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Opening and Welcoming Address by Speaker Baleka Mbete MP on the occasion of the hosting of the South African Parliaments, International Women's Conference

28-30 August 2017, Cape Town

Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, Ms Thandi Modise
Our eminent International Guests
Leaders of Political Parties
Honourable Members
Distinguished Panellists
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

Good morning and welcome to Cape Town.

On behalf of the South African Parliament, I am delighted to welcome you all to the people's Parliament.

I am very honoured to be joined by so many inspirational women- thought leaders, and change agents, drawn from all sectors of society, the continent and the world, women- who are making extra-ordinary contributions and pushing boundaries wherever they happen to find themselves.


This august gathering convenes during a number of seminal moments in the history of our nation.

Since 1994, post South Africa, has dedicated, August, Women's Month, to the celebration of the bravery and fearlessness of women, who have made indelible contributions to the liberation of our country. We also use this time to focus on progress made or otherwise, in relation to advancement of women in all sectors of society.

This seminal conference also occurs at a time when the South African Parliament is reflecting on our progress as a nation. Twenty years ago, we adopted, our Constitution, which decreed a society built on the prescripts of non-racialism, non-sexism, a nation united in all its diversity.

As South African Women Parliamentarians, we thought it prudent to convene this international conference during this time, to continue the discussions ,which unfolded at the 61st session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW61), held earlier this year with the theme being -

"Women in the changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030".

Crucially, the CSW61, identified four concrete action areas to achieve women's economic empowerment in the changing world of work. In brief these were-

Strengthening normative and legal frameworks for full employment and decent work for all women at all levels;

Implementing economic and social policies for women's economic empowerment;

Addressing the growing informality of work and mobility of women workers and technology driven changes; and Strengthening the private sector's role in women's economic empowerment.

The chosen priority theme, provides the gathering, with an opportunity to define concrete, practical and action- oriented outcomes, to tackle the structural barriers to gender equality, gender discrimination and violence against women, which remain adrift.

Ladies and Gentlemen

50- 50 Planet

The goal of achieving gender equality by 2030, was articulated in the Political Declaration of the Commission on the Status of Women, at its inception. As a result of the mobilisation of women, gender equality and women's empowerment are now one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Although globally, women's representation in Parliament's and governments are increasing significantly, we are as yet, far from accomplishing our intended goal.

South Africa, led by the Ruling Party has advocated for 50-50 representation in government. Women in the Ruling Party, have also firmly announced, that it is time for our country to be led by a woman. I am firmly in support of this declaration. It is by no means a stretch target- but a precondition for the reconfiguration of the power relations between men and women, in our country! We have to maintain that in recent years Two parties were led by woman, the DA and the UCDP. Already we have examples of women who have led their countries on the African continent - Liberia, Malawi, Central Africa comes to mind.

Ladies and Gentlemen

Uneven Progress

The Report of the Commission on the Status of Women, submitted to the UN, this year, underscored that every aspect of gender equality, whether access to education, health, the economy and voice within households and society, has experienced a mixed pattern of change over the years.

Significantly too, the CSW61 Report, acknowledges that the world of work is rapidly changing, and posing significant implications for women. Globalisation, technological and the digital revolution, the green economy, and climate change, amongst others, are all challenges and opportunities that must be addressed in the context of women's economic liberation.

Ladies and Gentlemen

South Africa

Post democratic South Africa, has recorded significant achievements with regards to the attainment of equal rights and inherent human dignity of women and men.

In this regard, our Parliament, has passed a basket of laws to create an enabling environment for gender equality. We have also established the requisite institutional gender machinery such as the Commission on Gender Equality, The South African Human Rights Commission, and a Ministry of Women, amongst others to achieve our constitutional injunction of gender equality. Gender Mainstreaming has also been established as the approach to the development of policy.

However, many systemic challenges remain, which now require a rethink of our policies, legislation, and approaches. In this regard, the South African Legislative Sector, in its entirety, has undertaken a review process, together with civil society's consideration and feedback on amongst others, the impact of legislation on the quality of life of our people.

The Speakers Forum, the structure that leads the legislative Sector, formed a high level panel led by former President Motlanthe, to spearhead this review process. The findings of the High Level Panel, will be released in September of this year. Preliminary findings however underscore, that the inequality gap has not narrowed as significantly as we had hoped, the triple challenges of poverty, class and race remain key drivers of disempowerment, especially for Africans, women and girls.

Thus, a radical rethink of economic and land ownership patterns is needed, and the Government is spearheading this recalibration.

Ladies and Gentlemen

Gender Based Violence

Over the course of the next few days, a significant segment of our collective discussion is dedicated to Violence against Women.

Sadly, Gender Based Violence, which is an indicator of unequal power relations remains what the Wold Health Organisation has declared "a global epidemic". Shockingly, no country is free of violence against women!

South Africa, too, is confronting the scourge of violence against women on a daily basis, which points to deep seated cultural and societal norms that allow such unacceptable acts of violence against women, and girls.

Solutions must be found, and we must find these together now!

Ladies and Gentlemen


New world of work needs to be constructed for women and girls. This construction begins with an acknowledgment that current economic models, have not yielded the necessary inclusivity for women, the poor and the marginalised.

To promote women's economic empowerment in the changing world of work, we must work to ensure that our policies and laws reduce gender gaps in leadership, entrepreneurship and access to resources.

It is also high time that our laws and policies recognise women and girls' contribution to unpaid care.

Crucially, we need to challenge patriarchy, and challenge the traditional assignment of gender roles in society- roles, which traditionally have pivoted around service and care.

Our policies, our laws and enabling environments must create the normative conditions whereby women are ready to be part of the technological and digital revolution.

In the formal sector, we must insists that our policies support both men and women in maintaining work- life balance, promote greater participation by men in care work, which in turn will support women to remain and progress in paid employment.

Just as we hold the public sector accountable, it is high time that the private sector, is held equally accountable.

Ladies and Gentlemen

We started years ago to recognise that women's rights, are primarily considered through a human rights lens. Progressively, we have also recognised and asserted that, the economic empowerment and inclusion of women in the transformation of our economies is a condition for effective development.

I look forward to the ensuing discussions over the course of the next few days.

Let us move forward, together, and leave no one behind!

I thank you

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