Ladies and Gentlemen
It is indeed an honour to have been invited to be part of the Young Women Leaders in Conversation Dialogue. I take inspiration from being in a room full of vibrant and inspiring young women.
As we close the celebrations for Women’s Month it is important to acknowledge the role that women played in bringing about a free and democratic South Africa. We should never forget the women who marched to the Union Buildings on 9 August 1956 in defiance of unjust pass laws. Or overlook the bravery of Charlotte Maxeke, who in June 1914, along with 700 women marched in defiance of the pass system in Bloemfontein.
Our history abounds with fierce women who refused to take a step backwards. Queen Mantatisi, the leader of the Tlokwa people was known as a strong, brave and capable leader, who defied all gender stereotypes.
We, together with all South African women are the descendants of these and countless other powerful women.
When I received the invitation to speak at this event, I read up on Activate!
I must say that I am immensely impressed by the brave and inspiring vision of getting young leaders to drive change for the public good across South Africa. I further agree with the assessment of Activate that there are many young South Africans who are talented, motivated and committed to transforming their communities.
Legendary musician Diana Ross once said: “Instead of looking at the past, I put myself ahead twenty years and try to look at what I need to do now in order to get there then.”
These words are so simple, yet so powerful. The journey to the change we want to see begins today, and must continue every day. Our own National Development Plan, the blueprint for a more prosperous and equitable society, also looks ahead to a vision of a much changed South Africa by 2030.
Achieving this vision will require the hard work and dedication of young and committed South Africans such as yourselves. When I look at the vibrant and optimistic faces here today I see the future of our country; I see talented and committed young South Africans who are determined to make a difference in our communities.
I can assure you that you are not alone in this endeavour. Every day I encounter young women in South Africa, who are breaking new ground by challenging the status quo and succeeding.
Since 1994 South Africa has strived to ensure that women enjoy the same rights as their male counterparts in relation to education, employment, property, inheritance and justice. We have also made significant progress in putting in place legislation and policy frameworks for advancing equality and empowerment for women.
I am heartened that the participation of women in the economy continues to grow. More women are now also at the helm of companies and entities in both the public and private sector.
However, this change has not come easy and in many cases it is still too sporadic. Government has therefore introduced the Gender Equality Bill to accelerate the empowerment of women. This far reaching piece of legislation aims to transform the economic and social landscape by advancing 50/50 gender parity for the country. Existing protection and empowerment ideals are also safeguarded by the Commission on Gender Equality, which is mandated to monitor, evaluate and research women’s rights and gender equality.
While these achievements are laudable we still live in a society where women and children are among the most vulnerable in society.
Even as we celebrate Women’s Month we are greeted with horrifying stories in the news of women who are abused, raped and murdered. This is simply not good enough, and I ask that you join me in saying, enough is enough!
I find it disturbing that in many cases of violence and abuse, the attacks occur at the hands of family members or intimate partners. We simply cannot allow this to continue, and we also cannot continue to turn a blind eye to abuse which often happens within our communities or in the homes of our neighbours.
By acting together we can forge a united front with law enforcement authorities in fighting this appalling scourge. Outcome 3 of our Programme of Action is built around the notion that “All people in South Africa are and feel safe”. By working together we can make our communities safe places for women and children to live. Under the outcome, government has specifically targeted reducing levels of serious crime including crimes against women and children.
Fellow powerful women,
We are also working hard to ensure that women are empowered to walk out of abusive relationships.
Enabling all women to reach their potential must therefore be a priority for our society. It is well known that when more women work economies and society prosper. United Nations Women, an organisation which champions gender equality and empowerment of women says that when more women work, economies grow. An increase in female labour force participation — or a reduction in the gap between women and men labour force participation — results in faster economic growth.
It goes without saying that our economy needs to grow at a faster and more sustained pace. It is also imperative that growth is inclusive and provides economic opportunities for the youth and women to thrive.
Dr. Muhammad Yunus, a Bangladeshi banker and economist is one of the foremost advocates for providing opportunities to all in society. He is famous for granting small loans to entrepreneurs too poor to qualify for traditional bank loans. Once empowered, these individuals who were once shunned by society have gone on to drive thriving enterprises.
This is an example of one small action leading to overwhelming societal change.
This is the sort of revolutionary thinking and attitude needed in our country. But it would be a fallacy to think that government has all the answers or can achieve this alone. Concrete and lasting change can only occur with the help and commitment of all in society. Therefore I am excited by interventions such as Activate! – which seeks to empower the youth to play their part in driving economic and social change.
