Women must lead the struggle for a society free of social & economic ills - Ramaphosa

Andisiwe Makinana Political correspondent
President Cyril Ramaphosa announced his cabinet reshuffle on August 5 2021.
President Cyril Ramaphosa announced his cabinet reshuffle on August 5 2021.
Image: GCIS / Elmond Jiyane

President Cyril Ramaphosa has called on SA women to lead the struggle for a society that is free of inequality, discrimination, marginalisation, poverty and violence and the patriarchal relations that cause them.

Ramaphosa, delivering a speech on the 65th anniversary of the anti-pass women's march to the Union Buildings, said just as the women of 1956 fought against the injustices of their time, the women of today are engaged in a new frontier of struggle.

“It is a struggle for equal rights, dignity, economic liberation and freedom from violence," he said.

"Women have always been instrumental in the advancement of the human cause. They have played a crucial role in the struggle for freedom, justice and equality and yet it is women who always bear the brunt of inequality, discrimination, marginalisation, poverty and violence,” he added.

Like the women of 1956, the present generation of women must lead the struggle for a society that is free of these ills and particularly the patriarchal relations that cause them, he said.

Such a society is both possible and absolutely necessary and by working together, by refusing to submit, SA will achieve true gender equality in our lifetime, said Ramaphosa.

But for SA to do all this, it has to eradicate all forms of gender-based violence, a scourge that Ramaphosa had previously described as a second pandemic. At the time, he said he was appalled at the rate at which women were being killed in the country - and that it needed to stop. 

He announced various measures to curb the spike in GBV, but said it was unfortunately not enough and that the country needed to stand together and not be silenced.

On Monday, Ramaphosa said there had been significant strides made by his government to fight GBV and cited legislative changes that are on the cards, saying that abused women were being supported.

As part of the work to provide justice and support to survivors of gender-based violence:

  • 32 regional courts have been designated as sexual offences courts in various parts the country.

  • Around 3,500 family violence, child protection and sexual offences investigating officers have received specialised training to do their work.

  • Twelve public buildings have been renovated and repurposed to be used as shelters, and work has been done to ensure that all police stations in the country have sexual assault evidence kits.

On legal reforms, Ramaphosa spoke about legislation before parliament dealing with domestic violence, bail and the sentencing of offenders, as well as broadening the scope of sexual offences.

“Our courts are handing down harsh penalties and sentences to those found guilty of gender-based violence and conviction rates in sexual offences cases have improved.

“We will soon ratify the International Labour Organisation’s Convention 190, which addresses sexual harassment and violence in the workplace,” he said.

The government has allocated about R21bn over the next three years to support the six pillars of the National Strategic Plan which was launched last year to end gender-based violence and femicide.

A critical pillar of the plan is to ensure women’s economic and financial inclusion, said Ramaphosa.

“One way we are achieving this is by creating procurement opportunities for women- owned businesses within the public sector supply chain,” he said.

Ramaphosa also noted that the impact of the government-imposed lockdown has been particularly harsh on women and children.

“When growth at the economic level stalls, when development is halted and when the economy loses jobs, we know that it is women who bear the brunt disproportionately.”

He said while the social and economic relief measures implemented last year provided support to women workers, small business owners and grant recipients, the levels of employment and income among women have not recovered as fast as that of their male counterparts.

“We are therefore working to ensure that women benefit from the most recent relief measures and from our Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan,” he said.

Among the government's plans is developing a financial inclusion policy to address barriers experienced by women-owned businesses and low-income earners to access credit, grants and other financial transactions, he said. 

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