Monday 8 March is International Women’s Day and so it was only fitting that President Cyril Ramaphosa’s weekly newsletter includes the brave stories of SA women who have been in the frontline battling COVID-19 for the greater good of the country. 

The Women’s Charter, which was drawn up in 1994, notes that at the heart of women’s marginalisation in South Africa are the attitudes and practices that “confine women to the domestic arena, and reserve for men the arena where political power and authority reside”.

Ramaphosa said there can be no meaningful progress for women if society continues to relegate women to “traditional” professions, occupations or roles, while it is mainly men who sit on decision-making structures.

INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY: LEADERSHIP AND ACHIEVING AN EQUAL FUTURE IN A COVID-19 WORLD 

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is women’s leadership and achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world. Ramaphosa said that since the coronavirus pandemic reached South Africa a year ago — Friday 5 March to be exact — the women of South Africa have played a pivotal role in the country’s response.

“We salute the resilience and bravery of women frontline workers, who worked to fight the pandemic as nurses, doctors, emergency personnel, police and soldiers. These include the tragic stories of women like Nurse Petronella Benjamin from Eerste River in the Western Cape, who lost her life to COVID-19 just days before she was due to retire after 25 years as a nurse,” Ramaphosa said. 

He added that our efforts to contain the pandemic have been greatly boosted by the thousands of fieldworkers like Azalet Dube from Doctors without Borders, who went into communities to raise awareness about the disease. 

“The dedication of the nation’s educators has ensured that our young people were able to receive an education despite the disruption caused by the pandemic. We thank the women leading civil society organisations who worked and continue to work with the Ministerial Advisory Committee in driving a holistic approach to managing the pandemic,” he said. 

To commemorate International Woman’s Day, Ramaphosa made mention of Nandi Msezane.

“We salute women like Nandi Msezane, who helped raise funds for food support in affected communities, and helped to provide access to mental health support for the LGBTQI+ community during the lockdown,” he added. 

Vulnerable women and children affected by violence during the lockdown were helped thanks to the efforts of numerous non-governmental organisations (NGOs) led by and staffed by women. Ramaphosa said this includes women like Fazila Gany, a longstanding member of the National Shelter Movement who also sadly passed away from COVID-19. 

‘THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A WOMAN’S PLACE’ – RAMAPHOSA 

Marking International Women’s Day, Ramaphosa said women doctors, researchers and scientists have also played and continue to play an important role in our epidemiological response. 

One of the COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials conducted last year, the Ensemble trial, was led by two female scientists, Prof Glenda Gray of the South African Medical Research Council and Prof Linda-Gail Bekker of the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre.

“Last year we lost one of the country’s foremost experts on rural poverty, Dr Vuyo Mahlati. At the time she was studying the impact of the pandemic on food security in vulnerable communities, especially small scale farmers,” he said. 

The Solidarity Fund, which has played such a key role in this regard, is chaired by one of South Africa’s most prominent businesswomen, Gloria Serobe. Women CEOs, board members and fund managers continue to play a leading role in pushing for their companies to support government’s Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan,” said Ramaphosa. 

“No such tribute on this day would be complete without recognising the role of the women of this administration, whose efforts often go unacknowledged. It is women who lead the many government departments at the forefront of the national relief response,” he added. 

Ramaphosa, on International Women’s Day, said our experience of this pandemic has once more demonstrated women’s capacity to organise, collaborate, lead and achieve. 

“Through their actions, they have demonstrated there is no such thing as ‘a woman’s place”. 

‘STILL UNDER-REPRESENTED IN BOARDROOMS AND CORRIDORS OF POWER’ 

While women have been acknowledged through International Women’s Day, the women of our country still face many challenges.

“They are still under-represented in the boardrooms and corridors of power. They are still more likely to be poor and unemployed than their male counterparts. They are still vulnerable to gender-based violence and femicide. But on this day, let us acknowledge how far we have come as a society thanks to the role of women leaders, particularly in helping the nation through this pandemic,” said Ramaphosa. 

“As we have struggled against this disease, women have been present and prominent in almost every arena of life. This has set a standard for the kind of society we continue to build,” he added. 

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Presh JM Reporter

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