While progress has been made in advancing women’s rights, President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday spoke out against the abuse of women and children.
“As we mark Women’s Day this year, South Africa is in the grip of two pandemics – the Coronavirus pandemic and the scourge of gender-based violence and femicide. Ever more women and children are being abused and losing their lives at the hands of men,” said President Ramaphosa.
The President’s comments come as the country commemorates the 64th anniversary of Women’s Day.
“It cannot be that this Women’s Day is drenched in the tears of families who have lost their sisters, daughters and mothers to violence perpetrated by men,” he said.
In his virtual address, the President said the women of 1956 who marched to the Union Buildings, did not fight for their rights alone, but also for the rights of the generations of women to come.
“Sixty-four years ago, our mothers, daughters, sisters and grandmothers stood defiant and proud, united in their demand to live in freedom,” President Ramaphosa said.
Action against GBV
President Ramaphosa said government have taken concrete actions to provide greater support and care to survivors of gender-based violence (GBV).
“We have increased the number of shelters and care centres for survivors and improved the capacity of our police to deal with crimes of gender-based violence. We have made important progress in reforming our laws to give greater protection to survivors of domestic and sexual violence.
“One of the most important ways to reduce the vulnerability of women to gender-based violence is to enable them to become financially independent. We have an opportunity to build a country in which women’s right to dignity, security, safety and protection is non-negotiable,” President Ramaphosa said.
President Ramaphosa said gains have been made in in advancing women’s rights and in broadening women’s access to education among others.
He also highlighted that the lived reality for millions of women is different from the promise contained in our Constitution.
“We know that millions of South African women still live in conditions of poverty and unemployment. They face discrimination and violence. To give effect to our commitment to the upliftment of women, South Africa has joined Generation Equality, a global campaign to achieve gender equality by 2030.”
“As part of this campaign, we are part of two Action Coalitions, one on economic justice and rights and another on gender-based violence and femicide,” he said.
These Action Coalitions mobilise governments, civil society and the private sector for collective action.
The President again emphasised that South Africa faces two pandemics namely COVID-19 and GBV and femicide.
“We can no longer as a nation ignore the deafening cries of women and children for protection, for help and for justice,” he said.
It has been 11 months since the President announced an Emergency Response Action Plan to combat GBV and femicide.
“Since then we have taken concrete actions to provide greater support and care to survivors of gender-based violence. Action taken include the increased number of shelters and care centres for survivors and improved capacity of the police to deal with crimes of GBV.”
Progress in reforming laws to give greater protection to survivors of domestic and sexual violence has also been made.
“One of the most important ways to reduce the vulnerability of women to gender-based violence is to enable them to become financially independent. With the launch of Generation Equality and with the implementation of the National Strategic Plan we have a unique opportunity to refashion our society and the lives of the women of South Africa,” he said in his address.
Action will also be taken to ensure that women are safe from gender-based violence in the workplace.
In her message of support, Minister in the Presidency Responsible for Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities Maite Nkoana-Mashabane called on communities to report cases of abuse against women and children to the police.
“We demand justice and harsh sentences for the perpetrators of gender-based violence and femicide,” she said.
The President also spoke of the commitment to a new social compact with the country’s women.
“This will be driven by bold actions.The first action is to expand the access of women to economic opportunity,” he said.
Among other things, government will set aside 40% of public procurement for women-owned businesses.
National departments will be expected to monitor and report on how many women have participated in each public procurement process.
They will have to develop clear plans on how they will broaden women’s participation over the next 12 months.
“As Chair of the African Union we will also be working on policy guidelines to help member states, on our continent, develop similar interventions.”
The second action is to support women who operate small or micro businesses, including in the informal sector.
The third action is to speed up the process of giving women access to productive assets such as land.
On land reform, government will ensure that this process favours all historically disadvantaged people – including women – in getting land and the means to farm it.
Of the R75 million in COVID-19 relief earmarked for farming input vouchers, 53% of the beneficiaries will be rural women.
“We must ensure that women subsistence and small-scale farmers continue to receive support beyond the lockdown.”
Supporting women businesses
At a time that the country is still under lockdown, President Ramaphosa said COVID-19 relief is also being provided to women-owned SMMEs through development finance institutions.
For example, of the total number of SMMEs benefiting from the Debt Relief Finance Scheme, 33% are women-owned businesses.
“We have prioritised black-owned and women-owned businesses in the procurement of personal protective equipment. There have been a number of success stories of women either starting businesses to produce personal protective equipment or modifying existing business operations.”
He also expressed concern about corruption that has marred our national effort to make personal protective equipment (PPEs) accessible to health workers.
“We expect the law enforcement agencies to find the culprits and ensure they face the full might of the law,” said President Ramaphosa.