Sunday, August 12, 2007

Women and Development in South Africa: ANC Government Promotes Gender Equality

Women's development - ixingephi!

Letter From South African President Thabo Mbeki

This edition of ANC Today is published the day after we celebrated National Women's Day. Once again, we extend our best wishes to the women of our country as they, and the rest of our population, engage in activities targeted at advancing women's empowerment and development, to accelerate our advance to the creation of a non-sexist society.

In its January 8th Anniversary Statement this year the National Executive Committee of our movement drew attention to the centrality of the struggle to defeat poverty. The Statement said:

"At the ANC's National General Council (NGC) in June 2005, the commissions on the Theory of Development reported that, 'the central challenge our movement faces in the Second Decade of Freedom is to defeat poverty and substantially reduce the level of unemployment. This means that the ANC and government must produce a coherent development strategy... identifying where we need to move to and what strategic leaps we need to get there.'

"In 2004, we received a clear mandate to lead the country to lift our economy to a higher growth trajectory, and position it more effectively to create work and push back the frontiers of poverty. In 2007, we must work even harder, together, further to implement this mandate.

Nothing about women without the women

"We must take care to ensure that women are integrally involved and targeted in the design and implementation of our economic empowerment programmes. As a section of society who, despite comprising more than half of our people, continue to confront additional economic disadvantages, all our programmes need to have a capacity to benefit and empower women. This will only be achieved by involving women in the process, and ensuring that they are able to help direct and monitor all the work in this regard."

It is clear that one of the outstanding features of this year's Women's Month is that the women of our country have indeed responded to this call. Various important interventions and initiatives by women have effectively placed the women of our country in a leading position in terms of the design and implementation of our socio-economic empowerment programmes, and therefore the determination of the national agenda in terms of what needs to be done effectively to benefit and empower women.

The clear message coming from the women of our country is that:

in terms of national policy, our country is set on the right course in terms of the empowerment and development of women;
our government has elaborated many interventions and established institutions that are appropriately focused with regard to the task to advance the objective of women's emancipation; and,
now is the time to implement new programmes specifically targeted at accelerating women's development, while ensuring that we improve the effectiveness of all existing programmes.

SAWID and our immediate tasks

The women's network, South African Women in Dialogue (SAWID), held its Annual Conference on 2-6 July at the University of Pretoria, under the theme, "From Dialogue to Development: Women Uniting to Eradicate Poverty." Below we reflect on some, but not all the outcomes of this Dialogue.

In the principal document adopted at the Dialogue, SAWID said: "As a point of departure, we acknowledge the continuing poverty eradication and economic development work that is undertaken by government. There is no doubt, that today, the South African government invests much more in poverty eradication and development than in many countries.

"This is significant, especially in the global environment where many governments are systematically cutting back on social investments and investments in people. However, looking at poverty and its feminisation, there is no doubt that in the main, what informs (our) recommendations are women's own experiences, different realities, challenges and the alienation that arise from this daily grind.

"Of necessity therefore, our dialogue has focussed not only on macro-level policy planning but rather on whether it is in fact working, as we feel it in our daily lives. These carefully considered contributions and insights, seek to deepen the poverty eradication work currently undertaken in South Africa.

"Where do we go, when we do not get any response to our proposals? What do we do when we are not able to take our initiatives forward because government systems keep changing? What do we do, when we are told in municipal offices that the officials who dealt with our problems are no longer there? Our government has adopted land restitution as an important project. What do we do, when we are told that the very land we have been allocated is part of a land claim and therefore our loans cannot be approved?

"Women have shared many facets of the ways in which bureaucratisation of development has affected and in fact killed their initiatives. These are women who are committed to improving their own conditions as well as contributing to the development of their own communities. Sixinga phi -where do we get stuck?" - (and more idiomatically ­- ixingephi!)

To respond to the challenges of development as they experienced them, the SAWID delegates proposed "An integrated policy and planning that places women at the centre". Specifically they suggested that:

"Co-ordinated poverty eradication strategies must be woven into the main planning and policy development processes;
"Women must not only feature as a key target group in policy planning but also as shapers and developers of policy;
"Policy Planning and Development must be integrated within government and should also include implementation, enforcement as well as monitoring and evaluation mechanisms.
"Policy Planning and Development should be taken as a central function of an integrated governmental system and used as a reference point by all departments; and,
"All government systems and strategies to eradicate poverty, must be informed by this integrated approach."
A Development Fund & a Women's Ministry

SAWID also suggested the establishment of "A Women's Development Fund". In this regard it said: "Women are not outside of the mainstream economy. They are part of it and by right they should benefit in all economic, development financing and other institutional mechanisms that are in place.

"However, from the experiences shared by women throughout the SAWID platforms, from 2003 to the present, funding remains a key challenge. It is important that such a fund be looked upon as an intervention and not taken to mean all women's developmental needs will be taken care of by this fund."

