SPEAKING NOTES FOR SPOUSE TO THE PREMIER, MRS N. ZIKALALA DURING THE OBSERVATION OF INTERNATIONAL RURAL WOMEN’S DAY, SKHEMELELE HALL, UMKHANYAKUDE, 15 OCTOBER 2020
Umkhanyakude District Mayor, Cllr S Mkhombo;
Mayors and Councillors present;
Religious and Traditional Leaders;
Senior Government Officials;
Our Distinguished Guests: The Women of KwaZulu-Natal who are with us today;
Ladies and Gentlemen;
It gives me great pleasure to stand here today to celebrate contributions made to our society by a very special group of people, the rural women.
I was raised in a rural setting myself, giving me a good insight into the life of rural women, their achievements, the challenges they face, and most importantly, what kind of assistance they need in order to flourish.
Today, we are here to celebrate the International Day for Rural Women, which this year is being celebrated under the theme “Realising women’s rights for economic emancipation of rural women today”.
I don’t think there could have been a better theme than this one, because it brings to sharp focus one of the critical events that need to happen in order for us to totally emancipate rural women – bringing about economic emancipation to their lives, today.
The first International Day of Rural Women was observed on 15 October 2008. This day, which was established by the General Assembly in its resolution 62/136 of 18 December 2007, recognises “the critical role and contribution of rural women, including indigenous women, in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty.”
Rural women play a critical role in the rural economies of both developed and developing countries.
Government and societal institutions need to recognise the urgency with which this issue needs to be attended to, because 26 years into our democracy, rural women still languish in degrading poverty.
Working together as social partners, we need to work better to put an end to their state of want and desperation.
While many may dismiss these women as having no serious role to play in taking our country’s development forward, I beg to differ.
Firstly, we need to come to appreciate the fact that the first best teacher in every child’s life is a mother.
This is the woman who teaches you how to feed from their breast the minute you arrive on this earth and will continue to teach you lessons that will shape the path your life will take.
I am a witness to the lengths to which women, rural women, will extend themselves in order to ensure the survival of their families.
Government has put in place different program and activities to support and empower women. Now is the time for you to take full advantage of these opportunities.
Here today in this venue, is a dedicated help desk with information about various initiatives aimed at empowering you, the youth and young women in particular.
I am glad that in our midst we have senior officials from the Department of Agriculture, who have documented countless cases of rural women working together to feed their families through agricultural activities.
The department boasts several initiatives aimed at empowering women through agriculture. You are encouraged to get more information on how you too can participate in these initiatives. Remember, imbila yaswela umsila ngokuyalezela.
Yes, it is a fact that growing livestock and crop has been the main means of survival for many rural families. Rural women have played a critical role in keeping the rural economy and informal trade sector going.
Despite their lack of financial resources, they ensure the continued survival of their families through small scale crop and livestock farming.
Imagine then what can be achieved if more effort was placed into providing education, skills and training as well as access to financial resources for rural women.
These are women who descended from our great-grandmothers and grandmothers who were forced to become heads of their households while their husbands were bundled into trains and busses of migrant workers who vanished into cities like Johannesburg and Durban.
Rural women of today still carry that resilience and will to survive, which tells us that given the right resources, they will become players in the mainstream economy of this country.
Ladies and gentlemen, the time is now for us to see women playing a more pronounced role in growing our country. Let us not remain pigeonholed into the traditional stereotypes which dictate that women should only be small scale farmers, or that they should remain in the corner while decisions on the mainstream economy of this country remain out of their hands.
In fact, it is the responsibility of the whole of society to ensure that women empowerment remains at the centre of our developmental agenda.
In this way, fighting for the rights of women, including the most basic right which is to feel free and safe in their own homes and communities, should remain uppermost in our minds.
Time and again, we hear harrowing stories of women being brutalised in serious cases of Gander Based Violence (GBV). In most cases, women are brutalised by those closest to them, or even members of their own communities who are supposed to be their protectors.
Ladies and gentlemen, there is a concerning trend, particularly in rural areas, where elderly women who suffer from mental illnesses like dementia, are accused of being witches. This will, in many cases, be followed by violence and murder.
We cannot allow this scourge to continue. Let us come together and defend the most vulnerable of our communities, and instead of throwing accusations, help them seek medical assistance.
Let us be mindful of the fact that there are still barriers and discriminatory social norms which continue to constrain women’s decision-making power and participation in rural households and communities.
Women and girls in rural areas lack equal access to productive resources and assets, public services, such as education and health care, and infrastructure, including water and sanitation, while much of their labour is rendered invisible and unpaid for.
We are appealing to municipalities, that as you draw up your development plans, do consider the needs of women like access to clean drinking water, housing, education and health services.
As the country’s Coronavirus status has been revised to level 1, please do not be lulled into thinking that the danger is over.
We have not yet fully realized the impact that this virus will have in a long term, but history has shown that women will carry the biggest burden of any disaster.
As our country grappled with the HIV/Aids epidemic in the 1990s, it was clear that women were on the receiving end of its impact, be it through the rate of infection, mother having to look after infected relatives, or even grandmothers having to care for young orphaned children.
The jury is still out on how long the Covid 19 pandemic will be with us for, or the total losses that will be suffered in terms of human life and job losses.
This is the reason why we need to ensure that we adhere to all the regulations that have been issued to us: wear your face mask, practice social distancing, wash your hands regularly, avoid touching your mouth, eyes and nose, but most importantly should you develop symptoms that are consistent with the virus, seek advice from experts.
Ladies and gentlemen, I want to recognize the good work that has been done by women here in Umkhanyakude.
This morning, we were able to visit with a group of women who formed themselves into a cooperative.
They do informal agricultural production for food production to sustain their families. As a recognition of the good work that you are doing, the Provincial Government has made provision of basic agricultural tools and seeds in order to assist you develop further.
Women of today, it is time for us to realise our own potential and do all in our power to break down the barriers that have kept us languishing in the periphery of the mainstream economy.
Let us now start thinking outside the box, and start charting a path for ourselves to participate in the country’s Radical Economic Transformation initiatives
I thank you