support and protection to survivors of violence.

Ultimately, however, violence against women is a societal issue – it requires that all of us, wherever we are, are actively engaged in ending this brutal assault on our people and on our society.

Fellow South Africans,

If we are to realise the vision of those pioneering women who founded the Bantu Women’s League, we must improve the economic position of women.

That is why we have placed the creation of jobs and training opportunities for young people – and especially young women – at the centre of our economic agenda.

We must recognise that young women are doing much themselves, taking advantage of educational opportunities, starting businesses and bringing energy and innovation to a number of fields and occupations.

Yet, despite the progress made, young people are more likely to be unemployed than the rest of the population.

Young women face additional challenges of gender inequality, discrimination and oppressive social practices.

Therefore, each and every policy and programme that advances the empowerment of young people must make specific provision for the empowerment of young women.

An important part of our effort will be to create pathways for young women into work.

Many young black women do not have the skills, access to networks or exposure to the work environment to easily find employment.

Many live far away from potential places of work and cannot afford to go looking for work.

In response to this challenge, government, business, labour and several civil society organisations have worked together to launch the Youth Employment Service, which facilitates one-year work experience opportunities for unemployed young people in participating companies.

We will be closely monitoring the intake into this programme, as well as the outcomes, to ensure that young women are equally represented.

Ultimately, the most direct and sustainable way to empower young women is through education and skills development.

Global experience has shown that education is the most effective way to empower young women and promote gender equality.

Yet, young women face several challenges, such as outdated attitudes to the education of women, relegation to domestic duties or responsibility for child care.

That is why we need to ensure that girls and young women remain in school to complete matric, that they are able to study in areas like mathematics, science and technology, and that they can proceed without hindrance to higher education and further training.

Fellow South Africans,

Government has embarked on a range of measures to accelerate comprehensive land reform and expand agricultural production.

These measures, in addition to correcting a historical injustice, aim to unlock the economic potential of our land and our people.

It is essential that we use this process to ensure equitable access for women to land in both rural and urban areas – for agriculture, for housing and for business purposes.

Women who live in rural areas must have their right to land recognised and enforced, and must have the means to use their land to improve their lives and the lives of their families.

Poor and working class women have the same right, and need to have the same opportunity, as men to own property in well-located urban areas.

As we embark on the distribution of title deeds to our people we are committed to ensure that women are, at minimum, equal beneficiaries of government programmes to address asset poverty.

The return of the land will have little meaning and limited effected unless it is returned to all those from whom it was taken, both women and men.

Importantly, we must lead a campaign to change patriarchal attitudes in society.

It is vital that everyone understands that where women are emancipated, society progresses and thrives.

We must empower young men to play their role in freeing society from the oppressive bonds of patriarchy.

When women are free, we are all free.

We look to young women to lead the way.

They should not wait for others to liberate them.

Like those who marched on the Union Buildings last week, and like those who marched on the Union Buildings in 1956, they should realise that the power to achieve meaningful change is in their hands.

Fellow South Africans,

It is 100 years since the formation of the Bantu Women’s League and a hundred years since the birth of that great stalwart of our movement, Mama Albertina Sisulu.

We mark these historic events not merely to recall the extraordinary path that the women of our country have walked over many decades of oppression, repression, discrimination and exploitation.

We mark these historic events not only to applaud the outstanding contributions that millions of women have made to the achievement of our non-racial and non-sexist democracy.

We mark these historic events so that we may be reminded, as we look to the future, that no matter how great the challenges we face, no matter how difficult the problems that we must overcome, by working together – women and men, young and old, black and white – we will prevail.

Guided by the revolutionary vision of Charlotte Maxeke, inspired by the courage and commitment of Albertina Sisulu and fortified by the daily struggles of millions of South African women, we will surely succeed to build a society in which the daughters of our nation will live in peace, dignity, security and comfort.

I thank you.