Statement by Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities Lulu Xingwana during the Women's Month media launch

Printer-friendly versionPDF version
03 Aug 2013

From today until the end of the month, the government and the people of South Africa will be commemorating Women’s Month under the theme:  “A centenary of working together towards sustainable women empowerment and gender equality”

In 1913, the Apartheid government in the Orange Free State declared that women living in the urban townships would be required to buy new entry permits each month.

In response, the women collected thousands of signatures on petitions, and organized massive demonstrations to protest the permit requirement. The June 1913, an anti-pass defiance campaign took place, the first recorded incidence of protest by black women against the Union government. About 700 women marched to the Bloemfontein City Council in the Orange Free State to petition the mayor.

Mme Charlotte Maxeke led the campaign. The Campaign gained momentum and spread to other areas in Bloemfontein. Unrest spread throughout the province and hundreds of women were sent to prison. The direct result of this campaign was the establishment of the Bantu Women's League under the leadership of Charlotte Mannye Maxeke.

The Bantu Women's League was adopted and re-launched by the African National Congress as its Women's League structure in the 1940s. No further attempts were made to require permits or passes for African women until the 1950s.

The Orange Free State was the only province in which passes were stringently enforced to control the movement of women residing and working in towns in large numbers. Civil disobedience and demonstrations continued sporadically for several years. Ultimately the permit requirement was withdrawn.\

On the 9th of August 1956, another heroic march was led by women struggle stalwarts Sophie De Bruyn, Rahima Moosa, Helen Joseph, Lillian Ngoyi, Dorothy Nyembe and many others to the Union Buildings to protest against the extension of Pass Laws to women.

The democratic government of South Africa declared the month of August as Women’s Month tribute to the thousands of women who marched in 1913 and 1956, respectively.

Last year in 2012, 56 years later, Women united against poverty, inequality and unemployment. Women’s Month as a platform to focus , highlight, celebrate ,commemorate, monitor and evaluate the attention of the nation on issues of women empowerment and gender equality.

This year’s commemoration coincides with the centenary-100 years of the land act and the last year towards the 20 years democracy since 1994.

As a country and government, we have registered significant progress in the promotion of women empowerment and gender equality. An array of measures introduced since 1994 to promote women empowerment and uphold gender equality, have drastically improved the position and conditions of women in our country.

To restore the identity and dignity of people, especially women, we have seen in this month the dedication and naming of the smart ID machines symbolic of the objective of 1913 an 1956 Marches respectively after our struggle stalwarts, Sophie de Bruyn, Lillian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph and Rahima Moosa."

Women occupy influential positions in government and play an important role in decision-making processes. The living conditions of the majority of ordinary women have undergone significant qualitative change. Women now have access to housing, water, electricity, education, social services, healthcare and other services.

We are making progress in addressing the primary health care needs of women and girls as reflected in the decline of child and maternal mortality as well as mother-to-child transmission of HIV rates. We are encouraged by these developments, but believe that more still needs to be done.

There is consensus that South Africa has some of the most progressive policies that are aimed at advancing women empowerment and gender equality. However, the challenge remains the actual translation of these policies and legislative frameworks into implementation. While significant strides have been made to empower women and promote gender equality, women still bear a disproportionate burden of the triple challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment.

Women continue to be marginalized and discriminated against in terms of economic opportunities, the labour market as well as access to land, credit, and finance. In addition, a life of abuse, discrimination and violation of human rights remain the harsh reality for the majority of the women in our country. The accessibility of land to women, especially rural women, is still a challenge.

The Department of Land Reform and Rural Development made a commitment to ensure that women access land. We are determined to ensure that women, including women with disabilities, become the main beneficiaries of the land reform processes. This is because the challenges of rural development, food security and land reform affect women disproportionately.

I am pleased to announce that the Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill has been submitted to the cabinet committee. The bill is proposing guidelines for promoting women empowerment and gender equality and enforces compliance in both government and the private sector. South Africa has made commitments through the Constitution, various pieces of legislation and international conventions to respect, promote, protect and advance the rights of women. We have a duty and obligation to honour these commitments.

