Pandemic shows how SA women can ‘organise, collaborate, lead and achieve’, Ramaphosa says

President uses his weekly newsletter to praise the country’s women, saying many were at the forefront of the country’s Covid-19 fight

President Cyril Ramaphosa wished all the women of SA well on International Women's Day. File photo.
President Cyril Ramaphosa wished all the women of SA well on International Women's Day. File photo.
Image: Jairus Mmutle/GCIS

There will be “no meaningful progress” for SA women while they are relegated to “traditional professions, occupations or roles”.

This is according to President Cyril Ramaphosa in his weekly newsletter, published this week on International Women’s Day.

“There can be no meaningful progress for women if our society continues to relegate women to ‘traditional’ professions, occupations or roles, while it is mainly men who sit on decision-making structures.

“The women of our country still face many challenges. They are still underrepresented in the boardrooms and corridors of power. They are still more likely to be poor and unemployed than their male counterparts. They are still vulnerable to gender-based violence and femicide,” he said.

Ramaphosa also used his newsletter to pay tribute to the country’s women “who have played a pivotal role in the country’s response” to Covid-19.

“We salute the resilience and bravery of women front-line workers who worked to fight the pandemic as nurses, doctors, emergency personnel, police and soldiers.

“On this day, let us acknowledge how far we have come as a society thanks to the role of women leaders, particularly in helping the nation through this pandemic. As we have struggled against this disease, women have been present and prominent in almost every arena of life.

“This has set a standard for the kind of society we continue to build. It has inspired and encouraged us to build an equal future,” he said.

He singled out some women, first noting Petronella Benjamin from Eerste River in the Western Cape, who died from Covid-19 days before she was due to retire after 25 years as a nurse.

Ramaphosa also praised Azalet Dube from Doctors Without Borders “who went into communities to raise awareness about the disease, who worked in health facilities as a contract tracer and who provided psycho-social support to families and individuals in distress”.

“The dedication of the nation’s educators has ensured that our young people were able to receive an education despite the disruption caused by the pandemic. We owe a debt of gratitude to the many women who have worked as teachers, principals, lecturers and  administrators at institutions of higher learning,” Ramaphosa said.

The president also recognised the work of Nandi Msezane, who helped raise funds for food support in affected communities, and helped to provide access to mental health support for the LGBTQI+ community during the lockdown.

“Vulnerable women and children affected by violence during the lockdown were helped thanks to the efforts of many non-governmental organisations led by and staffed by women.

“This includes women like Fazila Gany, a long-standing member of the National Shelter Movement, who also sadly passed away from Covid-19. The movement has been critical in ensuring women and children at risk received support and access to services during the pandemic,” said Ramaphosa.

He credited Prof Glenda Gray of the SA Medical Research Council and Prof Linda-Gail Bekker of the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre for leading one of the country’s Covid-19 vaccine clinical trials.

“Research performed by academics on economic vulnerability and poverty trends in SA helped drive an informed relief response. Last year we lost one of the country’s foremost experts on rural poverty, Dr Vuyo Mahlati. At the time she was studying the impact of the pandemic on food security in vulnerable communities, especially small scale farmers.

“In the private sector, women business leaders have been visible in mobilising financial resources to support government’s efforts.

“The Solidarity Fund, which has played such a key role in this regard, is chaired by one of SA’s most prominent businesswomen, Gloria Serobe. Women CEOs, board members and fund managers continue to play a leading role in pushing for their companies to support government’s economic reconstruction and recovery plan,” said Ramaphosa.

The president also recognised the women in his administration, saying  women “lead the many government departments at the forefront of the national relief response”.

“I wish all the women of SA well on this day. Our experience of this pandemic has once more demonstrated women’s capacity to organise, collaborate, lead and achieve,” he said.

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