Address by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of South Africa,
Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma at the Launch of the IBSA Women’s Forum,
Johannesburg, 14 October 2007
“People to People Contact for Equitable Sustainable Development”
Mrs Zanele Mbeki
Representatives from SAWID
Indian, Brazilian and South African delegates
Ladies and Gentleman:
I am glad to have this opportunity to share ideas with you at this important forum of India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA.) The IBSA trilateral forum is indeed a unique alliance of progressive countries that brings together three large democracies from three different continents facing common challenges.
Part of our common challenge as the three countries is dealing with globalisation, with international governance but part of the challenge should be the challenges facing the women of these three countries and that is why it is timely that issues affecting women become integrally part of the IBSA agenda.
Indeed in its short time of existence IBSA has made great strides demonstrating to the world the power of South-South co-operation. IBSA has laid the firm foundations for co-operation and exchange of knowledge, skills, best practices and ideas that can assist all three countries in reaching their developmental objectives as well as become a motor force for sustainable development in the world.
As multi-cultural societies representing three different regions of the developing world, we have pivotal roles to play in shaping our regional and continental agenda.
Together, we constitute 1.3 billion people, and a combined economy of 1.26 trillion US dollars. Women should be the backbone of these economies. As we address our economic agenda we must also address women’s issues and their daily struggles to build a better life for all.
From its very inception, IBSA has championed the cause of sustainable development and articulated the concerns of the developing world as a whole. In particular we have lobbied towards the conclusion of the Doha Round so that more favourable trade relations becomes the basis for sustainable economic development in the world at large.
Above all, as we seek to articulate a women’s agenda in the context of IBSA, we need to recognise that this has indeed been a progressive alliance of countries that see themselves as agents of change in the world, that seek solutions to common and global problems and through their efforts are shaping the road towards a more egalitarian world society and a more inclusive world.
All the civil society events leading up to the Summit in a few days time are bringing together all these partners who together can ensure the success of our common agenda. Our power as a trilateral forum depends on this partnership.
Thus it is in this context that the formation of the IBSA Women’s Forum becomes a timely intervention and a necessary step for us to take together. Some would even say that this initiative is long overdue.
Why the IBSA Women’s Forum?
As far back as 2003 the Brasilia Declaration adopted by the IBSA foreign ministers at the launch of the IBSA Dialogue Forum committed all of us to the attainment of gender equality. As a reminder of the commitment made, allow me to quote from this document:
“The Foreign Ministers stressed the importance, for equity reasons as well as for development goals, to address issues related to the elimination of all kinds of racial discrimination and to promote gender equality and mainstreaming a gender perspective in public policies.”
Today we are giving a concrete shape to this commitment to address these issues. And in taking this concrete step, we are giving greater voice to women’s struggles and achievements across three continents. We are embarking upon a new path of unity and dialogue and giving greater impetus to the international dimensions of women’s condition.
In so doing, I believe that we are also forging a new internationalism – this has been key to the women’s movements for emancipation in previous decades and it is very important that we too assert ourselves as women of a new generation addressing the demands of new times and eager to fulfil our mission.
As the American feminist Bell Hooks reminds us:
“To be truly visionary we have to root our imagination in our concrete reality while simultaneously imagining possibilities beyond that reality. A primary strength of contemporary feminism has been the way it has changed shape and direction…. For example, feminist movements created the cultural revolution that made it possible for our society to face the problems of male violence against women and children…”
“For years many feminist women held to the misguided assumption that gender was the sole factor determining their status. Breaking through this denial was a crucial turning point for feminist politics. It enabled women to face the way biases of race and class has led to the formation of a women’s movement that was not mass-based. We are now ready to renew the feminist struggle…”
I think that in part this also explains some of our aims and objectives as the Women’s Forum of IBSA – we who have experienced racism, colonialism, apartheid, global apartheid as part of globalisation, ought to recognise that these have placed upon us particular demands as a women’s movement.
It is in our individual and collective interests that we seek to remove all obstacles to women’s freedom and pay particular attention to the intersections of gender, race, class, culture, rural and urban divides, skilled and unskilled labour, unpaid versus paid labour among other matters.
These differences can also perpetuate inequalities and it is in addressing these inequalities that we will make great strides together that can benefit future generations.
I am also reminded of the words of the Vietnamese author, Trinh T Minh-ha in her book “Woman, Native, Other” when she writes about the importance of women speaking out. She says the following:
“You who understand the dehumanization of forced removal-relocation-reeducation-redefinition, the humiliation of having to falsify your own reality, your voice – you know. And often cannot say it. You keep on trying to unsay it, for if you don’t, they will not fail to fill in the blanks on your behalf, and you will be said … they work towards your erasure while urging you to keep your way of life and ethnic values within the borders of your homelands.”
