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                      15 OCTOBER 2009

Hon Chairperson
Hon Delegates

The subject of today’s debate, which is rural women, is very close
to my heart. I am therefore very happy to join in the debate.

The debate is important in the work of this House. It gives us an
opportunity to reflect on the International Day of Rural Women, but
specifically to share what we are doing together to empower and
improve the lives of rural women.

It is for this reason that we requested leaders of delegations to
participate and highlight the measures, plans and programmes that
their provinces have put, or are putting in place, to empower rural
women in order to improve their lives, as well as the challenges
that rural women are still facing and how to address them.

I am happy to see MECs from some of our very rural provinces
here today.

In our draft Strategic Framework Plan, to be considered by this
House shortly, we have identified the initiation and implementation
of programmes aimed at assisting the vulnerable groups in society
as one of our strategic objectives for the term. Women, especially
rural women, form part of this category.

It is therefore significant to have an understanding of what we are
doing, especially as provinces, in ensuring that we empower rural

In trying to address the challenges facing rural women, we need to
first know where we come from, where we are now and where we
are going. As a veteran I regard myself as more qualified to give
such a historical perspective.

Where do we come from?

We all know that rural women were subjected to oppression in
many ways. They faced discrimination, forced removals and
apartheid. There was the legacy of autocracy, nepotism and
corruption in service provision and decision making over
development issues. Paternalism was entrenched.

In order to provide for their families, rural women tilled the land and
were also there as collectors of wood and water. Yet they were
expected to eat after men who usually had the largest share of the
family meal.

They stayed at home looking after their families, while their
husbands were away as migrant labourers. The system deprived
them the opportunity to be with their husbands in cities. If they

tried, they were harassed and hounded by authorities back to their
communes in the countryside. In short, they were treated as
secondary citizens in their own country.

As if this was not enough, they were subjected to traditional laws
that often undermined their rights as human beings.

But despite these difficulties, rural women were able to provide for
their families, keeping the candle alight until they were temporarily
reunited with their husbands.

The enduring philosophy of ubuntu kept their families together.
There was communal tilling of the land, communal sharing of the
seeds and communal harvesting. The hungry were fed and the
homeless were given shelter.

Where are we now?

The intergenerational scars borne by rural women were to be
inherited by their children, especially the girl child. To this day we
are still facing the greatest challenge of the emancipation of
women, especially rural women. Until we address this, we are not
going to be able to support rural entrepreneurship. Women in rural
areas are at the centre of entrepreneurial activity, despite being
less literate. Some are extremely poor and can hardly eke out a
living without some form of government support.

However, our new democratic order has provided hope for the
rural woman. She has freedom to participate in decision-making

structures. She has the freedom to express her views on the kind
of development she would like to see and act on them. She has
the freedom to assume leadership, although she is still not
empowered to carry out such a responsibility.

There are of course many opportunities for such empowerment.
One such vehicle is in the form of co-operatives. But these require
training on basic business management skills and project
implementation in order to be sustainable.

Stokvels constitute a means of saving for rural women as well as
participating communally in rural economy. But our financing
system remains largely conservative.

Where are we going?

As a country we have a vision, enshrined in our Constitution, which
is to improve the quality of life of all citizens and to free the
potential of each person.

The attainment of this vision requires us to work together now to
empower rural women to be able to free their potential. We need
rural women:

   to have access to education and health care;
   to have access and control over land and other productive
     and financial resources;
   to create income-generating activities and thus contribute to
     job creation; and

    to   participate   fully   in   public   life,   including   directing
      development in their own communities.

This is important in light of our new mandate obtained earlier this
year. The inspiring leadership of President Jacob Zuma is a source
of renewed hope for the rural women.

A new developmental trajectory

As a country, we are on a new trajectory with regard to rural
development. Evidence of this is the creation of a new Department
for Rural Development and Land Reform. As the NCOP we are
passionate about rural development and land reform. It is one of
our seven oversight priority areas for the term as per our draft
Strategic Framework Plan.

Hon Delegates

The challenge regarding the empowerment of rural women is not
something unique to us in South Africa. A number of countries,
including big economies, are still grappling with it.

The report of the Secretary-General of the United Nations on
Improvement of the situation of women in rural areas released at
the end of July this year, notes that the persistent inequalities and
discrimination faced by rural women pose significant challenges to
the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals,
including the Millennium Development Goals. That the adverse
impacts of the current multiple global crises (food and energy

crises, climate change and economic and financial crises), affect
rural women, particularly poor women, disproportionately.

This is a general observation by the Secretary-General of the UN.
He further notes in his report that as member states we need to
ensure that the rights of older women in rural areas are taken into
account, including in relation to equal access to basic social
services, appropriate social protection measures, and economic
and financial resources. I must add the issue of protection of these
older women from abuse, especially of a physical nature.

One of the important recommendations contained in this report is
that countries need to integrate the creation of non-agricultural
employment opportunities for rural women into all national
development strategies and poverty eradication strategies and
increase women’s access to financial resources, including credit.

Essential in this regard is the promotion of non-agricultural
employment for women which is critical for ensuring sustainable
livelihoods and food security in rural areas. The report notes the
following member states: Brazil, Burkina Faso, China, Malawi,
Spain, Turkey and Uzbekistan as having taken measures to
enhance women’s access to microfinance, including microcredit.

The report is however silent about South Africa’s attempts in this
regard. Could it be that we are not doing enough to provide rural
women with finance and access to micro-credit for developmental

Our strategies to empower and improve the lives of rural women
will succeed only if they are well co-ordinated across the three
spheres. The NCOP has a great potential in promoting such co-
ordination and co-operation. But we need to work together to
empower those who were condemned for centuries to hewing
wood and fetching water.

Rural women are the vanguard of our rural development vision.

I thank you for the opportunity to participate in this debate.

Thank you


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