Speech by Hon Kate Bilankulu: Invest in women: Accelerated progress in the context of building a better Africa and World.

12 March 2024

Topic: Empowering Women in Leadership and Society: Shaping a Better Future

Vachaviseki hinkwerhu
Ma Afrika- dzonga  hinkwerhu na milosa  I hlikanhi

I thank God I’m alive today

Being a South African, a woman ,  not just a woman but a conqueror, responsible, fearless, unique and a baton of hope to our women , member of the ANC under the leadership of President Ramaphosa , listen to this empowering women you are unlocking the world’s potential, it is essential to health , social development of families, communities and the country at large , that’s exactly what the ANC is doing right now .

This debate comes at a critical time for us, as we are left with few days to go for National and Provincial elections to vote for the seventh administration .women as majority citizens and majority voters in this Country, therefore we need to be carefully of who we choose to govern us. As women, we must choose a government that not only promises to invest and prioritise our needs, but one that has shown commitment and has history in empowering women. We need a government that will accelerate the gains we have achieved, and not take us back.

Women in this Country, have a history of uniting across racial and party-political lines when it comes to fighting for women’s rights. The progress in terms of women’s empowerment that we have today was not given to us in a platter, we stood up, fought side by side with male comrades, fought against our male comrades when they became barriers of women’s empowerment, and we even stood up to influence the Constitution of this Country, to provide guarantees for women’s rights.

We have achieved a lot in terms of increasing women in leadership positions, we are currently having more than 45% of women represented in Parliament. This is not the ideal that we want as majority citizens in this Country, but it is a great step in the right direction. The increase in number of women represented in leadership positions, would not have happened if the governing party, the ANC ,was not responsive to needs and rights of women in this Country. We all know that as the Country we do not have legislated quotas, to compel political parties to have 50/50 representation in party lists. The current representation of women in Parliament is due to the  mighty ANC adopting voluntary gender quotas. In the absence of legislated quotas, we as the Multi- Party Women’s Caucus urge all political parties to adopt voluntary quotas and have 50/50 representation in their party lists for the next coming elections. In the incoming administration, we want to see more women from the opposition benches.

The ANC led government has a history of investing in women through adoption of various domestic legislation, as well as being a Member State of various regional, continental, and international protocols, aimed at ensuring that women have full and equal enjoyment of all rights and freedom. The ANC led government has indeed provided a fertile ground for women to thrive, and effectively participate in leadership positions.

The very first Speaker of our first democratic Parliament was a woman, the late Frene Ginwala, a seasoned activist, who advocated for both human and women rights. Frene Ginwala paved a way for other women to be Speakers of Parliament,  and, these include mama Baleka Mbethe, mama Thandi Modise, and our current Speaker mama Nosiviwe Mapisa- Nqakula. We have women like  mama Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka, who is our first  woman to be Deputy President of the Republic of South Africa, and later an Executive Director at UN Women.

Our South African women are not only taking leadership positions within the country, but are also known for breaking barriers in contnental and international organisations. Dr Nkosazana Dlamini- Zuma,  sitting chancellor of the university of Limpopo , became the first woman in Africa to chair the African Union Commission, and this provided hope and mentorship to all women and girls in Africa as a whole.

Desiree Ellis  a former player , coach and the founder member of Banyana Banyana and the second captain of the team, In April 2023 she was bestowed the National order of  Ikhamanga by the South African government for her contribution to soccer , Rea Ledwaba the founder of  Rea stars, the 1st female black vice president of the South African football association , CEO of gree product SA , the only black woman importer of heating , ventilation and air conditioners in South Africa.

Tsakani Maluleke who is a first woman to be appointed Auditor-General in South Africa , in judiciary, we have Judge Mandisa Maya who is the first woman president of the supreme court of appeal , the first woman  Deputy Chief Justice, now nominated the chief justice by the president  Ramaphosa, we have Chancellors and Vice Chancellors of tertiary institutions. We have empowered women to occupy positions that were once male dominated, such as in military,and, Phetogo Molawa is a first black woman helicopter pilot in the South African Air Force.

In addition to various programmes meant to empower women, this government, has also adopted a set aside 40% of all government procurement in favor of women owned business. This came about through understanding that there are certain barriers that hinder women in businesses.

We must not forget that the women occupying these positions are not exempted from their gendered roles of being mothers, wives, daughters, etc. These women still have a burden of unpaid care work waiting for them at home when they knock off work. We must also not forget that when we accelerate women to leadership positions, there are certain stigmas that they are labelled with, these include being accused of sleeping their way to the top, bribing people for positions or being just affirmative action employees. The society tends to forget that the Affirmative Action legislation is about leveling the playing field for women in male-dominated sectors or organizations for suitable qualified individuals to relevant positions. Being a caring and developmental government that it is, the current administration understands the importance of establishing certain structures within government. These structures are aimed at supporting women, enabling them to stay longer in leadership roles. That is one of the reasons we have a fully resourced Multi- Party Women’s Caucus as a support structure for all women parliamentarians no matter the political party affiliation. These machineries are aimed at ensuring gender sensitive and responsive workplaces by advocating for family friendly facilities. The ANC led government is indeed developmental and forward thinking.

In investing in women, we understand that women are not a homogenous group. We have women who have disabilities, we have women who fall under the LGBTQIA+ community, we have educated women, we have women from rural areas etc. We understand that we cannot have a blanket approach in investing in these women. To ensure inclusion and cater for diversity we have adopted specific legislations to cater for diverse needs, for example we have adopted policies that cater for same -sex marriages (that is Civil Union Act), we also have adopted legislation to cater for trans- persons who would want to alter their sex status. We are among the few African Countries which accept same sex relationships, and we have the current administration to thank for that.

While we have a lot to celebrate as the Country, we understand that we are part of the continental and global village, and therefore we cannot forget the plight of women and children in conflict and war zones. During times of war and conflict, women and children are always subjected to the most inhuman conditions. Rape, sexual exploitation, forced prostitution, forced labour, are some of gruesome things women and children are subjected to. We support the African Union Initiative on Silencing the Guns, and further commit to ensure safety and protection of women in this Country. We also understand that our homes have become war zones with gun wielding perpetrators that we share homes, beds, and meals with. So, silencing the guns in our own homes is also particularly important, as intimate partner violence is reported as being high in South Africa. The recent assent of GBVF (Gender Based Violence and Femicide) laws, is an effort by this government to silence guns. The continuous oversight over implementation of the National Strategic Plan on Gender Based Violence and Femicide by various parliamentary committees, including the Multi- Party Women’s Caucus is another crucial tool contributing to ensuring safety of women. We have no doubt by year 2030, all the goals we have set and are part of, including peace and justice would have been long achieved.

As I conclude, let me talk about why I appreciated the South Africa’s intervention in its application to the International Court of Justice regarding the genocide taking place in Gaza. One of the difficulties in being a woman is that every month you menstruate/go on your periods. Imagine being attacked by bombs, watching a large number of people being killed in front of you; being displaced, fearing for your safety and your family’s well-being, and you are in crowded  camps, then your monthly menstruation comes, there is no access to water and sanitation, there is no privacy, and, on top of that there is no access to sanitary products. The transformative, forward thinking, caring and developmental government led by the ANC had this foresight when it made its application to the ICC.

I urge my fellow citizens to ensure that the gains achieved through being governed by a people-oriented and developmental organization are not reversed.