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COSATU Today  |  COSATU Press Statements

56 years of women united against unemployment, poverty and inequalities

8 August 2012

As the Country celebrates Women’s Month, the Congress of South African Trade Unions salutes and honours the strength and voices of women of 1956. 56 years down the line, we still remember the power and courage of those women who were a driving force in the struggle for liberation of the people of South Africa; women who took forward the struggle of women, fought for the protection of women and children and equality regardless of gender and race.

The struggle of women of yesteryear does not differ from the struggle of women of this decade. Life in the reserves was a life of hardship for the vast majority of the people who lived cheek-by-jowl with poverty, unemployment, and inequality. African women were employed in low-paid, unskilled jobs. Today women are still oppressed, especially in the informal sector, domestic work and farm work.

The "Women`s Charter" called for the full representation and participation of women in the selection of all candidates for all judicial and traditional courts, and alternative dispute resolution mechanism and that women should not to be disadvantaged in legal proceedings. It further demanded equality of opportunity in employment, equal pay for work of equal value; and the removal of all laws and customs that denied women such equality.

The Charter demanded the protection of women against unfair labour practices, including in the informal sector, sexual harassment and violence. It demanded paid maternity leave and decent child care for working mothers. The Charter further demanded that prostitution should be decriminalised, and that appropriate measures should be taken to protect the health and safety of sex workers and their clients.

COSATU believes the Women’s March of 1956 played an important role in the resistance to apartheid. It showed women’s disapproval of the government’s drive to impose laws that discriminated and disempowered women and minimized their mobility.

We salute the women of 1956 who were united in calling upon the Minister of Justice not to pass and impose legislation that degrades women, a law that would control and minimize women’s mobility for visiting their families but also for looking for work opportunities in the cities.

As we celebrate this month lets us unite - young and old, women and men - and break the silence on gender based violence, and demand respect and recognition of women’s human rights and dignity as women.

In the 21st century women are still legally oppressed - unemployed, under-employed or highly exploited. Their access to the formal economy is still fraught with challenges. The justice system still favours the perpetrators above the victims of gender based violence. Women have become more vulnerable and forced by poverty and unemployment into sex work.

COSATU call upon its members and all South Africans to raise their voices against all the injustices faced by women and girls in our country - gender based violence, poor access to skills development, poor access to decent employment and patriarchy.

The federation calls upon women in this decade also to raise their voices against the Traditional Courts Bill, which discriminates against women in rural areas and denies them basic constitutional rights to be treated fairly and without discrimination.

Women of all races should take a stand on women’s rights and play a central role in the struggle for equality and dignity for women.

COSATU in this women month joins the rest of the world and the continent by congratulating two brave South African women of 2012 - Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma and Riah Phiyega - on their appointment to the positions which were occupied and dominated by males, chairperson of the AU Commission and National Police Commissioner respectively.

The federation has no doubt that these women worked hard to be appointed and will continue to serve the African people, and commits itself to work with the Police Commissioner to eradicate the scourge of violence and crime on which women find themselves being the victim and be at the receiving end.

Patrick Craven (National Spokesperson)
Congress of South African Trade Unions

Tel: +27 11 339-4911 or Direct: +27 10 219-1339
Mobile: +27 82 821 7456
E-Mail: patrick@cosatu.org.za