Speaking Notes by Comrade Judith Tshabalala on Women’s Day Debate

Topic: Social and Economic Challenges Faced by Women Exacerbated by Covid-19.

31 August 2021

I want to start with a poem by a person whose voice was ever present and inspiring to the freedom fighters in our townships and villages; the People’s Poet, Bra Mzwakhe Mbuli. He says:

Ukulimala kwengqondo, Ukulimala komuntu
Ukulimala komuntu, ukulimala komndeni
Ukulimala komndeni, ukulimala komphakathi
Ukulimala komphakathi, ukulimala kwesizwe.
Ngivumele ngikubuze, elami iphimbo kalishile
Kungani uthule izingane zibhubha
Ngivumele ngikhulume nonembeza wakho
Yebo, ngivumele ngikhulume nawe
Magwalandini, kunini nihlezi nisonge izandla?
Yini le niyenzayo ingapheli?

The People’s Poet asked these questions during the height of the state of emergency in the 1980s when the grip of apartheid was strangling the soul of resistance of the youth, workers, women, black people in general and Africans in particular.

The intersectional nature of the struggle for freedom was understood in the African National Congress. We understood then that there can never be true freedom, unless the system of exploitation of the working class by capitalists was abolished.

We understood that, even if every board of a company has a black face, thanks to Black Economic Empowerment and our children went to former whites-only schools, the system of racial oppression would remain.

We also understood that there could never be true gender equality, unless the system of patriarchy was rolled back and defeated.

So when 23 000 school girls, some as young as 10years old, fall pregnant, we must admit, as the People’s Poet tells us, we are a damaged nation!! That is because we have damaged communities, broken families, ruined individuals and injured brains.

What are we doing about this?

I want to argue this afternoon that we will debate in this House every year until doom’s day about Genger-based Violence and Femicide; until we do what needs to be done. What needs to be done is known to each one of us sitting here or watching at home.

We have to decisively dismantle the pillars of apartheid colonialism: Class exploitation and structural unemployment, Systemic racism, Patriarchal oppression, Apartheid spatial settlement patterns, Colonial underdevelopment of townships and rural areas, amongst others.

The crime statistics presented recently by the Minister of Police revealed that women are victims of abuse within overpopulated spaces. Each wave of the Covid-19 pandemic has its own statistic that goes congruent with the increasing numbers of GBV. As the elected public representatives of our people, we need to come up with programmes to address these issues and thus make it possible for women and girls, regardless of their socio-economic status to feel that they are part of our society and that their safety is guaranteed by all the structures of our democratic state.

As we pay homage to the women of 1956 who paved the path for women like myself to stand tall and proud on such platforms as this House, I also recognise the women who have made their footprint in the world, the women who continuously fight for their voices to be heard in pursuit for Gender Equality.

Challenges women faced during the pandemic

Women have largely borne the brunt of the pandemic, and it has been exacerbated by already existing challenges such as inequality, unemployment, gender-based violence and lack of economic empowerment.

Over 42% of households in South Africa are women-led, and women work in the hardest hit economic sectors such as hospitality, health, retail trade and manufacturing, to name a few.

The job cuts and employment insecurity in the informal sector, further exacerbated the conditions of employment that women were already subjected to, such as low wages, poor working conditions and lack of social protection prior the
lockdown. These challenges increased household poverty and worsened food security, particularly in women-led households where a woman is the sole bread winner.

The loss of income has affected families, communities, households and communities. Lack of income increases the risks of women depending on their partners which limits a woman’s power and open up avenues of gender abuse.

ANC Policy of Women Emancipation

The promotion of women’s rights and women empowerment is imperative if we are truly to realise the non-sexist and equal society that we envision. The ANC government has taken steps to advance the participation of women in all sectors of the economy. Government continues to support women-owned businesses and entrepreneurship, through its decision that 40% of public procurement to be reserved for women owned business.

However, let us be frank and admit that this is not enough to transform the reality faced by millions of women who do not even have those companies to tender for public sector business.

We have made strides towards achieving gender equality guided by South Africa’s progressive laws. We are seeing more women serving in high-ranking positions than ever before. Even then, the truth is that for most black and African women trapped in the grinding poverty of township and rural life, such opportunities are a mere pipe dream.

Government has recognised that laws such as the Employment Equity Act have had very limited effects on achieving equity in the workplace. As a result, government has brought an amendment to the Act to give greater powers to the state to enforce compliance by employers.

The Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan, commits that SMMEs owned by women will play a vital part in the delivery of infrastructure. Women will also be encouraged and supported to form cooperatives in key economic sectors such as retail, agriculture and agro-processing, financial services and manufacturing and will be prioritised in access to funding.

These are important strides and government must be applauded for them. But we must not lose sight of the fact that the economy is still largely in private hands, most of whom happen to white and male. More needs to be done in the labour market, since statistics reveal that the labour market is more favourable to men than to women. Continuous upskilling of women, women empowerment awareness programmes in the private sector are significant to mitigate the gap.

We must understanding that gender-based violence is a cancer rooted in patriarchy. Therefore, all members of our society aught to come together and uproot it in all of its manifestations. It is unacceptable that every year women are mutilated and fight for their rights to life and their very existence.

Honourable Members,

Gender-based violence starts with the individual’s attitude. It starts in the home where there is silence about it. It continues in our communities where patriarchal attitudes and the regard of women and girls as inferior beings persists.

We must support the National Strategic Plan on Gender Based Violence and Femicide and the integration of the NSP priorities into all the strategic plans and APPs of departments. We hope that these legislative reforms we have passed in this House, calling for stricter bail conditions and harsher sentences for perpetrators of violence and sexual violence against women and children, will bear fruit.

Honourable Members,

I leave you in the great words of Nelson Mandela,

“Freedom cannot be achieved unless the women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression”

I thank You!