SPEECHES: Ms Ayanda Dlodlo, Women's Empowerment Conference hosted by EThekwini Municipality, Durban International Convention Centre, Durban

Date: 6 Aug 2015

Your Worship, the Executive Mayor of Ethekwini Municipality- Cllr James Nxumalo

Distinguished invited speakers,

Esteemed delegates,

Women of eThekwini Metropolitan region, who we celebrate today,

Programme Director,

We all dream of a life and a world in which all of humanity, all in its diversity, flourishes. In seeking to fulfil the promise of a better tomorrow, women have given selflessly of themselves for generations in a pursuit to achieve greater good. As we celebrate Women's Month, we do so in honour of the women in our lineage that would not be silenced by an unjust government and in recognition of the pioneers of the women's movement in this country, realising that when you empower a woman, you empower the nation.

Women by their very own nature, nurture a country, society and communities into living, breathing entities. Owing to their formidable energy, women continue to rise above physical, emotional, mental, historical, and other barriers. When empowered, women have an intrinsic ability to change the world.

I am honoured to be here today, not only speaking on the issue of women empowerment, which is one that is very dear to me, but also addressing a vibrant group of women who have it well within their grasp to change this world for better.

We are here today, owing to the sacrifices of the heroines who fought for the emancipation of women, our country will forever be indebted to them. Due to their selfless acts, South African women have taken their rightful place in parliament, government, the private sector and civil society.

Reflecting on South Africa's illustrious history, we have witnessed women rise above diverse challenges, we have seen them defy the odds against them to assume leadership roles in almost all spheres of life.

Today we recognise the pioneers of the women's movement in this country, dating back to 1913 when Charlotte Maxeke led the way in establishing the African National Congress Women's League and encouraging women to engage in the struggle for freedom.

The Founding Conference of the Federation of South African Women in 1954 adopted the Women's Charter which outlined the aspirations of women for national liberation, emancipation, including political participation of and equality for women.

We look back in awe of the 20 000 crowd of women led by Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa and Sophia Williams du Bruyn, that took to the Union Buildings in 1956, in protest against pass laws.

This march was significant in that women had once again proven outdated and inaccurate, the stereotype of women as politically inept and immature, as beings that solely exist tied to the home. As we celebrate Women's Month annually, we do so in tribute to the bold women who marched to the Union Buildings on 9 August 1956.

These strong women and those who followed them would serve as strong inspiration for the group of young women and girls, who would become politically active in the 1980's, at a time when South Africa was reaching breaking point.

The apartheid state had intensified repression and resistance, and had intensified to the extent that it could no longer be repressed. That was the point where many young women and girls, myself included, took a decision to join the liberation movement.

Many a times I have had to respond to the question on what we young women and girls were thinking joining the struggle for liberation at such a tender age.

For the majority of us, that was our only reality, that was our only truth, and that was our burden of existence; our path had been chosen for us and we simply could not spare ourselves in the battle to emancipate ourselves, our people and future generations to come.

I cannot adequately reflect on the role of women in the struggle without telling the story of Oliver Tambo's Flowers of the Revolution. This is a story of young girls, who dedicated their lives to fight a just war in a quest to liberate our people.

We chose to sacrifice our youth, to join the ranks of Umkhonto weSizwe in order to lend our weight to the struggle against apartheid. We lost our childhood and youth, gave up the comfort of our homes and all things familiar to become adults ahead of our time.

Today I would like to look back at a journey traversed by myself and many of my peers, who took it upon ourselves to defy the status quo, to tackle and take head-on this giant, driven by a yearning for equality, peace, justice and freedom for all.

As we celebrate the emancipation of women, I would like to recognise the women of South Africa who were involved in the armed struggle, especially those who perished in battle.

Makhosi Nyoka is one of the cadres I am honoured and proud to speak of, who served under my command as part of the military intelligence unit. Makhosi would never fail to take an instruction or order to perform her duties and sometimes feigned good health when she was not well. She was one of the most dedicated, disciplined and heroic women in the armed struggle that I had the pleasure to work with. Sadly on the day that she was deployed to South Africa, no one did reconnaissance to ensure that she and her unit had safe passage into the country. On this day we remember Makhosi Nyoka and the two other female unit members who lost their lives on the 8th of June 1988, in the Piet Retief Massacre.

On this day we think too of the SA women who have not lost hope and look upon the government of the day and the ruling party to ensure that the remains of their loved ones are brought back home, buried in dignity so that they too can begin the process of healing and final closure.

At the burial of those who died at the battle on the banks of the Mutale River, Mrs Nkabinde a mother of one of those who being buried said "our wombs carried soldiers, not out of choice but out of the will of God."

Mrs Lukhele also a mother to one of the fallen cadres further added "we are relieved that we now have closure on this matter, the chapter on the whereabouts of the remains of our children's will be closed, and their course of struggle will never be deserted".

In closure a survivor of the Mutale battle said "it is in their humanity and strength that these mothers suffered silently licking their wound. In the course of struggle we had mothers who put flowers on our graves as MK cadres and wrote poems about our patriotism".

This is the story of families who had waited 25 years for the remains of their loved ones. This was the day they had been long waiting for, a day where a mother would finally know where the remains of her child are. Many more families still wait for this day to arrive.

Due to these sacrifices of many unsung heroes and heroines, we now live in a country governed by a Constitution which recognises women as equal citizens, with equal rights and responsibilities.

Great strides have been made to improve the status of women. Today South Africa now boasts a Constitution that lays the foundation for an open society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights and is hailed worldwide as very progressive.

