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The historic 1956 women's march. Picture: File
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The empowerment of women is about dealing with the legacy of apartheid and the transformation of society, particularly of power relations between women, men, institutions and laws, writes Phumla Williams.
years ago our nation was a very different place to what it is today. Oppression
occurred on a daily basis and women enjoyed almost no rights. It was a society
characterised by repression, subjugation and tyranny.
of a free society were unheard of and those who dared to stand up against
apartheid tyranny were met with brutal and unrelenting force. These were the
circumstances which faced the brave and patriotic women who devised the Women's
Charter in 1954.
Women's Charter called for a single society that recognises that "women do
not form a society separate from the men" and therefore "share in the
problems and anxieties of our men, and join hands with them to remove social
evils and obstacles to progress".
was adopted a year before the historic Freedom Charter of 1955, and helped to
set the tone for today's democratic order. It was further reviewed in 1994
under the Women's National Coalition, which adopted the Women's Charter for
1954 and 1994 Women's Charters called for a society where women are free from
discrimination and prejudice. They called for a society which respects women
and enforces their rights and inherent human dignity.
democratic breakthrough in 1994 represented the start of our journey to an
inclusive society that cares for all. Since 1994 successive democratic administrations
have committed to a progressive legislative framework and a human rights agenda
that is strongly informed by the principles of gender equality, women's
emancipation and empowerment.
we have made progress we are mindful that we must do more to substantially
transform society and the economy. We are committed to speed up transformation
across society by strengthening partnerships with civil society to ensure that
we address the many challenges faced by women and girls.
empowerment of women in South Africa is about dealing with the legacy of
apartheid and the transformation of society, particularly the transformation of
power relations between women, men, institutions and laws. It is also about
addressing gender oppression, patriarchy, sexism and structural oppression.
doubt our society has undergone a sea change since 1994, however as we
commemorate 25 years of freedom more still needs to be done to create a
conducive environment which enables women to take control of their lives.
remains a sad fact that many women are still confined by both their
circumstances and the prevailing patriarchy in society. Therefore we must
continue to fight the stark gender disparities that are evident across the many
areas of national life.
remains essential and so is ensuring that girls and women have greater access
to basic and higher education. There is also a pressing need to ensure that our
economy is inclusive and offers women a chance at success.
many women still find themselves excluded from the formal economy and in low paying
jobs and economic sectors. While those who are lucky enough to find a job never
make it to the middle and top management echelons, particularly in the private
growing an inclusive economy we will begin to transform the power relations
between women and men. By doing so we will build a society where women are free
to make choices and not be hampered by economic and social pressures.
this new future relies on the combined will of all in society; government
cannot do it alone and the voices of men in building a new compact are
especially important. Together we have the power to overcome all our challenges
and build a better tomorrow.
the women of 1954 knew that they had to take a stand to bring about change, it
is up to us now to ensure that we create an economy that works for
women are empowered we see that families thrive, communities are safer, and
economies grow. Through the inclusion of more women in the economy we can also
stop generational poverty and in the process stimulate economic growth.
do more to encourage women to become entrepreneurs and to start their own
businesses. Women entrepreneurs are known to use profits from their business to
improve their families' living conditions and lifestyle. More critically they
also invest in their children's education which ensures that the cycle of
poverty is broken.
It is up
to all of us to ensure that women empowerment becomes a lived reality. We dare
not be happy with the status quo which excludes many women from the social and
economic mainstream. By working together we can ensure a societal shift so that
women can take their rightful place and contribute to the country's
socio-economic growth and development.
- Phumla Williams is acting director-general of the Government
Communication and Information System (GCIS).
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