These are the words spoken by the first African Woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, the late Wangari Maathai.
Allow me from the onset to express my gratitude to the Founder and President of the Leading Women of Africa, Ms Madeleine Mkunu, for extending an invitation to me to be part of this prestigious occasion.
The National Development Plan – Vision 2030 advocates that “the transformation of the economy should involve the active participation and empowerment of women. The role of women as leaders in all sectors of society should be actively supported. Social, cultural, religious and educational barriers to women entering the job market should be addressed”.
It is equally evident that the Leading Women of Africa recognises that women play a very important role in all areas of human endeavours. As its patron Dr Kenneth Kaunda, noted, “in the 21st Century men need to view women as equal partners in political, social and economic spheres”.
We know that women are more economically active in Africa, as farmers, workers and entrepreneurs, than anywhere else in the world. They take care of their families. However women face many barriers that prevent them from playing many roles which in turn puts constraints on Africa from achieving its development potential.
This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the Beijing Fourth World Conference on Women. Fortunately the African Development Bank has published a Gender Equality Index for the first time, which covers 52 of the 54 countries of Africa and offers a quick view of the legal, social and economic gaps between men and women.
This important document will provide African leaders, policy makers, economists and civil society the evidence of the barriers that exist, preventing women from making a full contribution to the development of Africa. These barriers need to be dismantled and removed if we are to be honest with both gender equality and the development of the continent.
The indicators of gender rights in school, at work, economic opportunities, in institutions, legal rights and household rights are clearly unequal. Women have to work a lot harder to be successful in all the spheres. Women are predominantly in low-value-added occupations that generate little economic return as they face an array of barriers that prevent them from moving into more productive pursuits.
Investing in women and girls is one of the most effective ways of promoting development. It has long been recognised that investing in the human development of women and particularly the education of girls provides dual results.
It improves the quality of life of women, enabling them to be more productive members of society. It also enables them to become champions of human development for their families and communities.
The resultant dividends have multiplier effects which expand with each new generation, creating better resourced communities that are more equal.
Many women already serve as leaders across Africa, in their homes and communities, in civil society and as civil servants and politicians. Their presence makes local and national institutions more representative of the breadth of African society.
Yet many African women still live under traditional belief systems and outdated legislation that treats them as less than full citizens and prevents their voice from being fully heard in the governance of African societies. We recognise that the status of women has deep cultural roots that are by nature slow to change.
However, we believe that promoting women’s active citizenship, voice and leadership has the potential to make African societies more vibrant and its institutions more resilient and responsive.
At the same time there are social problems that erode women’s capital, such as violence against women and children and these have negative consequences not only for the women and their children but for the communities often slowing Africa’s development.
We are presently observing “16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children” from 25th November to 10th December 2015. The theme for this year is “Count Me In: Together Moving A Non-Violent South Africa Forward”.
At the launch of the 16 Days Campaign on the 25th of November 2014, His Excellency, President Jacob Zuma said that activism against gender based violence should be a yearlong and not limited to 16 days. The Department heeded the President’s call and launched the “#365 Days for No Violence Against Women and Children” (#365 Days Campaign) and the “#CountMeIn.”
Across the world, violence against women and girls remains one of the most serious and most tolerated human rights violations, both a cause and consequence of gender inequality and discrimination. This is totally not acceptable!
The voices and roles of men are crucial in the fight against violence and abuse. It is time to join the fight; men must be at the forefront of the fight against violence and abuse. Men can ensure that we put an end to abuse, assault, rape and domestic violence against women and children.
Let’s all take part in preventing violence against women and children.
As I conclude, I want to draw your attention to the words also spoken by the late Wangari Maathai, when she said:
“We can work together for a better world both men and women of goodwill, those who radiate the intrinsic goodness of humankind”.
On that note I would like to extend my well wishes to all the nominated men for the Champions Awards due to take place this evening at the Durban City Hall.
I thank you.