Today we pay tribute to the gallant women who marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria 64 years ago to protest against the apartheid regime’s pass laws.
As we celebrate Women’s Day, we remember that their sacrifices laid the foundation for the progress made in empowering women and achieving gender equality.
We remember their commitment and resilience that led to the freedoms and democracy we enjoy today. There is much we can learn from these stalwarts by following in their footsteps.
Women’s Month provides an opportunity to pay tribute to our forebears (though we should celebrate the women of our country every day).
It is also time to take stock of how we’ve done in achieving true gender equality.
Notwithstanding the progress made in empowering women over the past 26 years of democracy, challenges remain.
The majority of South African women continue to live under extremely difficult conditions of poverty, underdevelopment, conflict, insecurity and financial exclusion.
Recently, these conditions have been worsened by the two pandemics of gender-based violence – specifically femicide – and Covid-19.
The generation of 1956 faced challenges of colonialism and the brutal apartheid system.
The current generation is confronted by myriad challenges that include ongoing patriarchy, poverty, gender-based violence. In this regard, femicide continues to shame our nation.
Our clarion call to all South Africans is to do their part to end it and all other forms of violence against women. We demand justice and harsh sentences for the perpetrators of these crimes.
As a country, we should work harder to strengthen the Men’s Movement so that men can play a meaningful role in ending femicide, effecting behavioural change, breaking gender stereotypes and achieving gender equality.
We also need to hear the voices of women of all ages, all ethnicities, all cultures, those in the LGBTI+ community, all faiths, those living with disabilities or who are able-bodied, all economic and industrial sectors and all vocations – including traditional leaders, professionals, entrepreneurs, students and others.
This month is also an opportunity to mobilise women and strengthen their organised formations towards the development of sustainable action coalitions, which are collectives of change-makers of all ages and gender orientations, to complete the task of achieving social, professional, economic and cultural empowerment.
We have to redouble our efforts to promote the inclusion of women in the economic mainstream of our country. We need equal pay for equal work, as well as equal access to career advancement in all sectors.
The emancipation of women is inextricably linked to their full participation in the economy. We should learn from the women who marched in 1956 to demand justice.
Let us commit to working together to achieve gender equality in our lifetime. Let us also leave no stone unturned in eradicating the scourge of femicide and all other forms of gender-based abuse.
As President Cyril Ramaphosa has stated many times, we have the National Strategic Plan “to guide our country’s national efforts against gender-based violence”.
The plan is government and civil society’s multisectoral strategic framework to realise a South Africa that is truly safe, free and equal for all women in the country.
Let us rally around the theme for Women’s Month this year – Generation equality: realising women’s rights for an equal future. We are acutely aware that women, young people and people with disabilities have been hardest hit by Covid-19.
Let us rally behind our women and girls to advance their rights in all our country’s spheres of activity. The empowerment of women is everyone’s business and needs the support of government, business, labour and civil society.
Let us invest in women entrepreneurship to grow our country’s economy.
I call on all members of our society to utilise Women’s Day to recommit to creating a society in which all individuals – boys and girls, men and women, young and old – are free to live, walk, study, earn and prosper in safety and dignity.
Happy Women’s Day!
Nkoana-Mashabane is the minister in the presidency for women, youth and persons with disabilities