President Cyril Ramaphosa: Women’s Day 2023

Address by President Cyril Ramaphosa on the occasion of Women’s Day, Union Buildings, Tshwane

Programme Director, Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture, Mr Zizi Kodwa,

Minister of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma,

Veteran of the women’s movement, Ms Sophia Williams-De Bruyn,

Ministers and Deputy Ministers,

Premier of Gauteng, Mr Panyaza Lesufi,

Executive Mayor of Tshwane, Cllr Cilliers Brink,

Members of Parliament,

Representatives of political parties,

Religious, traditional and community leaders,


Fellow South Africans,

Molweni. Sanibonani. Dumelang. Goeie môre. Lotjhani. Avuxeni. Ndi Matsheloni. Good Morning.

I greet all the women of South Africa on this Women’s Day.

Today, as men and women, we celebrate the beautiful mothers of our nation, our sisters, our grandmothers, our aunts, our daughters. Together, we thank the women of South Africa for the role they play in the life of our nation.

Today, we celebrate how far we have come in building a non-sexist society where women are free and equal and enjoy the rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution.

We recall the suffering that women have endured for no reason other than that they are women.

We remember the courageous struggles waged by women against oppression; from those who stood up against colonialism and slavery to those who risked jail rather than carry the hated dompas.

We remember those women who took up arms against a violent regime, who organised workers to fight exploitation, who led political movements and civic organisations, and who were involved in the drafting of our new democratic Constitution.

Today of all days, we salute imbokodo, amaqhawekazi, the brave pioneers who marched to the Union Buildings on this day in 1956.

There are few moments more compelling in our history than the day when tens of thousands of women gathered in the amphitheatre of these Union Buildings.

We are still moved by the images of women like Lilian Ngoyi, Rahima Moosa, Sophie De Bruyn and Helen Joseph carrying armfuls of petitions from the women of South Africa.

We are honoured and privileged to have among us today one of those remarkable women, Aunt Sophie De Bruyn. We are grateful for your lifetime of service and continued contribution to the cause of women’s emancipation.

The women marched here to the Union Buildings, to the seat of apartheid power, to demand an end to laws that were intended to deprive them of their rights and dignity as black women.

Today, all the women of South Africa, whether they are black, white, Indian or coloured, have freedom and equal rights thanks to the bravery, activism and sacrifices of the generation of 1956.

Thanks to the struggles of women over the generations, all South African women have the right to vote, the right to work, the right to have control over their bodies, the right to property, to equality.

On this Women’s Day we pay tribute to imbokodo from across South Africa for their resilience.

Despite hardship, deprivation and many difficulties, South African women continue to stand strong. They bring up children, many of them as single parents. They run businesses, earn a living, learn skills, raise families, lead organisations and hold public office.

Even when opportunities are difficult to come by, South African women do not give up, running informal business, looking for work, providing care and being active in communities.

In every part of this country, women are taking charge of their destinies, inspiring others and driving change. They are excelling in areas once closed to women; as engineers, scientists, managers, pilots, farmers, judges, magistrates, athletes, marine pilots, and soldiers.

Women are the strength of our nation. Women carry our nation. Women prepare the next generation for a better future.

As a country we have come a long way in advancing the rights and freedoms of women.

As Government we are irrevocably committed to continuing the process of advancing and improving the lives of the women and girls of South Africa. We call upon other key role players who control resources and can open opportunities for women to do so. Business is well placed to play a key role in this process of helping to improve the lives of the women of South Africa.

There are a number of things we should do and continue doing together. Some of them are:

1. Increase the representation of women in all structures that affect our lives as South African.

The women of our country said there should be is nothing about them without them. They demanded representation in every endeavour that affects the lives of South Africans.

Women must be well represented in key positions in government, in management, in the judiciary.

The representation of women in decision-making structures continues to improve.

In Cabinet, half of the Ministers are women.

In Parliament, in the judiciary, in the public service, in the armed forces, in the police and in many local councils, we are getting closer to gender parity.

Despite these gains, we need to do much more to achieve a society of true gender equality.

2. There must be policies and laws that focus and advance the lives of women. Our laws and policies must have a bias towards improving the lives of women.

Since the advent of democracy in 1994, we have put policies and laws in place to empower women, improve their lives and advance gender equality.

