words of Hope and despair

ABOUT three quarters of South African women under 30 are unemployed, and those lucky enough to have jobs still have low wages and bad working conditions.

This was the bleak message from Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavion Women's Day.

Vavi said the federation would launch a campaign against sexual harassment later this month.

President Jacob Zuma commemorated the day at a rally in Vryheid in KwaZulu-Natal.

He said the government would try to "speed up the implementation of programmes that will improve the lives of thousands of women who live in abject poverty".

He also saluted "working-class women in the factories, who work long hours to support their families". grandmothers who raise their grandchildren, rural women, farmworkers and domestic workers.

He said women had proved their worth in many fields and contributed to the development of the country.

ANC spokesperson Jessie Duarte said the creation of the Ministry for Women, Youth Children and the Disabled showed that the ANC was "committed" to improving the lives of women.

DA leader Helen Zille said too many women's lives had been shut down before their 20th birthdays as a result of teenage pregnancy.

She said the government should enforce maintenance payments, and "bring charges of statutory rape against any adult man who has sex with an under-aged girl, regardless of whether it was 'consensual' or not".

"Men must realise that they do not own women, " said Zille, who has also proposed offering women education grants of R25 000 on their 21st birthdays - if they have completed secondary school without falling pregnant.

The National Health Education and Allied Workers' Union called on the department of labour to protect "exploited domestic workers and farmworkers".

Independent Democrats leader Patricia de Lille said at a rally in George in Western Cape that "women's rights are mostly enjoyed by women in the upper echelons of society.

"What is undeniable is that these rights are not enjoyed by rural, poor women. Women in power must reach out so that marginalised women get their rights."

In Stellenbosch about 200 women farmworkers marched on local supermarkets, complaining about high food prices.

Fatima Shabodien of the Women on Farms Project also hit out at farmers for giving houses only to those women farmworkers with male partners, and for limiting women to work as badly paid seasonal workers.