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25 Sep 2012 07:23
President Jacob Zuma. (AFP)
The event was co-hosted by South Africa and Finland.
Zuma said on Monday access to justice was an on-going campaign within South Africa, and – regarding women specifically – included assistance with land cases, inheritance, and cases of abuse.
"The fundamental principle in all this is that women's rights are human rights."
He reminded those present that 17 years after the adoption of the Beijing Platform of Action, its implementation was largely unfulfilled.
"South Africa remains committed to the advancement of women's rights, consistent with our constitutional framework, our values and our international obligations."
Zuma said South Africa's approach was informed by colonial oppression and apartheid, where the state rode over the rights of the black majority.
"Naturally, women were affected most, as they faced triple oppression – as black people, as women and also in terms of class as workers."
This meant women were more likely to have less access to basic services, earn lower wages, remain jobless and discriminated against when approaching law enforcement or the courts.
"These are some of the challenges we have been working to reverse since the dawn of freedom in 1994. We believe we have done well so far."
Zuma said South Africa's Constitution promoted women's rights and made provision for bodies such as the commission on gender equality to protect women's rights.
"Since gender equality is a national priority, all in society remain conscious of the need to mainstream gender transformation in their policies and programmes."
South Africa was seeing results, with women representing 44% of parliamentarians and 43% of Cabinet ministers.
At provincial level, five of South Africa's nine provinces had women premiers.
"According to recent studies South Africa has the fifth-highest proportion of women on its corporate boards after Norway, Sweden, Finland and the US," Zuma said,
Zuma believed more needed to be done as South African women bore the disproportionate burden of the multiple challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment.
As such, South Africa had committed itself to pass into law by 2013 the Gender Equality Bill, which supported 50/50 gender equality across government, public and private sectors.
This was particularly at leadership and decision-making levels.
He said women in rural areas were particularly vulnerable to gender-based violence and an announcement would be made soon on the establishment of special sexual offence courts as a tool to fight the scourge of violence against women.
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