3. Our education must prioritise the advancement of women. We see some of these achievements in education.

South Africa has one of the highest female literacy rates in our region.

There is parity between girls and boys in primary school enrolment.

More female learners sit for matric than males. Female learners are achieving more bachelors passes.

Young women make up the majority of students enrolled in higher education institutions.

We still have the problem of girls dropping out of school, often due to domestic responsibilities. As a society and as families and as a nation we must ensure that our girls stay at school and finish school.

4. The health of women must be a key priority.

We should remember that it was President Nelson Mandela who decided, right at the dawn of our democracy, that pregnant women and children under six should get free health care.

Women’s health outcomes continue to improve as a result of progressive policies around reproductive health, antenatal care, HIV/Aids and other communicable diseases.

Even though women’s health outcomes have improved by a number of indicators, women still carry the largest share of the burden of HIV and are more vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases.

Despite our laws, women and girls in many parts of the country still struggle to access reproductive health services.

5. The participation of women in our economy must be improved.

Our economy remains dominated by men. More women are unemployed than men.

Women are more likely to work part-time, unskilled and semi-skilled jobs and for lower pay. Women are disproportionately responsible for unpaid care work.

As a result of all these factors, women are more vulnerable to poverty, food insecurity and hunger.

Even today, nearly three decades after the dawn of democracy, the face of poverty is a black women.

The emancipation of women therefore cannot be achieved without economic empowerment.

Women must also be breadwinners. They must have equal job opportunities and equal pay. They must be able to start, own and manage businesses.

Women need to have the financial security and independence to have control over their lives.

That is why we have prioritised investment in women’s economic empowerment.

We are determined to make the most of available resources to make a difference in the lives of young women, women with disabilities, rural women and LGBTQI+ women.

We are making a difference in the lives of women in SMMEs, in cooperatives and in the informal sector.

Among other things, government is supporting women’s economic empowerment through public procurement. We have made a commitment to allocate at least 40 per cent of public procurement to women-owned businesses.

While government departments are working in earnest to award more contracts to women-owned businesses, we need to do much more. As things stand, less than a third of the companies listed on the government’s central supplier database are women-owned.

We have trained more than 6,000 women entrepreneurs to take part in public procurement opportunities. The success of this programme has convinced us of the need to train many more entrepreneurs in their thousands.

The African Continental Free Trade Area will give women-owned businesses in South Africa and across the continent access to new markets and opportunities.

We are working with partners on opportunities for women’s employment and entrepreneurship in agriculture, manufacturing, technology, the oceans economy and others.

The green economy presents immense potential for women’s entrepreneurship and empowerment, especially in renewable energy.

In a number of cities and towns there are many women who are established as green entrepreneurs working in recycling, in greening, in climate-smart agriculture and a number of other avenues.

We call on the business community to support women’s economic empowerment by partnering with small businesses as part of their green economy plans.

There is also immense opportunity for young women in public employment initiatives.

Since it was established in 2020, the Presidential Employment Stimulus has provided work and livelihood opportunities to more than 1.2 million people. Of the participants in the programme, more than 60 per cent are women.

We will ensure that our just transition to a low-carbon, climate resilient society protects the interests of women, as it does for all those affected, and that it offers opportunities for women workers and women-owned businesses.

Government is supporting women-owned businesses to expand and diversify.

We are specifically increasing our support for women-owned SMMEs through the National Empowerment Fund, the Small Enterprise Finance Agency and others.

Working with the financial services sector, we are looking to close the gender gap so that women can access banking services and credit for their businesses.

As a country, we have the right policies and programmes in place. Led by the women of our country, we continue to develop policies that will advance their interests.

What we need now is to intensify the collective efforts of all social partners, including business, to do more to financially empower women.

Business, in particular, must follow government’s lead to set aside at least 40 per cent of their spending for the empowerment of women.

On Equal employment opportunities: Promoting gender equality in the labour market is essential for women’s economic empowerment. This includes eliminating discriminatory practices and policies, promoting equal pay for equal work, and providing opportunities for women to access higher-paying and leadership positions.

Equal opportunities

Women must be given opportunities to lead – in Government, in management

6. Gender Based Violence and Fermicide must end

The violence perpetrated by men against women and girls is an assault on our common humanity. Women do not feel safe in their homes, on the street, in places of work and study and worship.

