Note to Editors: The following is an extract from a speech presented by Safiyia Stanfley MPL at the Women’s Month Debate at a House Sitting in Batlharos in the John Taole Gaetsewe district today.
On behalf of the Democratic Alliance, allow me to pay tribute to the generations of strong, intelligent women who have contributed immensely to the development of our democracy. In Women’s Month, as we commemorate the march of 1956, we are reminded that women who are supported by their communities are truly unstoppable.
Considering the contributions made by generations of South African women, it is unacceptable that women still remain vulnerable to gender-based violence and continue to be excluded from economic opportunities. The unemployment rate in the Northern Cape is a reflection of a growing humanitarian crisis – as the latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey shows, the province has an expanded unemployment rate of more than forty-two per cent and the highest youth unemployment rate in the country.
And it is women who are bearing the brunt of high unemployment levels and resulting poverty, often resorting to desperate measures to provide for themselves and their families. Female-headed households are far more likely to have no employed member than households headed by men and these economic constraints mean that female-headed households are also far more likely to be vulnerable to hunger.
Even in male-headed households, it is women who bear the brunt of vulnerability to hunger. Research done by the Pietermaritzburg Agency for Community Social Action shows that women in the poorest households stretch their food budgets by buying foods that are filling at the cost of zero-rated foods that provide a diverse array of nutrients. The intended consequence is to provide starchy foods which will fill the family’s bellies sooner, but the unintended consequence is a limited supply of calcium, protein and other essential minerals. The knock-on effect this has on the health of our women and children is frightening – not only are more women older than forty-five reporting more non-communicable diseases than before, but children are also reporting prolonged and more severe childhood diseases.
Honourable Speaker, women are desperate for economic empowerment and economic opportunities so that they can provide for their families. Rising unemployment rates are a significant factor in human trafficking and when the Hawks identified Kuruman as a hotspot for trafficking in 2016, they noted that traffickers target especially young women and teenage girls. Most of the cases affecting the Northern Cape involve instances where victims are lured with offers of employment to other provinces. Indeed, when two men were convicted on eight charges relating to the trafficking of at least four young women from Upington in the South Gauteng High Court earlier this year, the judge emphasised that a desire to escape from high unemployment and poverty levels in the Northern Cape had made the offer from the traffickers seem very tempting.
Women’s desperation for economic opportunities are freely and frequently exploited in both the public and private sector, with a terrible practice known as ‘the carpet interview’ becoming a horrifyingly common occurrence.
In fact, how many of us in this House know a woman who was forced to submit to an unwanted sexual advance to get or to keep a job? How many women are uncomfortable at work, but afraid to speak out against abuse in case they are fired?
And how many women are still unsafe in their own homes? Reported cases of domestic violence in the Northern Cape have more than doubled between 2014 and 2017, but arrests made by SAPS remains at the same level. In May this year, Audrey Matshukudu had to resort to posting photographs of her bruised and beaten body on Facebook after police failed to act against the man who allegedly assaulted her. Even though she had a protection order against this man, it took police seven days before finally acting on her complaint and taking her assailant into custody.
Indeed, the criminal justice system continues to be under resourced, understaffed and ultimately ill-equipped to protect the victims of gender-based violence. In the absence of adequately funded shelters and without means to provide for themselves, many women are forced to return to their abusers – a decision which can be very dangerous, even fatal.
It is estimated that, every eight hours, a woman is murdered by her partner in South Africa. One such victim is Refilwe Letebele, who was stabbed to death at her parents’ home in Kimberley in January. Her boyfriend has been charged with her murder. Between 2015 and 2017, Statistics South Africa calculates that the murder rate for women increased by a hundred and seventeen per cent.
Yet corruption and maladministration continues to rob money from the public coffers which is meant for service delivery. While the Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences units in the province continue to experience shortages of essential equipment and tools such as vehicles, rape kits and DNA collection kits as well as telephones, for example, government continues to waste money on providing luxuries for the politically connected elite.
Honourable Speaker, we cannot be told time and again that there are financial constraints on government’s response to gender-based violence when government continues to waste money on luxuries. If there is enough money to deploy eighty-one protectors for each former state president and his spouse, then there is certainly more than enough money to deploy enough SAPS members to police stations so that complaints of rape, sexual assault and domestic violence can be managed appropriately and properly!
To free our women from the cycle of abuse, we need to ensure that women can be economically independent. This begins by ensuring that our girls leave school ready to become economically active, to start their own enterprises or to pursue higher education.
And, Honourable Speaker, we need to teach our girls to protect and to stand up for each other. We still find, far too often, that women treat each other worse than our male counterparts.
It is a worry that fewer girls finish their formal schooling compared to boys. A lack of money for school fees and obligations imposed by family commitments such as child-caring are cited in the General Household Survey of this year as the two main reasons why girls don’t attend school.
Where we govern in the Western Cape, the Democratic Alliance has improved education outcomes and expanded opportunities for youth development. Pass rates in the poorest schools have increased from fifty-seven per cent, when we took office, to more than seventy-five per cent. We are committed to ensuring that every child has access to education of a high quality and access to opportunities to realise their full potential.
It is no coincidence that seventy-five per cent of the jobs created in South Africa during 2018 were created in the Western Cape. We have established an enabling environment which attracts investment from the private sector, ensures sustained economic growth and enables job creation through support to high growth economic sectors. Through the Democratic Alliance’s commitment to creating an environment which is conducive for the sustained creation of sustainable jobs, the Western Cape continues to have the lowest unemployment rate in the country.
And this change continues to be duplicated in other areas which fall under the Democratic Alliance’s governance.
It is not a change which came overnight, but it is a change which is within reach for residents of the Northern Cape – and it is a change which is needed if we are to empower women to embrace economic opportunities and to become economically independent. It is a change which will come after the elections of 2019, when residents of this beautiful province give the Democratic Alliance the mandate to govern this province as well as we do the Western Cape.
Spokesperson of Education
084 919 4157
076 551 0312