Tuesday, September 04, 2007

What Women Need To Do: Speech by Dr. Frene Ginwala of South Africa


6 August 2007, University of KwaZulu Natal

Thank you for inviting me to be with you as you mark South Africa Women's Day. This gives me the opportunity to share with you some reflections on August 9th.

There will be many events - celebration of women and their progress, remembering women who contributed to this progress and to the liberation of South Africa, and noting the challenges that remain to whatever one sees as the objective.

I agree with this, but I also want to raise some of my concerns.

-Is the emphasis - too much on celebration? Have we stopped to consider what should be our objective - to refresh our minds, and how to achieve our objective?
-What are the criteria to measure progress?
-Is August 9th the day for Women - or is it the day when men and women come together to reflect at the past and commit to a non-sexist future?
-August 9th was initially designed by the United Nations as the International Day in support of struggles of women of South Africa and Namibia. What has happened to the international dimension of this Day and how do we mark it?

There is much to celebrate and acclaim. The number of women in political organizations: South Africa leads globally -way ahead of established democracies - UK, USA, France. But behind the Scandinavian countries. In Parliament - we are behind Rwanda!

In the economy - Women are 42% of employees, 19% of executive managers, 13% of Directors, and only 6.6% of Chief Executive Officers or Chairmen of Boards.

When it comes to remuneration, South Africa follows global patterns: Women usually enter at the same level as men but they quickly fall behind - as the world of remunerated labour - the workplace - is shaped by men to suit men, and penalise those who have family responsibilities.

So my question is - what are women doing to change the working environment? How many here have engaged in making changes in this and other Institutions of Higher Learning? Do you feel responsible for the advance of women in the academy from students through to the very highest level? Are these questions we should be asking on Women's day?

Yes we must ask - but what is your answer? And what of women at the lowest rungs of pay e.g. domestic workers and teachers etc?

The improvement in the political environment and policies such as employment equity did not come about by accident, or the goodwill of some political leaders - but through many decades of struggle by women in every sphere of life. African women were petitioning President Steyn of the Free State in 1898 - 104 years ago. Women indentured workers in this province (KwaZulu Natal, were striking against labour conditions as early as 1862: one hundred and forty five years ago. This year 2007 marks the 95th year since African and Coloured women went to Cape Town to petition the Union Parliament that was then only 2 years old.

Last year we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Women's march to the Union Buildings. Do you know that was the first occasion when any protest action by the oppressed was taken to Pretoria? In all the turbulence of the mass actions of the 1950s, Pretoria was never the focus. It was the women who dared - it was the women who dared - and it is this daring and refusing to be intimidated that allows us to celebrate today.

Though much remains to be done, the official policies of today are the product of that daring, that courage, sacrifice and contribution by many, many, women before us.

We who are here, in this room, are the beneficiaries, of those struggles. But in the current reality of South Africa we are a minority - a privileged minority regardless of the problems and difficulties each of us may face.

Our criteria of progress cannot be simply increasing the number of privileged women - more women in Parliament, more Vice Chancellors, Professors, CEOs. more professionals of various kinds. These are necessary objectives - but the gauge of progress lies elsewhere.

In this year 2007, in South Africa the poorest of the poor, the most disadvantaged, those most in need of the very basics for survival are rural women. The democratic government has provided more clean water and sanitation, electricity and some housing, and clinics, all of which have improved the conditions in which women live. It has not been enough. The gap between these women and ourselves, the privileged, - grows bigger. The measuring gauge of progress for our country and for each one of us, must be the condition and status of rural women.

Once again, question. What are we doing about this, and what is each one of us doing to improve the condition of rural women? How are we contributing, as privileged women to reducing poverty in South Africa?

There are university outreach programs. Are they enough or could more be done? Have women involved themselves sufficiently?

What of the special skills we have acquired. How do we use them outside of our employment, to improve the conditions of the poor?

I would like to commend the actions of women lawyers. They have come together as an Association - and in this month will be providing free legal advice to women across the country through legal clinics established by the Ministry of Justice. This is an example that all of us need to follow within our spheres of skills. There are other ways - which each must consider for themselves.

Another area of concern that cuts across poverty and wealth is the high levels of violence against women and children in this country. Should we not be giving concerted attention to this - is there enough research into the causes and remedies? To what extent is the curriculum in schools engendered, as well as courses and programs in Institutions of Higher education. How do we inculcate mutual respect across race and gender? Ensure male students do not feel threatened by women's progress?

