9 August 2018
Today, the African National Congress pays tribute to the more than 20 000 women who marched to the Union Buildings on 9 August 1956 in protest against the apartheid pass laws.
In this centenary of Mama Albertina Sisulu; stalwart of our struggle for liberation, we remember her and many other women activists of her generation. This year we also mark the centenary of South Africa's oldest women's organisation, the Bantu Women's League, which was formed in 1918 under the leadership of another icon, Dr Charlotte Maxeke.
As South Africans, we must use Women's Day as a platform to refocus the attention of the nation on the plight and rights of women and to assess the progress we have made towards women empowerment and gender equality since 1994.
There is no doubt that in the twenty-four years of our democracy, the ANC-led government has made significant progress restoring the dignity of women. Through the Constitution and an array of other measures introduced since 1994, on the whole, the position and conditions of women in our country has improved significantly. Women now have access to services and positions that were a dream only a mere twenty-four years ago. The living conditions of the majority of ordinary women have undergone significant qualitative change. We are encouraged by these developments, but believe that more still needs to be done.
While significant strides have been made to empower women and promote gender equality, we must concede that women still bear a disproportionate burden of the triple challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment. The rural profile of South Africa continues to be one of female-headed households, growing poverty, human rights abuses and increased gender-based violence, unemployment and high prevalence of HIV and AIDS. Women continue to be marginalized and discriminated against in terms of economic opportunities.
Notwithstanding some of the notable progress made since the dawn of democracy, women and girls continue to endure unacceptable levels of gender based violence (GBV), including by those closest to them. Gender-based violence robs women of the opportunity to become productive citizens of the country. It denies them their constitutional rights and condemns them to a life of perpetual fear. They are therefore prevented from enjoying the fruits of our freedom and democracy.
Indeed, the high level of violence against women remain a matter of national concern. The painful story of Khensani Maseko has touched the conscience of our nation in the most profound way. As we send our condolences to her family, we wish to state that her death must not be in vain. It must move all of us to redouble our collective efforts to eliminate the scourge of gender-based violence. Those who prey on women must face the wrath of our justice system.
The ANC is painfully aware that financial dependency on partners increases women's vulnerability to domestic violence, rape, incest, abuse, and murder. We remain convinced that empowering women economically will assist us to win the war against dependence and abuse.
Whilst there are programmes and interventions to empower women, and to prevent and respond to women abuse, government cannot do this alone. We are making a clarion call to all sectors of society to unite against gender-based violence and to work together to remove all barriers to women's economic empowerment.
ISSUED BY THE AFRICAN NATIONAL CONGRESS