SAWID also commented on its "Development Caravan". In this regard it said: "As part of SAWID's contribution to development and poverty eradication, the model of a development caravan has been developed. The development caravan framework is based on an inclusive framework that is holistic approach. This model looks at the needs of communities, families, self-reliance and enhancement of knowledge, including indigenous knowledge systems which are rich in our communities. The SAWID development caravan model provides a useful reference and pilot project which must be tried and continuously built upon."

SAWID also addressed the challenge of "Strengthening Institutional Arrangements for Women's Empowerment". Among other things in this regard, like the ANC Women's League, it proposed the establishment of a Women's Ministry, saying:

"The very suggestion of a Women's Ministry is likely to cause concern. Some people, especially those who participated in the earlier debates on the NGM [National Gender Machinery] are likely to think of this as going backwards. Yes, it is true, we know that there is a possibility that the Women's Ministry is likely to be ghettoised.

"In calling for a Women's Ministry, we are also anxious that this structure should not be seen as the main caretaker of all issues pertaining to women. We believe that the Women's Ministry should take to a higher and deeper level, the brief of the Office on the Status of Women. Its work must in the main concentrate on co-ordination and monitoring but it must also be well-resourced, to make decisions to enforce compliance."

SAWID & the Government

Recognising the importance of these various proposals and the SAWID process itself, our government has interacted and continues to interact with SAWID. It has agreed with SAWID that we need a comprehensive and coordinated anti-poverty or pro-poor programme, improving on the existing interventions and integrated in all government programmes.

The July Cabinet Lekgotla considered the work done on this important matter and agreed that government should aim to finalise this work by the time the January 2008 Cabinet Lekgotla meets. It will work with SAWID and other stakeholders to finalise this programme. The programme will include the kind of work being piloted by the SAWID Development Caravan, and make other interventions to improve the government's Policy Planning and Development capacity and process.

Our government also agrees that the government machinery for the advancement of the agenda for the emancipation of women should be strengthened. Precisely because this task must be carried out by government as a whole, since 1994 to date, our government has determined that the work of "co-ordination and monitoring" should be located in the Presidency, to avoid the "ghettoising" of the gender question.

For this reason, for some years now, the Minister in the Presidency has had the issue of women's emancipation as one of his responsibilities. Our government accepts that the institutional capacity of this Ministry must be strengthened to improve its capacity to discharge its responsibility.

The Women's Retirement Fund

Following the July SAWID Dialogue, the Presidential Women's Working Group met at the Union Buildings on 7 August. The meeting considered the immensely important initiative proposed by the women who participate in this Working Group to form a Women's Retirement Fund, and agreed that it should be launched.

The Fund will be focused on significantly improving "social security and retirement provisions for women and vulnerable women workers". It will be managed by women and invest in a way that benefits the women of South Africa. The women leaders responsible for this major initiative stated that the Fund would: "Harness the collective influence of current retirement savings of women to create a greater role for women, and increase (security and retirement) coverage and income security of vulnerable groups, such as domestic workers and women in rural areas."

In the statistics they presented, which emphasised the central and strategic consideration that we cannot defeat poverty in our country without defeating poverty against women, they said:

On average, women live 7 years longer than men.
42% of our women are breadwinners, and 44% are single mothers.
32% are divorced, while 83% are responsible for their children.
60% of the widows are destitute and depend on their children for their livelihood.
Only 55% of our women make their own financial decisions.
66% of married women rely on their spouses to take the financial decisions affecting the family.
As regards young women of 25 years and below, financial decisions are taken by their parents.
These statistics present a graphic picture of the work our society must do to achieve the universally agreed objective of the empowerment and emancipation of the women of South Africa. The Women's Retirement Fund is a critically important initiative to respond to this reality.

The Women Entrepreneurs & Cooperative Funds

However, important as it is, the Fund is only one of the focused interventions we must celebrate during Women's Month. Another is the Women Entrepreneurs Fund which was also considered during the meeting of the Presidential Women's Working Group. Originally proposed by Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka while she was Deputy Minister at the Department of Trade and Industry (the dti), this Fund has been championed and will see the light of day thanks to the leadership of current DTI Deputy Minister, Elizabeth Thabethe.

This important Fund, the counterpart of the Umsobomvu Youth Fund, is an initiative of the Ministry and Department of Trade and Industry, and will be managed by the Industrial Development Corporation, (IDC). It will provide finance and comprehensive support to women small and medium entrepreneurs precisely for the women to empower and develop themselves, and break their subjection to an inherited and anti-democratic unequal power relationship with the male species of our society.

Following the inauguration of the Women Entrepreneurs Fund, our government will also launch a Fund for Cooperatives. This Fund will be linked to the important Working for Jobs programme which our government has already initiated under the leadership of the Deputy President of the Republic, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, actively assisted by Percy Barnevik, member of our International Investment Council.