We are aware that financial dependency on husbands, fathers, partners and family members has increased women’s vulnerability to domestic violence, rape, incest, abuse, and murder. We remain convinced that empowering women will help us win the war against poverty, inequality, unemployment and abuse.

With regard to violence against women, we remain concerned that the combined figures of all sexual offences, We are also confident that the strengthening of law enforcement measures, particularly the re-establishment of Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences (FCS) units within the SAPS will assist in fighting this scourge. We also commend our courts for the life sentences that will serve as a deterrent to perpetrators of heinous crimes such as rapes of women children and people with disabilities. This will serve as a deterrent and also shows that government is serious in dealing with this scourge.
The National Council Against Gender-based Violence has been established. The council is made up of government departments, civil society organizations including faith based organizations,Traditional leadership  and LGBTI organisations and its objective is to consolidate the concerted efforts to fight the scourge of Violence against Women, Children and People with Disabilities.

Congratulatory messages

South Africa  and the African continent, has a reason to be proud of the progressive laws and policies which has seen the international community identifying women from South Africa as suitable to take up leadership positions in Africa as a continent and internationally within the United Nations. Whilst still celebrating Nkosazana-Dlamini Zuma’s Chairpersonship of the African Union, allow me to convey congratulatory messages to Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the Executive Director of United Nations Women and Ms Geraldine Fraser- Moleketi’s appointment at the African Development Bank.

You are an inspiration to all women, especially young women, across South Africa and Africa as a continent that it is possible for Africa to lead internationally. Our 1913 and 1956 struggle stalwarts are at peace knowing that what they fought so hard for, the empowerment of women, is been fulfilled. Indeed, the years 2012 and 2013 will occupy a special place in our hearts and on the African calendar, for it heralds the dawn of progressive and decisive leadership by women. We are confident that you will represent us well.

The national calendar

9 August is National Women’s day. The National Commemoration event will take place in Thulamahashe, Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga Province. The Event will be addressed by President, Jacob Zuma.
Provinces will also host provincial commemorations addressed by the Premiers.

The weekly activities have been consolidated into sub themes just to name a few::

  • The Focus for Week 1& 2 is the restoration of Identity and Dignity.
    • President naming of the smart  Id  machines
    • 4th August 2013, the Minister of WCPD will host an honorary working session with Women in leadership to celebrate the achievements by South African Women .In attendance will be the newly appointed Executive Director of the United Nations Women, Phumzile Mlambo- Ncuka
    •  9 August The  National Women’s day commemoration
  • The Focus for Week 3 is job creation, decent work and sustainable livelihoods for women, including funding mechanisms for increasing opportunities for women’s economic empowerment
    • Techno-girl alumni Launch
    • Young women in Mining
    • Young women in Maritime
    • Young women in rail
    • Economic Policy dialogue
  • The Focus for Week 4 is rural women’s development, land reform and food security for women and girls and addressing the growing scourge of gender based violence
    • Orange Day UNiTE  to end  violence  against women
    • Dialogue with Young Women:  Discussing sexual and reproductive health and rights with Young Women on Women Empowerment, Gender Equality and Teenage Pregnancy
    • Men’s rally/ march:  integrated service delivery for men’s rally to address GBV,HIV and AIDS, Men’s health and safer commodities

These are but just some of the activities on the calendar for the month.


We consider the media as our critical partners throughout Women’s Month, because our view is that inadequate access to information has meant that the majority of women continue to remain vulnerable, marginalised and unable to participate in the mainstream of society because they are not aware of their rights as well as the services and opportunities that they can seize in order to change their lives for the better.

Working together, we can succeed in ensuring that all the women of South Africa are empowered to taste the fruits of our freedom and democracy.
I thank you

Ms Phuti Mabelebele
Tel: 012 359 0222/24
Cell: 076 402 7521

Issued by: Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities
3 Aug 2013