The challenges women face cannot be denied, but let us not lose sight of where we have come from, writes Edna Molewa.
The matric graduating class of 2013 were offered an opportunity to reflect on how far South Africa has come as a country and as a society committed to non-discrimination and sexism. These "born-frees", among them thousands of young women, will go on to change their lives, as well as those of their families and of other women. They give South Africa hope that true gender equality is being realised as a result of the policies of this government.
South African women can reflect with pride and appreciation the change that has been brought to the lives of women under the leadership of the ANC. Their achievements are visible and speak for themselves.
From a society characterised by violation, violence and oppression of women – particularly black women – the young, "born-free" women of South Africa today cannot imagine a South Africa where equal rights were anything but the norm.
South Africa is ranked fourth out of 87 countries in the 2012 Social Institutions and Gender Index of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). It is the highest-ranked country on the continent. On the Southern African Development Community (SADC) gender and development index, South Africa ranked second in 2012. The country consistently ranks high on the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Gender Gap Index.
Although significant challenges still remain, the women of this country should be proud of how far we have come.
South Africa has adopted significant legislative reforms and developed policies and programmes based on the Constitution and Bill of Rights, which seek to promote and protect women's rights in the home, the community and the workplace. These include the Domestic Violence Act of 1998, the Prevention of Family Violence Act of 1993, and the Sexual Offences and Related Matters Amendment Act of 2007.
With 44% of all parliamentarians and 42% of Cabinet ministers being women, the Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill is now calling for the progressive realisation of at least 50% representation of women in decision-making structures; improved and equal access to education and training; skills development and measures to promote and protect women's reproductive health; and the elimination of discrimination and harmful practices, including gender-based violence.
The recent conviction in an ukuthwala case in Cape Town is a "good story to tell"; it recognises this practice as harmful to women and young girls, including trafficking and rape of the minor girl. The 22-year sentence handed down shows that we will no longer tolerate practices that violate women's rights and dignity.
Women's poverty is a central manifestation and a direct result of their lack of social, economic and political power in the apartheid era, which reinforced their subordination and limited their rights. Between 1994 and 2003, the number of women in employment has grown by about 60% – 5.6-million people.
Thousands of women have benefited from government programmes to uplift rural women, and many have been able to export their products or produce and train other women as part of economic development.
One such women is Mavis Mathabatha from Limpopo in the rural area of Tooseng (Ga-Mphahlele). She manufactures world-class muringa pills, tea and powder. There are countless examples of how the ANC has improved the lives of women by pursuing pro-poor policies, including through the extensive social welfare net and in the provision of access to housing, electricity, water, sanitation, quality education and healthcare.
Twenty years since the fall of apartheid, this government is working towards creating a society in which women are protected, safe and healthy. The challenges we face cannot be denied, but let us not lose sight of where we have come from.
Edna Molewa is the national spokesperson of the ANC Women's League.
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