The Working for Jobs programme targets the poorest women in our country, including rural women, seeking to engage them in productive economic activity that structurally links them to the mainstream First Economy, and thus act as a bridge between the First and Second Economies. Among other things, the initiative to establish the Fund for Cooperatives responds to the reality that women constitute the overwhelming majority of members of our country's cooperative movement.

Women's empowerment & the ATKV

The second last of the women's empowerment and development initiatives I would like to mention, and believe we should celebrate during Women's Month, has been taken by the ATKV-DAMES. The ATKV, Afrikaanse Taal and Kultuurvereniging - Afrikaans Language and Cultural Society - was established in 1930 as part of the struggle of the Afrikaner people to liberate themselves from English domination.

Today, the ATKV constitutes one of our most important national civil society organisations, with 180,000 members, committed to the objective to build a new South Africa that respects and implements the goal of "no discrimination against any person".

In a recent document the organisation says: "The ATKV regards social upliftment of all the people of South Africa as an essential prerequisite to a successful South Africa and the Ladies Committee of the Board of Directors of the ATKV has been tasked with this function within the organisation.

"(The short term objectives of our skills development programme, which includes the development of small business entrepreneurship, are to ensure that):

" Individual people are empowered, supported and uplifted;
Family members have employment and an income;
Women are able to cater for their children in an adequate way;
(Everybody achieves) increased self-esteem; and,
Vulnerable children are supported.

"We can change the world by starting to care for one child. One step at a time, ATKV-Dames will continue to look for opportunities to care for children, to start and support projects to change the destiny of Africa's children.(Together with our financial partners, we must make) a positive difference for the generations to come."

Charlotte Maxeke & Aliwal North

On Women's Day, 9 August, I was privileged to participate in an inspiring celebration in Aliwal North in the Eastern Cape, after addressing the National Women's Day Rally in Kimberley, Northern Cape.

In Aliwal North I was privileged to join the Premier and other women leaders of the Eastern Cape, as well as the women of the Province as a whole, as they celebrated the developmental advances they have made as a result of support extended to them through the Charlotte Maxeke Women's Economic Development Fund established by the Government of the Eastern Cape in partnership with three of our national banks.

This wonderfully joyful occasion made the incontrovertible statement that indeed the women of our country and our society as a whole have much to rejoice about as we celebrate Women's Month. For this we salute and thank all the women of our country including those organised in SAWID, the Presidential Women's Working Group, ATKV-Dames, the women in all spheres of government, and others such as those in the ANC Women's League and other political formations, and the Progressive Women's Movement.

But even as we celebrate what we have achieved, and implement vigorously what we have agreed, we must continue to confront the reality that we have much to do to achieve the objective of the total emancipation of the women of our country. To move forward continuously, we must always act to remove the obstacles that impede our progress. Thus, at all times, we must ask ourselves the question - ixingephi!


A Short History of the ANC Women's League
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The ANC when it was formed in 1912, did not accept women as members. There was no broad women's organisation during the first decades of the ANC's existance.

In 1931 the Bantu Women's League (BWL) was recognised as the women's branch of the ANC. Its first president was Charlotte Maxeke. The BWL was mostly involved in passive resistance and concentrated on the fight against passes for black women.

In 1943 women were formally admitted as ANC members. The ANCWL was formed in 1948. In spite of these organisational changes, women were still discriminated against by ANC men who located politics in a male environment. Women were used mainly for catering and mobilisation.

The issues of passes, Bantu education and beer halls dominated the activities of the women in the 1950s. Key activities were the Defiance Campaign of 1952 which confronted Verwoerd with the Women's Charter, and the mass demonstrations of August 9 1956 (which became Women's Day).

Organisationally, the Federation of South African Women, formed in 1954 as an umbrella body, helped the ANCWL's activities to spread. It was the first indication that the ANCWL wanted to be involved in improving the lot of women nationally, and not only within their own organisation. Federation brought together from the ANCWL, Coloured People's Organisation, Transvaal and Natal Indian Congress of Democrats.

The impact of women's activities led the male leadership to recognise the potential of the women's struggle. Thus started the integration of women into ANC structures. In 1956 ANCWL President Lilian Ngoyi was elected the first women to join the ANC NEC.

The banning of the ANC and ANCWL in 1960 disrupted the process of integration of women into the central leadership circle. Regional organisers became important since they directed and managed the resistance on the ground.

Famous activists of the day included Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Dorothy Nyembe, Sophie du Bruyn, Ray Alexander and Rahima Moosa.

Even if the ANCWL activities gave them a new standing among ANC men, women still found themselves in a disadvantaged situation: they lacked skills and education; they were responsible for their children and their households; and the traditional image of women as weak, dependent creatures hampered the real involvement of women in the ANC structures and policies.

But internally the ANCWL struggled to developed an identity and systematic, consistent approach to policies. An ANCWL constitution was adopted.

Activities in this era centred mainly on mass action concerning passes and education.

In 1984 the ANC accepted the attribute "non-sexist" in its vision for a new South Africa.

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