Address by President Nelson Mandela at the National Conference of Commitments: Gender and Women Empowerment, Johannesburg

23 February 1996

The Honourable Minister of Health Dr Nkosazana Zuma;
Our Distinguished Foreign Guests;
Ladies and Gentlemen;
Friends and Fellow South Africans.

Hardly six months after the historic Beijing Conference, we have converged here to chart the way forward. The urgency with which our nation regards the advancement of women did not allow us to delay.

The cause of women's emancipation is part of our national struggle against outdated practices and prejudices. It is a struggle that demands equal effort from both men and women alike. Just as the fight against apartheid liberated all South Africans - Africans, Coloureds, Indians, and Whites - the struggle for gender equality will benefit both men and women. The prosperous future to which we aspire calls for a united front of all South Africans across both the colour and gender divides.

When our delegation left for Beijing they were mandated by government to fight tooth and nail for the cause of women's emancipation. Upon their return, the Cabinet wasted no time in discussing their report and taking the necessary decisions.

We regard it as one of our priorities that this session of parliament should adopt the legislation needed to establish a nation on the needs of women and mobilising the resources of government into systematic programmes to address those needs.

We are also committed to joining the fight against gender inequality on the international front as well. That is why we co-operate with all relevant international agencies both within Southern Africa and across the globe. And that is why our government attached so much importance to the Beijing conference.

During the Beijing Conference the United Nations Development Fund for Women, UNIFEM, celebrated its twenty years of commitment to the world's women. It presented its anniversary award to the Government of South Africa in recognition of its pioneering efforts to the advancement of women.

The Government considered it appropriate to hand over this award, in South Africa, to a woman who embodies both Government and civil society. It is all the more appropriate that we do so at today's conference, after Government has reflected on its commitments to the Beijing Platform of Action and as we focus on translating it into practical action.

The woman who is to receive this award today has devoted her entire life to the cause of her people's liberation. Some fifty-two years ago I had the honour to be the best man at her wedding; and on that occasion I told here that she was marrying a man who was already married to the struggle. I should have told the groom that he was marrying a woman who would personify the struggle.

It is my greatest honour to call upon Mama Albertina to come and receive this award, on behalf of our government and our people.

Mama Sisulu personifies the demanding years known as the roaring fifties, including the march to the Union Buildings whose 40th anniversary we will celebrate later this year. She had a share of the hazardous times in the underground and the repression of the early sixties. She was always available to the young lions during the 1976 uprisings. When the UDF was formed in 1984, she was an automatic choice as a co-President.

For all this she was dragged before the racist court over and over again. Today shy is laying a firm basis for our young democracy and for reconstruction and development as an MP. We salute you! You belong to the category of people we cannot do without.

In presenting this award we applaud all those who, in large visible campaigns and in small unrecognised struggles, give birth to our new democracy. We also honour your erstwhile colleagues like Kate Molale, Helen Joseph, Frances Baard, Florence Mophosho, Lillian Ngoyi and countless others who defiantly walked on red coal with their bare feet in striving to bring happiness to our children and our nation.

Ladies and gentlemen;

May the honour which the international community has bestowed on us serve as an inspiration and make us steadfast in ensuring that there is real change in the lives of millions of South African women.

I thank you.

Issued by: Office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website