Since the advent of democracy and freedom South Africa has seen a number of women taking up leadership positions in areas previously dominated by men. One of the success stories of our democracy is that the representation of women in political and decision-making positions. Involving women in governance constitutes on of South Africa's globally acclaimed success stories.

Prior to 1994 the representation of women in Parliament sat at a mere 2.7%, which following the first democratic elections, women representation in the National Assembly stood at 27.7%. Following the elections last year, an astounding 43% of Cabinet is comprised of women minsters, with women deputy ministers making up 46% of the total number of deputy ministers - a total representation of 41% of women in the National Assembly.

The election of Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in July 2012 as the first woman in Africa to chair the African Union Commission; the appointment of Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, former Deputy President of the country, as the Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women; and the positioning of other South African women such as former Minister Bridgette Mabandla on the Panel of Eminent Persons on the African Peer Review Mechanism, Ms Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, Special Gender Envoy to the African Development Bank; Ms Rashida Manjoo, Special Rapporteur on Violence against women, its causes and consequences; Judge Navi Pillay as the High Commissioner for Human Rights and formerly as a judge in the International Criminal Court (ICC) is an indication of the impact that women in decision-making have in winning the trust and confidence of citizens in South Africa, on the continent and internationally.

Currently, women are heading portfolios such as the Commissioner of Police; the Public Protector; CEO of the South African Human Rights Commission; CEO of the Commission for Gender Equality; CEO of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange; Chairperson of the South African Law Reform Commission, and the first female Deputy Auditor-General, among others.

Prior to 1994, South African had only one woman Judge, whilst today women judges make up almost 28% of the Judiciary.

Women are making inroads into business leadership and heading up global giants in the country such as the head of ABSA bank. Women own conglomerates in the country with some business women being millionaires. Women also can be found as chairpersons of corporate boards in the country, while others are entering and leading in previously male dominated territories, for example, the head of the Palaeontology Department in the University of Cape Town is a woman, and the South African Airways (SAA) now has women pilots, some flying international bound flights. Women are in the defence force, navy and air force in South Africa. In fact women make up almost 40% of the Senior Management Service in the public service and overall women compromise more than 50% of employees in the public service.

Women have entered previously dominated areas in the corporate world, and currently constitute 3.6% of CEO positions, 5.5% of chairperson positions, 17.1% of directorships and 21.4% of executive management positions.

Numerous policies and programmes have been developed by government to give effect to these progresses and to improve the overall living conditions of women.

The Department of Trade and Industry, is but one of the departments that seek to empower women economically. Its B'avumile skills development programme is a women's empowerment capacity-building initiative aimed at developing women's expertise in the production of marketable goods and the creation of formal enterprises in the creative industry.

In seeking to accelerate women's economic empowerment and the development of women-owned enterprises through the recognition of technology-based business applications, the Technology for Women in Business programme was established. It seeks to unlock constraints to enterprise innovation and growth as well as global competitiveness.

Through this programme, girls are encouraged to pursue careers in previously male dominated fields of engineering, science and technology by facilitating access to educational information, career opportunities, and academic extra-mural learning programmes to ensure their future contribution to the country's economic development and growth by becoming creators of wealth and job opportunities.

The South African Women Entrepreneurs' Network, SAWEN, was adopted to fast-track support provided to women in addressing challenges faced when establishing, strengthening and sustaining their enterprises. Some of the support services under this banner include effective network forums, training and capacity-building programmes, the provision of pertinent business information and advice that leads to business opportunities, to name a few.

To ensure that women function optimally economically, their health and social situations need to be improved. Inequality and the quality of healthcare remain an area of concern.

A number of interventions have been put in place by the Department of Health to improve women's health, increase their life expectancy, decrease maternal and child mortality, combat HIV and AIDS and decrease the burden of Tuberculosis.

Social assistance continues to form an important part of government's strategy to fight the triple challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment, which affect women the most.

Through interventions such as Project Mikhondzo, the Social Development Department continues to interact with communities in a bid to tackle social problems such as poverty, malnutrition, violence against women and child-headed households.

Following the 2014 general election, the ruling party in government took a bold step to place radical economic transformation as a priority in the fifth administration and established the Ministry in the Presidency Responsible for Women and proclaimed the Department of Women, to ensure that the women's agenda is elevated to the highest office in the land. Its location is intended to ensure that women benefit from all programmes aimed at redressing the effects of apartheid and patriarchy.

Government has made significant progress in empowering women in the political, public and educational spheres, but not everything is rosy. The marginalisation of poor women severely compromises progresses made.

As I conclude, I which to highlight the challenge you are faced with as business women present here today. We know that a good healthy society does not automatically emerge on its own and stands firm. It needs to be emerged and for its emergence, women play a crucial role.

Women are after all the bedrock of our society, we know that much of our successes as a people can be attributed to women or are inspired by women.

Aware of the opportunities that exist to empower yourselves economically and to ultimately uplift your communities, you are indeed a valuable asset as we continue in our goal to attain a better life for all.

I trust your focus at this conference will be on how you can work with government to improve the livelihood of all South Africans.

Government has put in place numerous measures to make South Africa a better country for all its citizens, but government cannot achieve this alone.

Bold, courageous and fearless women and men are required, to give selflessly of themselves, to carry the baton from the previous generations of fighters for equality and human rights.

Your time is now to chart a path for a better tomorrow, a tomorrow in which all of our people flourish.

I thank you.

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