Speech by the Deputy Minister of Communications of the Republic of South Africa, the Honourable Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, on the occasion of the Women’s Month Campus Dialogue at the Tshwane University of Technology
21 August 2015
Colleagues from academia,
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is indeed an honour to have been invited to be part of the Women’s Month Campus Dialogue session at the Tshwane University of Technology. As I drove through the gates of the campus today I felt an undeniable energy in the air. I was also inspired by the vibrancy I noticed on campus when I accompanied the President during Siyahlola programme in June 2015. It left me in no doubt that the young women and men studying at TUT are well placed to help us move South Africa forward.
Today, in campuses all over South Africa young women are studying in fields that were previously the exclusive domain of men. It is no longer uncommon to find women studying in the fields of science, technology, quantity surveying, engineering, plumbing, construction and a variety of other technical fields.
Every single day young women in South Africa are breaking new ground by challenging the status quo and succeeding. I therefore have no doubt that the young women in attendance today will in time become tomorrow’s scientists, engineers, builders, etc. The women in this audience are our future and will help to build the nation of our collective dreams.
We meet today against the backdrop of a world beset by social and economic turbulence. In South Africa we have seen how global issues can affect our economy and in turn our country.
In such an environment it is important that nations make use of the social and economic capital of all its citizens. The time has therefore never been better for women to take up the reigns in all spheres and sectors of society. It is well known that when more women work, economies grow. Evidence from around the world also shows that when women and girls are exposed to higher levels of education this in turn contributes to higher economic growth. I have no doubt that the audience today are ready to ensure that the issues of women socioeconomic empowerment and women’s rights are mainstreamed.
As we celebrate Women’s Month it is important to acknowledge the role that women played in bringing about a free and democratic South Africa. Our history abounds with women from all walks of life who stood up and fought for a better country. The women who marched to the Union Buildings on 9 August 1956 in defiance of unjust pass laws refused to back down even in the face tyranny. In June 1914, 700 women marched with Charlotte Maxeke in Bloemfontein in defiance of the pass system.
We are the descendants of the fierce warriors, Queen Mantatisi, Princess Mantsopa and Queen Modjadji. These women and countless other heroines paved the way for our democracy with their selfless acts. They were willing to stand up and face the status quo head on.
It is incumbent on this generation to build on the sacrifices of those who came before. We may live in a very different county today and our struggles are different but the fight for women’s socioeconomic rights continues. Dialogues such as this help to bring women’s issues to the fore. However, if we just use these sessions to talk or to lament our position in society then things will never change.
We must become the change we want to see. We must boldly declare and by implication ensure that no women or girl suffers abuse. We must stand up for our rights which are protected in law and in the Constitution. We are privileged to live in a country where government has actively sought to promote women since 1994. The current administration has sought to ramp up initiatives to get more women into the economy and exciting opportunities are available in fields that were once the exclusive domain of men.
Following the 2014 general election, government took a bold step to place radical economic transformation as a priority in the fifth administration and established the Ministry in the Presidency Responsible for Women and proclaimed the Department of Women, to ensure that the women’s agenda is elevated to the highest office in the land. Its location is intended to ensure that women benefit from all programmes aimed at redressing the effects of apartheid and patriarchy. The Ministry and the Department are strategically located to focus on the socioeconomic transformation of women.
Government is rolling out more infrastructure projects and women should take advantage of this opportunity with both hands. Many business opportunities are available in the building of new dams, railway lines, road, ports and our infrastructure development plan.
My department is ready to roll out the much awaited Digital Migration process that will be bring quality picture and more channels to the public broadcasters. I challenge young women in this room to take full advantage of benefits brought by DTT. These include opportunities for content developers, filmmakers, manufacturers of STBs, installers, etc.
I know that the women in this room and the women of South Africa will not simply wait for government to provide opportunities. The spirit of entrepreneurship that resides within women will enable us to open small and medium enterprises that create jobs and wealth that ultimately contributes to a prosperous South Africa. We call on you to build corporations that will compete with the major conglomerates of this world.
