Debate by Deputy Minister Ntombazana Botha at the Joint Sitting
Freedom of the Woman is the Essence of Not Only Our Constitution but the Heart of Our Democracy.
Today is International Women’s Day! It is with great excitement and a sense of achievement that we join in with all the women of the World to celebrate this day. As we speak, our diplomatic missions beyond our borders are also engaged in similar activities celebrating this day.
Background & Context
According to history, the first International Women’s Day was held on March 19, 1911 in Germany, Austria, Denmark and a few other European countries. This date was chosen because a Prussian King who had promised in about 1848 to grant the women the right to vote, had failed to live up to his word.
However, after the strike of women workers in the United States, the strike popularly known as the “Bread & Roses” strike, the 8th of March was declared International Women’s Day.
Importance of Celebration
This year we observe International Women’s Day in a special way, to give it meaning, context and relevance.
We are marking this day not only to link the struggles and achievements of South African women with all the women of the World, but also to launch a year long programme of commemorating and celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Women’s Anti-Pass March to Pretoria in 1956.
We, in South Africa, have chosen the theme “Age of Hope: Through Struggle to Freedom” for all the anniversaries we plan this year including the 50th anniversary of the women’s march to the Union Buildings. This should set the tone and lend momentum to the thought leadership that will accelerate the emergence of a women’s movement.
We are proud to acknowledge in our midst, some of our veterans, including some of those women who marched on that historic day in 1956. We wish to honour them.
Your contribution and the contribution of those comrades who have passed on, has paved the way towards the total emancipation (total freedom) of women and has afforded me as well as other women who are in the executive and in other positions of leadership an equal opportunity with our male counterparts, to serve our nation.
Challenging and changing the devaluation and oppression of women in this society is central to any effort to give meaning to the high principles and ideals enshrined in our constitution:
Pioneering African Women
From the research I have done, it is clear that for centuries African women were pioneers when it came to resisting the wholesale contemptuous defamation of women in the cultural, economic and political system. We may want to rewrite our history to accurately reflect and record the powerful contribution they made.
Prior to the establishment of the African National Congress in 1912, women in this country were already engaged in a militant struggle to resist oppression under a male dominated white, racist government.
Spirit of Resistance & Defiance
In March 1912, the so-called ‘Native & Coloured’ women in the Orange Free State had sent a petition to Prime Minister Louis Botha demanding the repeal of ‘Pass Laws’ that condemned African people to an inferior status.
It is important to note that when a delegation showed up in his office to hand him their demands, the ‘prime minister’ was nowhere to be seen! That should tell you something about Woman Power!
“Wathinkt’abafazi, wathint’ imbokotho! Uz’akufa”
Winds of Change
In 1994, our first President of a democratic South Africa, Nelson Mandela made it very clear, two years before our constitution was adopted, that there can be no genuine freedom without the total liberation of the woman in our society.
He said: “It is vitally important that all structures of Government, including the President himself, should understand this fully that freedom cannot be achieved unless the women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression.”
This statement affirms that the degradation of women, especially in the name of culture, undermines the principles, values and ideals enshrined in our constitution.
Role of Policy
We are particularly concerned about how our Arts, Culture and heritage policies, on the quality of life and status of women.
For example, in the usage of language, there is an inherent degradation on the integrity of women. And, sometimes women cannot even express themselves as freely as they want.
Another example: A large number of crafters are women, who earn a living and support their families and communities through crafts, and yet their contribution is not taken into when it comes to capturing economic growth statistics.
It also becomes urgent for us, as Government, to address the unresolved issue of intellectual property rights to ensure that the benefits accrue to the original producer of the craft item. For example, the Ndebele Doll, is benefiting all other parties except its woman that created it.
Similarly, our Government needs to ensure that cultural policy is also responsive to the needs of the majority of the people of South Africa, particularly when creating human settlements. Cultural planning should underpin physical development and ensure that the values people hold for the place where they live, are protected and reflected in the way Government plans, approves and provides infrastructure and services.
I would strongly suggest that we revisit and review the Arts, Culture and Heritage policy as well as all existing legislation impede the total development and emancipation of women.
Free the Spirit of Woman
However, women cannot attain total emancipation “from all forms of oppression” (as former Pres Mandela said) unless women liberate themselves from the inner shackles of fear, a sense of inferiority, guilt, doubt and all other mindsets and self-undermining that inhibits their total development and emancipation.
Women have to be encouraged and supported, so that they truly believe that they are free to take the leadership role and become the person they want to be in society, live their lives to the fullest the way they want and strive for the goals that they have set for themselves as individuals.
All women, including those that regard themselves as just ordinary women to free themselves from their shackles and to step forward and participate fully in the social, cultural, economic and political development that is heralded by the AGE OF HOPE.
In fact, there can be no nation-building, no social cohesion, no democracy, no positive values until women attain total freedom to be themselves.
As we launch the year-long programme marking the 50th Anniversary of the commemoration of the women’s march to the Union Buildings we embrace that reality that women have been active in the struggle for emancipation and empowerment at an individual and collective level. If we want to eradicate poverty, define our identity as a society, have democracy and transcend the barriers that keep us apart, women must not only assume positions of leadership and decision-making but be given opportunities to participate meaningfully in shaping the identity and determining the future of our nation.
Simply put, International Women’s Day is about granting women the freedom that they have fought so hard for! This is, indeed, the Age of Hope. It is up to all of us to give it meaning, to give it context and the relevance it deserves.
Today is, indeed, better than yesterday. But it is up to all of us to make tomorrow even better than today.
I thank you.