"The laws in our statute books are not enough. They will become truly meaningful when they create a tangible improvement in the lives of women," he told a National Women's Day celebration in East London.
Zuma said government's primary focus was to improve access to socio-economic rights as enshrined in the country's Constitution.
He said they were focused on socio-economic rights because the emancipation of women could not be separated from the fight to eradicate poverty and to improve access to basic services.
"For scores of poor women, emancipation means access to electricity, water, decent shelter, access to income generating activities or decent jobs, roads and transport, education and training for themselves and their children."
Zuma said the need to hasten the entry and participation of women in decision-making processes and positions in the country should be highlighted.
The Women's Charter for Effective Quality, adopted in February 1994, was a reminder that conventionally, democracy and human rights had been defined and interpreted in terms of men's experiences, he said.
Zuma said society and its institutions had been structured for the primary benefit of men.
He said the 10th Commission on Employment Equity Report released by the department of labour last month, also revealed that transformation in the workplace remained very slow.
The report indicates that 10 years after the introduction of the Employment Equity Act, and 16 years into democracy, white men continue to hold 63% of top management positions in the private sector. African women were at less than 3% and coloured and Indian women were 1% each.
The report also points out that white women still benefit the most from affirmative action measures, while people with disabilities and African and coloured women have benefited the least.
"Some urgent action is required in the private sector to improve gender and race diversity at the top management level," Zuma said.
He saluted all women leaders of the struggle for a free, non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa.
'We take out hats off to all generations of leaders, from Charlotte Maxeke to Florence Mophosho, from Dorothy Nyembe and Florence Mkhize to Ruth First, Gertrude Shophe and a host of others.
"We acknowledge the courageous generation of Winnie Mandela and Albertina Sisulu and others who soldiered on at great personal cost, during the worst periods of our lives," he said in a speech prepared for delivery at the event.