South African Women's Day

South Africa commemorates Women’s Month in August.

The theme for Women’s Month this year is: 

“Working together to enhance women’s opportunities to economic empowerment”

Women’s Day (9 August) recalls the day in 1956 when women from all races and walks of life marched to the Union Buildings in protest against oppressive apartheid laws.

This historic march was a turning point in the role of women in the struggle for freedom and society at large. Since that eventful day, women from all walks of life became equal partners in the struggle for a non-racial and non-sexist South Africa.

Government messages on Women's Month

The focus of Government is to facilitate the empowerment of women to become equal participants in the economic, social and political spheres:

  • Government acknowledges the historical inequities that have disadvantaged women, limiting development opportunities and representation in decision-making positions. Over the past 17 years of democracy, Government made deliberate efforts to improve the status of women.
  • Women representation in Parliament increased drastically from 2, 7% during apartheid to 27% after the historic 1994 elections. It reached 44% after 2009 general elections. South Africa is number four amongst countries with a highest number of women in parliament. 43% of Cabinet Ministers are women. The number of women councilors has unfortunately declined from 40% to 38% after 2011 Local Government Elections.
  • Government promotes the appointment of women into management positions in the public service and state-owned enterprises including career progression from lower ranks where women are already in majority.   
  • There is a need to promote the appointment of women to decision-making positions in the private sector. By September 2010, 10% of CEOs and chairpersons of boards of companies listed in the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) were women. Women held less than 16% of directorship and 21% of executive management positions.
  • To accelerate the empowerment of women and address issues of compliance towards the attainment of 50/50 gender parity, the Gender Equality Bill is being developed by the Department for Women, Children and People with Disabilities.

Government programmes are already empowering and improving the living conditions of women.

  • Women are highly affected by poverty and unemployment. Therefore, all the efforts to create employment including the New Growth Path and the Job Fund must benefit women.
  • Government has labour intensive schemes and programmes such as the Expanded Public Works Programme and the Community Development Worker Programme which focus on helping women to create local jobs and develop skills.
  • Qualifying beneficiaries get land and property through the human settlements subsidy programme (assert and wealth creation).
  • Government's priority of turning rural areas into thriving centres of development is having a positive impact on women. Rural women are the intended beneficiaries of the programmes and resources that eradicate poverty, such as the War on Poverty campaign. The National Rural Youth Service Corps emphasises 50/50 gender parity in the recruitment of youths to be skilled.
  • With assistance from government and other institutions, women’s groups are establishing and running productive and profitable rural development projects.
  • Gender parity has been reached on access to education for boys and girls. Working with partners, Government is implementing initiatives to encourage girls to pursue careers in the fields of science, technology and engineering. Government’s allocation of dedicated scholarships and research funding for women is also helping to increase the number of women in these sectors.

South Africa is addressing social challenges facing women, particularly the scourge of gender based violence.

  • Crimes against women and children are a national priority. These crimes have severe, long lasting impact on victims including serious mental health problems; gynecological complications, unwanted pregnancies, HIV infection; serious physical injuries or disability and ultimately, death. The impact is not limited to a person who experiences it, but also those who witness violence, in particular children.
  • To coordinate the national response to this scourge, the Department for Women, Children and People with Disabilities is establishing an Advisory Council on Violence against Women and Children. The Council will comprise of key government departments, civil society organizations and other relevant partners and it will coordinate the implementation of the 365 Days National Plan of Action to End Violence against Women and Children.
  • Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences (FCS) units have been established in all 176 policing areas. Police officers are trained to deal with these cases and forensic social workers are hired to assist child victims in particular.
  • 28 Thuthuzela Care Centres have been established in areas with high incidents of violence. These are one stop centers where rape victims can lodge a case with the police and receive counseling and medical care including prevention of HIV infection and unwanted pregnancy.
  • Communities are mobilized to take part in curbing violence against women and children through campaigns such as the Child Protection Week and 16 Days of Activism on No Violence against Women and Children.

Read about Women's struggle in South Africa.
Related link: Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities