Hon Deputy Chairperson, hon members, one is indeed honoured and privileged to be afforded this opportunity to take part in this debate, under the theme of celebrating the Freedom Charter, enjoying equal human rights for all.
This theme is most appropriate and could not have come at a better time, as this month we are celebrating Human Rights Month. We are also celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Freedom Charter, which is the foundation of the human rights that are entrenched in the Constitution.
In celebratory or anniversary language, achieving a 60-year milestone is called a diamond jubilee. It is called a diamond jubilee because a diamond is a symbol of beauty and endurance, and beauty and endurance are associated with women. So today I want to talk about human rights from the perspective of women's rights. The logical question will then be: Do the women in South Africa have or enjoy these rights? In trying to answer this question it is imperative that we take a "sh'ot left" to the past - as an African scholar once said, the shortest way to the future is via the past.
The oppression and abuse of women, based on gender, is a historical fact. In South Africa we have documented tales of how women, like Sarah Baartman, were enslaved and robbed of their dignity just because men saw them as sexual objects rather than fellow human beings. Customs and traditions made their lives unbearable and this still continues to happen in some of our areas today, especially the rural areas.
Rural women still face difficulties when trying to access productive and economic resources such as land. They often have limited or no decision- making powers or protection from violence. They also play an increasingly important role as farm workers, but are the most exploited.
There are many more examples, but to continue listing them all will be, as we say in my language, go kwa mpa mokhora [take long to finish].
Hon members, it is only a fool who will not see that these are barbaric acts that must be eliminated from society. Women and men of honour should, therefore, stand up to fight against this evil, whether individually or collectively.
In South Africa, black people organised themselves in 1912 and formed one giant organisation precisely to fight against all these and other forms of oppression. People of other races joined this organisation because they realised that this organisation was fighting a noble cause.
In 1956 the women associated with this giant organisation marched to the Union Buildings against the pass laws. From then onwards, these women intensified and broadened their struggle to cover all forms of women's rights in particular. So it was not surprising that when this giant organisation came into power in 1994, it ensured that human rights, including women's rights, are entrenched in the Constitution.
So, over the past 20 years, our new democratic order has evolved and established a sound basis for the advancement of women's rights. We are now better positioned than before to address the challenges that are still facing women; and this is all thanks, in the main, to this giant organisation. We have, for instance, passed a number of laws to empower women to improve the quality of their lives, and we have opened up the space for their voices to be heard on matters concerning their lives. More importantly, opportunities for women to access basic services and social, economic and political opportunities have been actively promoted.
Some of these pieces of legislation, to mention a few, are the Constitution itself, Domestic Violence Act, Labour Relations Act, Basic Conditions of Employment Act, Employment Equity Act, etc.
This giant organisation also ensured that the issues affecting women are accorded the status they deserve in government. Thus, during the ANC's 52nd National Conference, it resolved to establish the Women's Ministry in the Presidency. Today we have the Ministry of Women in the Presidency. It also adopted a 50/50 representation of women across the spheres of government. That is why we have so many women Members of Parliament today.
There are many more examples that I can cite, but due to the time limit, to continue listing them, e tla ba go kwa mpa mokhora [will take long to finish].
However, despite all these efforts and progress in transforming our society, we still have enormous challenges. South Africa is still home to high levels of violence against its women and children.
In some parts of the country, we still continue to experience the perversion of cultural practices, something that perpetuates the abuse of women and children. For instance, we have ukuthwala and female genital mutilation. These are practices that are in violation of human rights.
These practices are, in the main, a result of stereotypes regarding the traditional roles of men and women, whereby men show their masculine status by abusing the vulnerable women. Unfortunately, this will persist and be passed on to future generations unless a concerted effort is made to change it. We must remember that though children have not always been very good at listening to their elders, they have never failed to imitate them. So if children witness this abuse, they will in all likelihood grow up to become abusers themselves.
This will be a vicious circle that will weaken our nation and the pillars on which it is based. As a result, we stand to lose an important layer of our future generation, the children, who are the future of this country. A children's rights activist once said: "If we don't stand up for children, then we don't stand for much." In my language we say ...
... tlogatloga e tloga kgale, modi?i wa kgomo o t?wa nat?o ?akeng. [Children must be trained about the ways of life very early in their lives.]
This is exactly why there were reports last week that the SA Police Service and community policing forums in the Western Cape town of Worcester still have the apartheid mentality of requiring black workers, including builders and gardeners, to carry the dompas when they enter the affluent sections of this town. This is the worst form of racism and should not be allowed in the present South Africa! [Interjections.]