Empowering women and the youth is a priority for government, and our approach to this matter is multifaceted. It rests on the pillars of providing both the required skills and opportunities.
Our country needs entrepreneurs, engineers and a multitude of other skills that will power our economy into the next decade. It is therefore incumbent on government and industry to ensure that our youth acquire the right skills and education needed to grow the economy and productively contribute to our society.
Our National Development Plan calls for a country where everyone embraces their full potential. Often the only thing that prevents people from flourishing are opportunities. Allow me to reassure you that government is committed to providing platforms for people to seize the moment.
I encourage the young go getters, and inspiring women here today to explore the opportunities which are available for funding and mentorship through the Industrial Development Corporation, National Youth Development Agency and the Small Enterprise Finance Agency.
The Small Business Development Ministry is also supporting the aspirations of women who want to enter the economy. Programmes are in place for their greater skills development and re-skilling. We want women to take advantage of these programmes.
Our arsenal of interventions also includes the Youth Employment Accord. The Accord makes several commitments to improve education and skilling of young people; helping them to find jobs and start businesses. While the Youth Employment Tax Incentive is encouraging employers to hire young and less experienced work seekers. At the same time we are actively encouraging businesses to open their workplaces through learnerships and internships for young people.
The workplace and by implication the skills and competencies required for success are rapidly changing. Every young person who has ever applied for a job knows that inevitably the question of experience will arise.
Through the various Technical and Vocational Education Training colleges throughout the country we are actively trying to provide education, training and skills which match the needs of employers. These colleges are giving young people the opportunity to reskill themselves and receive practical experience for life at work, or as entrepreneurs.
The latter especially is sorely needed in our country. We still sit with the phenomena of people searching for work, rather than seizing opportunities to build their own enterprises.
Throughout the world entrepreneurs are viewed as national assets. I strongly agree with this view, and believe that we must create an environment for entrepreneurs to grow and thrive.
Entrepreneurs are big dreamers who see no obstacles; instead they only see opportunities. Every person who succeeds as an entrepreneur typically not only creates economic wealth for the country, but also create jobs and ultimately contribute to building a more prosperous society.
I therefore ask you to think big and act bigger. The opportunities are there but they have to be grabbed with both hands; ultimately it is up to you to step forward and claim your future.
It would be remiss of me to conclude without touching on some of the exciting developments in my sphere of influence.
Through the MDDA we are breathing new life into the television, radio and print media space. With the assistance and support of the MDDA new players and new voices have successfully entered the media space.
I am glad to say that we are also making progress in the digital realm, and the process of migrating from analogue to digital is on track. The primary aim of digital migration is to release valuable spectrum which will be used to provide new services such as wireless and other broadband services.
Digital broadcasting will bring more television channels, more content and allow more choice for consumers. The migration will also result in better quality sound and visuals on television.
In all respects digital is a game changer that will connect rural and urban, rich and poor. It will ensure that South African citizens are able to communicate more effectively with the use of technology.
More importantly it will also create new opportunities for young people such as yourselves. It will breathe new life into the electronic manufacturing industry, and once fully implemented there will be boundless opportunities in the media, ICT and broadcasting space.
Before I close, I would like to share a final thought with you from OR Tambo, the fearless freedom fighter, acclaimed statesman and one of the architects of our Constitution and our democracy.
Later this year in October the nation will celebrate the centenary of the life of this remarkable man. Please follow #ORTambo100 on Twitter for the latest news and developments around the centenary celebrations.
I believe OR was a visionary who instinctively knew what was required, often long before others came to the same realisation.
During his speech at the concluding session of the Conference of the Women`s Section of the ANC in Luanda on 14 September 1981 he made several profound statements on women empowerment.
I will share two with you. While referring to a case where Lindiwe Mabuza was appointed as ANC Chief Representative to the Scandinavian countries, he made a telling statement on power relations between men and women.
He said: “They (women) have a duty to liberate us men from antique concepts and attitudes about the place and role of women in society and in the development and direction of our revolutionary struggle.”
In this short sentence he cut down the notion that women should ever take a backwards step, and encouraged us to take up the fight for our rights and our empowerment.
A bit later in the same speech he said: “It remains true that the burden that women carry is seldom recognised. Their silent fortitude as they toil under the weight of manmade hardships often passes unnoticed and unsung.”
These words were said in 1981 and although South Africa is now a very different place, we still carry a heavy burden. Everyday millions of unsung women do extraordinary things. We, the mothers, sisters, aunts and daughters of the nation must never forget that we are the brave and inspirational women who will ensure that we move South Africa forward.
I thank you.