Even more, how do we as women deal with male aggression as they resist any diminishing of their patriarchal power. Let me read you a recent report of events in Umlazi, (The Mercury - 31/07/07):

"A defiant stand against a ban on women wearing trousers in Umlazi's T Section may have led to Zandile Mpanza being targeted two weeks ago.

"Mpanza was assaulted, stripped naked and paraded through the streets before her house was burnt down, all because she wore trousers.

"Yesterday, Mpanza, 25 said that she and her sister had been warned to stop wearing trousers in the area.

"About two months ago, four men came to my home and said that they had been sent by the community to tell my sister and I to stop wearing pants," she said.

"Mpanza had responded that she would not stop and had asked what was wrong with wearing pants.

"The four could only reply that it was the law of the area. Mpanza had also asked where the law was written.

"She and her sister had continued to wear trousers after the warning.

"Mpanza feels that she was targeted because she had been defiant and had resisted the oppressive "law".

"She now lives in fear for her life because the ringleader of the mob that attached her, Thulani Cele, has disappeared."

Clearly the authorities need to act. But is that enough? I may have missed the reports - but have women spoken out and supported Zandile Mpanza? Have women called on the authorities to protect her and act against those who attacked her?

Zandile goes on to say:

"Where are women's rights? Why must we vote and still be told what to do and wear? Then let's rather not vote because you will still be told what to wear.

"I don't think that anyone cares about women in South Africa, otherwise Cele wouldn't have been released and someone would have come to our aid.

"They say that women have rights, but I haven't seen them," she said.

"Mpanza vowed to pursue the matter until she received justice.

"I want to see this until the end. I will fight for justice. Even if they harm me, I will fight for what's right."

Do we leave Zandile to fight alone?

Earlier I had explained that August 9th had initially been declared by the UN as "the International Day of Solidarity with the Women of South Africa and Namibia". That it is now South Africa Women's Day does not absolve us from concern of what is happening to women elsewhere and especially in Africa.

Next month the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women will be tabling a report in September before the UN Human Rights Council of which South Africa is a member. In it (The Star 2/08/07) she describes a situation which is the worst she has ever seen in 4 years - and concerns the Democratic Republic of Congo: Special Rapporteur Yakin Erturk says: "Sexual atrocities in the DRC extended far beyond rape and included sexual slavery, forced incest and cannibalism.

"Women are brutally gang-raped, often in front of their families and communities. In numerous cases, male relatives are forced at gunpoint to rape their own daughters, mothers and sisters.

"Frequently women are shot or stabbed in their genital organs after they are raped. Women, who survived months of enslavement, told me that their tormentors had forced them to eat excrement or the human flesh of their murdered relatives."

Erturk said there had already been 4 500 cases of sexual violence reported in South Kivu so far this year."

However she also reports that government forces and national police are responsible for nearly 20% of all cases of sexual violence reported. She cites an incident last December,

"When 70 police officers took revenge for the torching of a police station in Karawa by burning the Equator town, torturing civilians and raping at least 40 women, including an 11-year old girl.

No police officer had been charged or arrested in relation to the atrocities, she said, adding that similar operations had since been carried out in Bonyanga and Bongulu, in the north-west of the country."

The Democratic Republic of Congo is not alone. There are similar stories of violence against women in conflict situation across Africa.

My last question is: do we South African Women not have an obligation to, at the very least, speak out against the atrocities committed against women on this continent? Show our solidarity?

We benefited from the support of women in independent African countries and across the world. As we celebrate August 9th are we right to focus only on ourselves?

Or do we ensure that even as we progress, we act to support other women, so we can all march together?

Thank You.

BIOGRAPHY: Dr. Frene Ginwala

Dr Frene Ginwala was elected as the Speaker of the National Assembly of the first democratic Parliament of South Africa in 1994 and served in that office for the first 10 years of South Africa’s democracy (1994-2004).

After the ANC was unbanned and its leaders released from prison, Dr Ginwala had returned to South Africa after more than 30 years in exile

She helped establish the external mission of the ANC and arranged for ANC leaders and members to travel in and out of South Africa clandestinely, including Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela. Before and during her exile as an ANC-member, Dr Ginwala worked as a journalist in Tanzania, and for the ANC in Zambia and Mozambique and as the ANC spokesperson in the United Kingdom. In Tanzania, Frene Ginwala established and edited a monthly journal Spearhead and worked as a freelance journalist for The Guardian, Observer and Economist in Britain and for the BBC.