The Small Business Development Ministry is also supporting the aspirations of women who want to enter the economy. Programmes are in place for their greater skills development and re-skilling. We want women to take advantage of these programmes.
The statistics on women being appointed to senior positions in the public sector speak for themselves. For instance, women make up almost 40 per cent of the Senior Management Service in the public service. Women representation in the National Assembly is at 44 per cent from 2.7 per cent in 1994.
Both our National Assembly and National Council of Provinces are also chaired by women namely Ms Baleka Mbete and Ms Thandi Modise. The representation of women in Cabinet following the 2014 general election stands at 43 per cent, with deputy Ministers being at 45.9 per cent.
Progress is also being made in the transformation of the judiciary as women now constitute about 33 per cent of all the judges in our judiciary. This is a huge jump considering that the judiciary had two white women in 1994. There are now 61 women judges of which 48 are black women. Furthermore, we have two women Judge Presidents and a woman Deputy Judge President. Women also account for 29 per cent of appointed Ambassadors, High Commissioners and Consuls-General and we intend to improve on this.
I am proud to say that women are making their mark in every sector of society, and many of our women leaders have gone on to make their mark across the world. Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma broke the proverbial glass ceiling in 2012 by becoming the first woman on the continent to chair the African Union Commission.
Former Deputy President Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka was appointed as the Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, while Ms Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi is Special Gender Envoy to the African Development Bank. We also applaud the extraordinary success story of Ms Navi Pillay, who in 1995 became the first non-white woman to serve on the High Court of South Africa and thirteen years later became United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The stories of these and countless other extraordinary women are part of our success story since 1994. They are beacons of our democracy, and I have no doubt that they have inspired other women to strive for greatness.
Ladies and gentlemen,
For all our success as a nation many women still face a daily existence fraught with danger and uncertainty. The sad truth is that away from the spotlight of Women’s Month there is an alternate reality where women are abused and violated in the most horrific ways. It is easy to assume that these abuses occur in the dark underbelly of society and are far removed from our daily lives.
However, the reality is very different. Sometimes women are attacked by strangers, but most often they are hurt by those dearest to them, such as a husband, partner or somebody they know. Violence and abuse against women is therefore not someone else’s problem. It is our common problem, and we must do more as a society to protect and nurture the women and children in our lives and communities. There are those who would argue that legislation and enforcement is the solution, but the reality is that such interventions can only go so far.
Government has been at the forefront of fighting the scourge of women abuse through various initiatives. Chief among these is a series of legislation specifically aimed at protecting women and children. The police and the existing courts are empowered under the Domestic Violence Act, Sexual Offences Act and Children’s Act to arrest, prosecute and convict perpetrators of violence against women and children. Our courts have also sent a strong signal to would be perpetrators by handing out severe sentences to those found guilty of women abuse and violence. Has this been enough to stop the scourge? Unfortunately the answer is no.
Legislation, enforcement and tough sentences by themselves are ineffectual. Women abuse is a societal issue and can therefore only be defeated if every South African agrees that enough is enough. The perpetrators and those who are complicit in allowing these vile acts to occur have no place in society, and communities must act to isolate and expose them. We can no longer simply turn a blind eye and believe it is not our place to interfere.
I urge you to give life to the theme of Women’s Month which is: “Women United in Moving South Africa Forward”. United we can ensure that women and child abuse ends with this generation. United we can ensure that women enjoy all the rights and privileges ensured by our democracy. United we can ensure that women take their place in every sphere of society.
It is therefore incumbent on this generation to build on the sacrifices of women from all walks of life who fought tirelessly for our democracy. Their selfless actions have helped to open the doors for young women in South Africa today.
I therefore urge you to grab the opportunity to create a better life for yourself, your family and our communities. The future is in our collective hands and together we can move the women’s agenda forward. I look forward to a constructive dialogue.
I thank you.
Issued by Government Communications (GCIS) on behalf of the Ministry of Communications