In coming together, indeed we are saying that the struggle for women’s emancipation cannot be confined within the borders of our homelands.
Our freedom is important if it can be linked to the freedom of others. We are as strong as the weakest among us; our economies are as advanced as those of the most poverty-stricken among us.
Women and economic development – women as agents of change
In this Forum we shall have to pay particular attention to closing the gap between rich and poor, in examining the women’s condition in its totality in order to change it for the better – in order to be the agents of change that the IBSA initiative has at the heart of its agenda.
In the poem, Song of Lavino by the Ugandan writer, Okot p’Bitek, the woman narrator makes the following statement:
“I have only one request.
I do not ask for money.
Although I have need of it,
I do not ask for meat…
I have only one request,
And all I ask is
That you remove
The road block
From my path.”
I think this is an important statement to make because of many of the problems that women face are as a result of barriers being placed in their paths. Thus we ought to make use of this Forum as a way of claiming a space for ourselves, for Indian, Brazilian and South African women who have already opened their own national paths to emancipation.
Clearly women have a major role to play in developing our economies, in strengthening our social life and wellbeing and in bringing about cultural and intellectual development. We all come from communities where women are the educators, women are the health-givers – those who heal and care for the sick – women are also the farmers who till the land and create the agricultural produce that sustains entire villages and cities. Women are the nurturers of life and in many places, women are those who are most interested in bringing peace to communities that are torn by conflict or war.
Yet research tells us that women - in our countries and in many other places - are the poor of the world, that poverty is feminised and falls more heavily as a burden on women and in diminishing the quality of life of the girl child.
We know that the burden of domestic labour can be lightened if our countries pay attention to the provision of clean water and electricity – that food security and water security go hand in hand with women’s emancipation.
The most recent UN Human Development Report points out the connections between water provision and sustainable development.
We also recognise that women’s total liberation is also dependent on them not being restricted to traditional areas that have been women’s domain, but that our ultimate success ought to be to make inroads into Science and Technology, Finance, Energy, Defence, ICTs – sectors that have yet to see sizable growth in women’s participation.
The income gap between men and women in all our countries remains big and the opportunities that exist within the modern economy have thus far benefited men far more than women.
Women in Business
A report by international consulting firm Grant Thornton indicates that the world is not making sufficient strides to empower women in business leadership positions. This report which was conducted in 32 countries including India, Brazil and South Africa and coincidentally released on International Women’s Day argues that women are not being propelled to senior management positions in business.
The Grant Thornton report says that:
• four in ten businesses worldwide have no women in senior management
• 38% of businesses do not have any women in senior management roles a figure which remains unchanged since 2004
• Less than a quarter (22%) of senior positions are occupied by women with the notable exception of the Phillipines which is cited as the only country where women have parity to men in senior management roles.
Yet this survey also indicates that there has been significant progress - in India, Brazil and South Africa the proportion of women occupying senior management roles in business has increased substantially.
But the question is how are we utilizing these advances to the benefits of other women?
Julia Kristeva tells us that:
“The assumption by women of executive, industrial and cultural power has not, up to the present time, radically changed the nature of this power.”
(from an essay called “Women’s Time”)
It is clear that we need to explore how women in business leadership can work to change culture and power relations in business such that it becomes sensitive to women.
I hope that this platform will give us an opportunity to pose difficult questions as well as to reflect on our achievements and weaknesses while we also come up with ideas on how best to approach the issue of gender parity and enhance the quality of our contributions in the critical engines of our various economies.
Women in Senior Management in Politics and Government
All three of our countries are faring well when it comes to the representation of women at different levels of government, yet we can still do much better than this in ensuring equality.
According to the Executive Report of UNICEF 2007,
“though women’s parliamentary representation has steadily increased in the past decade, they remain under-represented in almost all national legislatures - accounting for just under 17 per cent of parliamentarians worldwide. Moreover, their presence in government is even more limited; only 14 per cent of ministers and just 6 per cent of the world’s Heads of Government are women”.
Women’s representation in national parliaments, local governments and peace processes is a critical measure of their political empowerment and of a country’s commitment to ensuring that powerful advocates for children can be heard.