In 1969, she was asked by President Nyerere to return to Tanzania as Managing Editor of the daily and weekend English language newspapers, The Standard and Sunday news. She left in 1971 after publishing exposures of forced marriages in Zanzibar, prison conditions in Tanzania and atrocities in Sudan.

In Britain she continued to work as a journalist producing programmes for African radio stations. She also completed her academic work, and obtained a D.Phil at Oxford. In 1974 she was able to return to Mozambique as a result of political changes in the region. She began to work on a full time basis for the ANC.

She became Head of the Political Research Unit in the office of President Tambo and became known for her research on South Africa’s nuclear weapons programme, sanctions, and the arms and oil embargo. She also lectured at universities and institutions in a number of countries and participated in various UN, UNESCO and other international conferences on South Africa, Conflict Research, Women, Development and Technology Transfer.

On returning to South Africa, she and was appointed to the Secretariat in the office of Deputy President Mandela, and continued when Mr Mandela was elected President of the ANC. Between 1991 and 1994, Dr Ginwala was the Head the ANC's Research Department. She also served as the Deputy Head of the ANC Commission for the Emancipation of Women and was the ANC Representative on the Science and Technology Initiative.

During the negotiation process, Dr Ginwala was a member of the ANC team at CODESA and in the Multi-Party Negotiations she served as its representative on the Technical Committee responsible for drafting new laws on elections and the Independent Electoral Commission.

In 1994 she entered South Africa’s first democratically elected Parliament. In her capacity as the Speaker of the National Assembly, she was instrumental in transforming Parliament; including the establishment of committees and expanding their scope; encouraging Parliament to become the national forum for debates on major national and international issues, opening parliament and its committees to the public and the press; easing the dress codes and restrictions on entrance to the public gallery. From the outset, she steered the rules and procedures to incorporate the principle of inclusivity enshrined in the Constitution and facilitated the fullest participation of all parties, including allocating front benches to most party leaders, persuading the allocation of additional speaking time to the smaller parties and providing financial resources and support to all parties. She served on the Committee that drafted the Code of Ethics for M Ps and addressed international conferences on Ethics and corruption, including Global I & II.

Under the Speakers direction the South African Parliament initiated its nation building Millennium Project, based on its collection of old European maps of Africa. The project was designed to assist South Africans to claim a multifaceted national identity, through understanding how the differing experiences of their common past was shaping their current perspectives. Dr Ginwala’s research for the project located the earliest surviving map of the entire continent of Africa in the National Archives of China. Dated 1389, it predates maps created in Europe. Permission was granted for the first ever public exhibition of the map (a digital reproduction on silk) in the South African Parliament.

Dr Ginwala has been committed to the achievement of substantive equality for women. She was a founder member and the first National Convenor of the Women’s National Coalition, which brought South African women from across the political, economic, social and religious spheres together in order to ensure that South Africa's new Constitution provided a legal framework for effective equality. In Parliament, she conceived and initiated the establishment of the Joint Committee on the Quality of Life and Status of women with powers to consider and report on the impact on women of all legislation introduced into Parliament and monitor all international and domestic commitments made by the South African Government

Dr Ginwala has served as the President of the South African Speakers’ Forum, the Chairperson of the Africa Region of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, and the Co-Chairperson of the South African Branches of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, and the International Parliamentary Union.

She served as a member of the Preparatory Committee for the First World Conference of Presiding Officers. Dr Ginwala was previously a board member of International IDEA as well as the former Chairperson of the SADC Parliamentary Forum. She was a former member of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Advisory Panel of High-Level Personalities on African Development and served as a Commissioner on the International Commission on Human Security, charged with developing the concept of Human Security.

Dr Ginwala chaired the OAU Conference of African Parliaments, which drafted and adopted the Protocol on the Pan African Parliament. After the formation of the African Union she was elected as Chairperson of the African Union (AU) Steering Committee tasked with planning the establishment of the Pan African Parliament. Dr Ginwala was among the first five South African MPs elected to it.

Dr Ginwala continues to work on issues pertaining to Human Security, strengthening democracy and promoting, good governance, development and human rights. Over a period of years she has sought to ensure that women are involved in resolving conflicts and in building peace. She has engaged with women in Burundi, the DRC, Liberia, Rwanda, as well as with women in Palestine and Israel. She has been invited to chair many international Conferences, groups of experts convened by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, sessions of the ECA‘s African Development Forum IV and others

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