Address by Mrs Kholofelo Mokgawa, UDEMWO National Chairperson at a UDEMWO Women’s Day 2013 Celebration on 9 August 2013 at the Westlake Community Hall, Cape Town

“A centenary of working together towards sustainable women empowerment and gender equality”

TOPIC: Women’s Day: is there anything to celebrate? The answers are “yes” and “no”.

YES, we should celebrate and salute women who sacrificed their lives and took it upon themselves to lead and march to the Union Building on 9 August 1956.

YES, we should celebrate this day to remember the historic and powerful march of 20 000 women of all creed and colour, who stood firm like an iron fist, principled by togetherness, the “we-feeling” and unity.

YES, we salute bomama Helen Josephs, Rahima Moosa, Sophia William, Charlotte Maxeke, Lillian Ngoyi and many others. Their march was a significant step towards gender equality in South Africa.

YES, we should celebrate Women’s Day to recognise the contribution made by women in the fight against apartheid.

Every year on this day as South African women we should remember the sacrifice, the commitment, the dedication and the unity of those women. Those women demonstrated that as women, we are strong, we are special, powerful and invaluable;

The slogan used “wathint abafazi, wathint’ imbokodo uzokufa’ – when you strike the women you strike a rock. You will be crushed. These words should give us courage and we should be as hard as a rock. Storms of the struggle should instead harden us and make us stronger.

On the other hand, Programme Director; gentle ladies and men the answer is a big NO. What is it that we should celebrate? When we are faced with challenges? Women’s Day might be a step in the right direction, but it is also a token of recognition in a country where the incidents of rape is rated number one in the whole world. Ladies and gentlemen is there anything to celebrate? There is nothing. To name a few, ladies and gentlemen;

Women and children are treated as nothing e.g. incidents of brutal killings and abusing women and children especially during August every year. For example, the recent serial killer in Mamelodi and Atteridgeville and many others. What is the Government doing with this perpetrators if found? They arrest them today, two days later you see them walking in the street and even boasting – meaning that they will wrong you and be released tomorrow etc.

Ladies and gentlemen, we live in fear – should we really claim to be free if we are confined behind high walls and sophisticated security only because we fear for our safety and are the prey of our own sons and men?

Another point that proves that some of us are still abused, in the area where I come from, there is a culture and belief that a woman should be lashed with a sjambok. There is a case in the deep rural area where a husband had lashed his own wife with a sjambok and when realizing that his own child of about 1 ½ year was crying while the mother was beaten. The husband threw the sjambok down, took the child with his one hand and start beating the wife with that child.

My dear gentle ladles and men, women in black rural communities are still far from overcoming challenges and obstacles of gender equality and sustainable empowerment and togetherness because they still struggle and fail to overcome the domestic and gender based violence as a result of:

  1. Limited, unaffordable or no bus or taxi services;
  2. Slow response times by police and ambulance services;
  3. Poor and expensive telecommunication services;
  4. Large distance to public versus child care if travel is necessary;
  5. Few support services for abused women and children;
  6. No safe accommodation for women if they need to live their homes;
  7. High rate of unemployment and underdevelopment, resulting in women struggling to pay for necessities , travel, accommodation or costs of separation or relocation;
  8. Application forms for protection order are only available in two languages i.e. English and Afrikaans;
  9. Furthermore, forms are not available in Braille and sign language interpreters are not readily available in courts;
  10. There is no provision for traditional courts to issue protection orders; despite the fact that there is currently about 1 500 customary courts operating in South Africa; and
  11. Finally, customary law lack specific rules dealing with gender based violence.

Ladies and gentlemen, we cannot say we are free when some women are still humiliated by those who are suppose to render social services to them e.g. institutions, like magistrate offices to name a few, which to our knowledge are official custodian of law, are the ones that are ridiculing and humiliating our beloved sisters and daughters. Women are supposed to claim maintenance on behalf of their children from their biological fathers. Good people, instead of them receiving such type of a service, they are made to queue for months and are told that whatever maintenance money received is send to Pretoria first before it can be redistributed after some months. Ladies and gentlemen should we say we are free?

As women we are entitled to all human rights as stipulated in the Constitution of South Africa. We should be treated with respect and dignity regardless of colour and creed.

Dear women LET’S KNOW OURSELVES. Life needs people who are not afraid to take decisions and remain firm. We cannot live behind masks for the rest of our lives. Ladies let’s take the spirit of 1956 of togetherness. That march of 1956 was initiated by a coalition of women’s political groups under the banner of the Federation of South African Women.

My dearest gentle ladies and men allow me to conclude my speech by quoting Tata Dr Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, who refers his life of imprisonment as: “ A LONG WALK TO FREEDOM” Parallel to this, it has been a long expectation for us as South African women to make an impact in our political setting. For us to succeed we need to have a spirit of togetherness, the “we-feeling” and unity.

Referring to politics in particular, Women’s Day is supposed to commemorate the women’s march of 1956, but the political activism we see today is but a shadow of 1956 spirit, let alone the existence of the Federation of South African Women coalition. The march was a significant step towards gender equality in South Africa, but, as we continue to face more challenges, the torch has been passed on to the women and men of today to work together towards sustainable women empowerment and gender equality.

I thank you.