The UNICEF report further states that “Parliamentary advocacy on behalf of children and families can also bridge party and ideological lines.” “Cross-party alliances of women parliamentaries have successfully advanced the rights of women and children” including in Egypt, France, the Netherlands, the Russian Federation, Rwanda, South Africa and Sweden etc.
(UNICEF Executive Report, page 12).
Women and the MDGs
Former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan has also said that:
“Gender equality is more than a goal itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance.”
Within the context of reaching the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), it is my firm belief that if we work to address gender equality in every area of human endeavour, then most of the other MDGs will fall into place.
Vulnerable women, girl children and children are also the worst affected by the perpetration of the scourge of human trafficking and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (in its “Trafficking in Persons: Global Patterns” 2006 report) notes a sharp increase in human trafficking and describe it as a new form of slavery which needs to be tackled head on.
Experience has shown that women are essential agents in bringing about change but are often overlooked as a resource in the preservation of human security and in managing threats arising from tyranny, trafficking, poverty, and disease. I am glad that processes are in place to look at the gender dimensions arising particularly out of trafficking and of migration.
Beijing Platform of Action
We have made commitments in the Beijing Platform of Action.
A lot of progress has been made since Beijing. We are seeing more equitable laws that protect women from discrimination, abuse, and violence. However, there is much more that needs to be done to put the Platform for Action into practice, especially in terms of alleviating poverty, improving health, creating opportunity for economic advancement and political leadership, and reducing human rights violations.
Yet there is still a lot more to be done.
Two years ago, the World Economic Forum released a report entitled “Women's Empowerment: Measuring the Global Gender Gap', which measures the gap between women and men in five critical areas, namely economic participation, economic opportunity, political empowerment, access to education and access to reproductive health care.
The report cited political empowerment of women in India as a key development, which augured well for the future. India was ranked 24th in terms of women's empowerment in politics, both at the parliamentary and grassroots level.
In all three of our countries, traditions still persist that support patriarchy and what we ought to see is that women’s equality should be part of a new tradition and part of equality and human rights.
Through the experience of the Indian Panchayat Raj Institutions (PRI) one million women have actively entered political life in India. The 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment Acts, which guarantee that all local elected bodies reserve one-third of their seats for women, being enacted in more than 500,000 villages that are home to more than 600 million people. We are all making strides in this regard, but how indeed do we learn from each other’s best practices and take this further?
Cultural, Social and Political Empowerment
IBSA members are large democracies, committed to human rights, international law, multilateralism, and the promotion of democracy, peace and stability.
Women’s equality underlies IBSA‘s commitment to Cultural, Social and Political empowerment and here is recognition that the achievements of social, economic, political and legal equality are interconnected and as such, the struggle for equality involves the recognition of the disadvantage that women suffer in all spheres.
Therefore the promotion of true equality will sometimes require distinctions to be made. No distinction, however, should be made that will disadvantage women. Within this context, programmes of affirmative action may be a means of achieving equality.
Building on our strengths and identifying our challenges
I think that the discussion over these two days will help us also to recognise our own strengths and failings.
As South Africa we admire greatly the work done by Indian sisters especially through their National Policy for the Empowerment of Women. We also look to your good work in the areas of rural development programmes that have benefited women such that 40% of those participating in these programmes have been women.
We also believe we can learn a great deal from your self-help groups, your work in co-operatives in particular and in the area of micro-finance to address poverty.
We admire our Brazilian sisters particularly in the advances they have made in the education arena and in skills development, your work in addressing domestic violence as well as your legislation against trafficking.
I would also like us to utilise this Women’s Forum also as a way of addressing the intellectual challenges facing us. We certainly do need to be a thinktank and form a critical mass that can advance women’s emancipation based on a rich and dynamic understanding of our separate and shared conditions.
Ours is also an ethical struggle – for women’s rights and wellbeing as a way of life. An ethical struggle for non-racialism and non-sexism in all spheres of our national life.
Together we can do greater things than we have already done.
Three days ago, the women writer, Doris Lessing, who spent much of her formative years in southern Africa, won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Lessing is only the 11th woman to have won the prize since it was first awarded in 1901 and only the third since 1996. This is another milestone for women all over the world.
In one of her novels, she reminds us that,
“any human anywhere will blossom in a hundred unexpected talents and capacities simply by being given the opportunity to do so.”
As we go about the business of this conference, let us be inspired by her writing that has sought to critique the condition of women in the developing world and to offer alternatives of what is possible.
In terms of our areas of cooperation, let us not leave this meeting without coming up with concrete areas of co-operation and sectoral partnerships.
I wish you well in your deliberations.
I thank you.