It was in response to this crisis that the first Presidential Summit on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide in 2018 made a firm commitment to undertake a comprehensive, effective and united response.

Through an extensive consultative process, the National Strategic Plan to Combat Gender-Based Violence and Femicide was launched three years ago. Since then, it has made important progress.

Women complained that whenever women who had been abused or violated reported their abuse to police they re often met by insensitive police officers at police stations who do treat their cases with he seriousness and urgency they deserve.

We have listened to this and government has ensured that this injustice is addressed.

More than 12,000 police members have received training to respond effectively to gender-based violence and to focus on the needs of victims.

More than one million DNA collection kits have been delivered to police stations around the country since 2019 and there are now just over 1,000 victim friendly rooms at police stations countrywide.

Over the last year, we opened three new Thuthuzela Care Centres for victims of gender-based violence, bringing the national total to 62.

We are improving access to shelters and associated services for survivors of gender-based violence.

In January last year, I signed into law three key pieces of legislation, namely the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act, the Criminal and Related Matters Amendment Act, and the Domestic Violence Amendment Act.

These new laws provide greater protection to survivors of gender-based violence, to ensure that perpetrators are no longer able to evade prosecution, and to strengthen measures to prevent gender-based violence.

We have responded to the call for tougher bail conditions for perpetrators.

Effective from earlier this month, no police bail may be granted to persons charged with rape or if the victim was in a domestic relationship with the perpetrator. Such bail applications must be formally applied for in court. If the accused was in a domestic relationship with the alleged victim, the court has to issue a protection order against them before releasing them on bail.

Also effective from earlier this month, gang or serial rapists face life imprisonment, as do perpetrators of date rape, marital rape, child rape and incest.

We are also piloting a system in a number of provinces that will enable victims of domestic violence to apply for protection orders online.

We congratulate all who have been part of ensuring that these progressive laws are rolled out as soon as possible.

Awareness raising and social behaviour change programmes are taking place in schools, at places of higher learning, in communities and through door-to-door campaigns.

And yet, despite progress on many fronts, women and children are still being abused, raped, assaulted and murdered by men.

This tells us that it is not enough for our laws to change, for our policing to improve, for survivors to receive better care and support.

7. Women in Sport

The women of our country are excelling in sport. Banyana Banyana and the Protea Netball Team did our country proud recently. Banyana Banyana won the African Women’s Cup and reached the top 16 in the Women’s FIFA World Cup and our Netball Team played very well and are now ranked 6th in the world.

As a country we are very proud of our women as they fly South Africa’s flag high. We need to pay them well and their pay must be equal to that of men and even exceed what we pay men.

8. We must mobilise all of society to support the women of our country on their road to empowerment and the improvement of their lives.

Society needs to change. Men need to change.

We need a movement as powerful as the women who marched on the Union Buildings to end violence against women and children.

We need a movement that includes every woman and man in this country, that brings together every church, mosque, temple and synagogue, that involves every workplace, school, college and university.

We need a movement that extends to every town and village, every farm and homestead, every home and hostel.

No-one can be left out and no-one can be left behind.

My fellow South Africans,

As we celebrate Women’s Day here at the Union Buildings, we are disturbed by the troubling events in the city of Cape Town.

This year, we were supposed to hold the national Women’s Day celebration in Khayelitsha in Cape Town. However, we had to move that event here to the Union Buildings because of violence associated with the taxi strike in the city.

While our democracy protects peaceful protest and lawful strike action, we strongly condemn the violence and destruction caused by this dispute.

We are appalled by the killings and assaults that have taken place.

Blocked roads lead to blocked business, blocked education and blocked health services, which will have long-lasting effects on life in the city.

We must uphold the law and we must solve problems through meaningful dialogue.

Today, we think of the women of Khayelitsha and the rest of Cape Town. We think about the men and the children and the families that are trying to go about their lives in peace and in safety.

We all have a responsibility to protect lives and livelihoods.

We all have a responsibility to build a safe and peaceful society.

We all have a responsibility to build a society in which every girl can realise her dreams and every women can live the life she wants.

We have come far. We have much further to go.

But working together as the women and men of South Africa, we will achieve the free and equal society for which generations of women have fought and strived.

I wish every South African a peaceful and blessed Women’s Day.

I thank you.

Source: Government of South Africa