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Shopsteward Volume 23 No. 3

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Media Centre  |  COSATU Press Statements

National Women's Day

7 August 1996

COSATU Statement on the National Women's Day

As we approach National Women's Day on August 9, COSATU once again salutes the women of our country . While there are National Events all over the country including Pretoria, our focus this year will be on the situation in KwaZulu-Natal .

The theme is : The fight against violence on women.

South Africa has a rich history of strong women leaders who played leading roles in the struggle for liberation. It was also a struggle for emancipation of women. This included women such as-Lillian Ngoyi, Ruth First, Helen Joseph, Ray Alexander, Dora Tamana, Albertina Sisulu, Francis "Ma" Baart and thousands of other women. In COSATU this included people like Jabu Ndlovu, Mam Lydia. Emma Mashinini. Susan Shabangu to name but the few. This was a struggle against national oppression and exploitation.

We also salute those women who have managed to break through the prejudices facing them and become prominent leaders of our time, both in government and in civil society. These women see our struggle as both a class and gender struggle.

Violence and Women However, the sad reality is that women are still the most oppressed strata of our society:

Rural women are at the bottom of the rung, often living in the most difficult and sometimes inhuman conditions. In these areas there is no infrastructure, water, electricity and telecommunications. Most women in these area are often uneducated which offers them little hope of improving their situation. We need to build these areas both in terms of infrastructure and education programmes such as those run by ABET.

Women also continue to work in the lowest paid jobs earning slave wages; they bare the brunt of political violence, they are the main victims of violent crimes, such as rape, abuse, battery etc. Some are driven to such degrading activities such as prostitution and drugs as way of survival.

The police are still inefficient in dealing with these cases and the law also provides little support for victims of these crimes. We need to create a society where women feel secure and where there are adequate support systems for victims of crime.

Way Forward

COSATU has identified a number of areas where we need to campaign for women's rights.

Equality : Although we celebrate the number of women who have moved into leadership positions in all tiers of government, women are still sorely underrepresented in decision making processes. Moreover, women are often undermined in these structures and their opinions not taken as seriously as those of men. The government still needs to take bold decisions around issues which mainly affect women, such as those relating to the budget allocation. In our country child care is still not budgeted for.

We need to look at the experiences of other countries where government pays for creche or child minding facilities. The government also needs to look at ways of legally enforcing maintenance pay from those fathers who desert their families .

Six Month Paid Maternity Leave

COSATU is fighting for a six months paid maternity leave, that is not paid for from our UIF Fund. In this way the burden for raising children will not only be born by women parents. We reject with contempt the view held by some employers that granting rights to women will increase costs at a factory. If this be the price that we pay for democracy so be it.

COSATU welcomes the move to grant women "freedom of choice "over their bodies as thousands of women are being injured and killed each year from back street abortions. The government must prioritise setting up counselling services, coupled with abortion clinics, to put an end to this terrible situation. This is not a licence for abortions but a means to ensure that there is no discrimination against those women who decide on abortion.

As we celebrate the National Women's Day, we need to rededicate our selves to take steps that will lead to total emancipation for women at the work place, communities, economically and politically. This will require among others the reprioritisation of expenditure by the government, education of men and women on gender issues and employment programmes which target women and the youth.

Nowetu Mpati COSATU Head of Communications

Tel: + 27 + 11 + 339-4911 Fax: + 27 + 11 + 339-2281 E-mail: nowetu@cosatu.org.za

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