Women must be given opportunities to be free

By Safiyia Stanfley, MPL, DA Provincial Spokesperson on Gender, Youth and Persons with Disabilities:

The following extract is from a speech delivered today by the Democratic Alliance’s provincial spokesperson on Gender, Youth and Persons with Disabilities, Safiyia Stanfley, during the Women’s Day Debate in the Northern Cape Provincial Legislature.

Women cannot be said to be truly free when there is still widespread inequality, unemployment, domestic abuse and sexual violence.

We need women’s networks which are oriented to realising the rights of women, not movements protecting the patriarchy which still robs women of their opportunities. A movement may have noble intentions, but it cannot be quiet and refuse to comment when its own leaders are at fault. It is hypocritical to pretend to the masses that you have the interests of women at heart when you fail to regard the violence and abuse perpetrated against women seriously. You cannot be satisfied by merely requesting a meeting when men are setting their wives on fire, kicking them in their genitals or running them over with cars.

The Democratic Alliance believes that women must be given the opportunity to be truly free and to live lives that they value.

Firstly, we must give social assistance to women who are the victims of poverty, domestic abuse and sexual violence. There has to be a system of social security to protect women from extreme poverty.

Secondly, we have to enforce maintenance laws and ensure that absent fathers pay their papgeld. Research has shown that more than 90% of maintenance defaulters are male, which implies that women are suffering disproportionately from some men’s refusal to acknowledge their parental responsibilities.

With South Africa’s support, we have been successful in paving the way for an amendment to the Maintenance Act. Clause 11 now stipulates that a finding by a court that a parent is in arrears will enable black-listing. Due to the tireless work of the Democratic Alliance Women’s Network and our national petition to blacklist maintenance defaulters, we have triumphed.

We know that this victory is a victory for all women who struggle to receive their child support payments. This is what a women’s network does when it is serious about protecting the rights of women.

Thirdly, we need to empower women through the sustainable creation of decent jobs which pay a living wage. The release last week of the Quarterly Labour Force Survey for the second quarter of 2015 shows that the expanded unemployment rate is at 41.1%. And the labour market report on employment amongst the youth, as published in June by Statistics South Africa, shows that youth unemployment in the province is the highest in the country.

The Democratic Alliance believes that, when women are deprived of the opportunity to work, their independence, their dignity and their ability to provide for their loved ones is undermined. We need to create an economy which is conducive to the creation of jobs.

And finally, we need to ensure that young women are given equal opportunities in the labour market.

The June youth employment report shows that, at 52%, the Northern Cape has the highest unemployment rate among young women than any other province. As a result, women are more likely to become discouraged from seeking employment than men. Nationally, about one in ten women give up their dream of becoming gainfully employed.

If we do not act today, we will have a financial and social crisis tomorrow.

Government must implement a Youth Wage Subsidy which incentivises companies through a state-funded tax rebate to appoint young people.

With this subsidy, we give the youth – especially young women – an opportunity to obtain experience in the labour market and thereby enable them to apply for more advanced positions. It is also a critical intervention for the young women who no longer qualify for the child grant, but have no other means of income.

We have to foster a spirit of entrepreneurship through empowering SMME’s owned by women and by reducing the bureaucratic burdens placed on those applying for government assistance. Some countries roll out the red carpet for their entrepreneurs; we roll out the red tape.

The Democratic Alliance supports a Business Voucher Support Programme, which provides a voucher that beneficiaries can exchange for business, management and financial skills or relevant technical programmes at accredited institutions. Through this training, we improve the chances of young women seeking employment or who want to open their own businesses.

To realise the great potential of all our young women, we must address the scourge of unemployment and we must give the necessary social support to families in need.

Throughout our programmes, dialogues, interventions and debates, we need to remember – women are inherently strong and we do ourselves a disservice by viewing women as merely the perpetual victims of male dominance.

It is not for nothing that the popular Setswana saying goes – The mother is she who grasps the knife by the blade.

Let us celebrate the strength and wisdom of our women in this month.