Next month, the African National Congress Women’s League (ANCWL) will hold its National Conference. It comes in the 21st year of South Africa’s democracy: and at a time when the ruling African National Congress (ANC) embarks upon the next phase of our revolution – paving the way for radical socio-economic transformation. It is self-evident that that true emancipation of a people cannot happen unless the economic circumstances of that people are changed.
Nowhere is the correlation between improved economic circumstances and emancipation more evident, than in the lives of women. In South Africa, this has particular resonance for black, working class women: who were relegated, through centuries of oppression and patriarchy, to second-class citizenship.
It has been under the ANC that dignity was restored to the lives of the majority of South African women: to a society wherein they fully participate, bolstered by the provisions of the Constitution that guarantees non-racialism, non-sexism and non-discrimination on the grounds of gender.
Whilst there has been some progress made in implementing the ANC’s policies intended to accelerate transformation and the economic empowerment of women, economic marginalization continues. Women, and black women specifically, have been generally excluded from meaningful employment and business opportunities; they have been largely confined to low-skilled and menial work and denied equal pay for equal work. Women are also uncompensated and discriminated against for work performed in the home (including as child-minders and carers), or subject to numerous other obstacles against succeeding in the workplace.
In addition, cultural stereotypes and entrenched patriarchy continue to impede the advancement of women in the economy. In short, poverty wears a dress.
When the more than 20 000 brave women marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria on 09 August 1956, weathering the elements and the might of the apartheid security forces: they set in motion a movement that would not be deterred, intimidated or cowed into submission.
It is due to the determination and resilience of these women that we have the non-sexist, egalitarian South Africa today. They were heroes; and we as the women of South Africa owe them an immense, incalculable debt.
It is mindful of the precedent set by the pioneers of the 1956 Women’s March, that we as the ANCWL convene our National Conference in April: to take forward the work for which they laid firm foundations. The conference will be attended by 3000 delegates, drawn not just from the ranks of the league, but also from ANC structures, the alliance partners, the progressive women’s movement, business, and the media.
In the run-up to the conference, the league has convened regional and provincial general councils: to consolidate the policy positions of the branches – as well as their preferences for the leadership of the organization. Under the theme “Radical Transformation of Women’s Socio-Economic Rights”, the conference will deliberate on ways to transform the socio-economic circumstances of women of South Africa.
The ANCWL Policy Conference held last year offered key, tangible recommendations on how to advance the socio-economic liberation of women. In this we have drawn on the successes of others whose political leadership faced similar challenges.
For example, the ANCWL is exploring the possibility of accessing women to finance through the establishment of a Women’s Bank: modeled on the successful Grameen microfinance and community development bank, founded by Muhammad Yunus in Bangladesh. By removing the need for collateral required by conventional banks – the poorest of the poor have been able to enter the banking orbit through Grameen: “on terms that were both reasonable and appropriate.” According to Grameen, it had 8.349 million borrowers as of October 2011. Ninety seven per cent are women.
This is one of the many policies, plans and programmes the branches of the ANCWL advanced during the National Policy Conference last year. To streamline these initiatives the ANCWL will call for the establishment of a Women’s Empowerment Fund to be located in the Ministry of Women: to assist women in accessing finance that could result in the betterment of their lives.
The establishment of a Ministry of Small Business Development is an indication of government’s vision of SMME’s as a driver of job creation, economic growth, and supporting an inclusive economy for the benefit of women in particular. To further the inclusion of more women in the economy, both formal and informal, we as the ANCWL support the work of the ministry, and encourage women to utilize its resources.
The land question remains an emotive one, and constitutes the core of the struggle for the political, economic and social emancipation of the people of South Africa, and of women, in particular. Involving women in the agricultural sector is a priority: which starts with farm ownership and management. We will call on government to develop and implement programmes that will ensure that women utilize the accessed land for their economic development. Partnerships with the private sector should be facilitated – to create markets for produce and goods manufactured by women cooperatives and companies.
We will advance initiatives that will encourage women to play a more active role in agriculture. This includes facilitating access to government resources around agro-processing, biofuel cultivation and job opportunities in the sector. This will necessitate paving the way for more women to get agricultural training and education.
On a policy level, the Conference will consider a recommendation that the review process of the 1913 Land Act should ensure that women access productive agricultural land; and that adequate mentoring programmes are provided to women given land by government.
We want to assist women in entering the mainstream economy, by making it easier for them to register companies. The ANCWL Conference will consider a recommendation to lobby for a certain percentage of tenders for poverty relief programmes to be ring-fenced for women-headed companies.
The ANCWL affirms that the socio-economic development of the majority of South Africans has been vastly improved in the past twenty-one years: largely due to increased spending to build vast and inclusive social security net. However, there have been instances of social grants and other government poverty relief initiatives being misused by beneficiaries. The Conference will consider the recommendation of proposing that up to 50 per cent of government child support grants should be in the form of non-transferable food vouchers.
We acknowledge that education plays a key role in facilitating the access of more women into the economy. More emphasis must be placed on skills training, strengthening technical vocational education and training, and targeting more women for training in technical subjects t a tertiary level.
The ANCWL is firmly behind our government as it calls on all citizens to Work Together to Move South Africa Forward. And in this, let us never lose sight of the fact that in order to fully emancipate women, their economic conditions must of necessity be remedied. As we look towards our National Conference, we once again call on all stakeholders, and the women of South Africa themselves, to make submissions to us on how we may take their voices with us.
Comrade Angie Motshekga is President of the ANC Womens League