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Women Still Face Many Challenges

Women have made great strides in our society, but they still face many challenges. One of these is the forced marriage of girls, which the government is planning to investigate.
That was the gist of Parliament’s Joint Sitting on Thursday 27 August to debate National Women’s Day. Political parties participated in the debate guided by the theme, Together Empowering Women for Gender Development and Equality.
There was general consensus among parties that while great strides had been made towards achieving gender equality, women, especially vulnerable women still faced a number of challenges, including poverty, unemployment and violence.
Heroic march to Pretoria
The day was also used to commemorate the 53rd anniversary of the 1956 women’s march to the Union Buildings.
Women could take pride in the fact that a political platform had been created for their voice to be heard, and the great advancement of women in political representation, decision-making and accessing social needs. South Africa now holds third spot in the world in terms of the percentage of women in Parliament.
In terms of education, girls have more access to schooling than in the past, and special measures have also been taken to address the needs of rural women. The establishment of the Ministry for Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities to ensure that women’s issues are mainstreamed in government’s programmes, was welcomed by all.
Unite against rape
The Minister of Basic Education, Ms Angie Motshekga, called for swift action from the government to address the issue of violence against women. This also meant swift action from police against rapists, including men who commit statutory rape.
She emphasised the importance of women working across the political divide to consolidate gains and strengthen women’s structures and gender machinery within government. Ms Motshekga urged all women to work towards the United Nations Millennium Development Goals for women, including gender equity and the eradication of poverty and illiteracy.  
End discrimination against deaf
Members of Parliament stressed that education and training played a key role in trying to address the issue of marginalisation of women, which included not having access to land or employment and having limited access to healthcare and education. Ms Denis Robinson, MP, said the deaf were “doubly disadvantaged” because they faced both discrimination and marginalisation in society. Many of the four million deaf people in South Africa were frequently denied opportunities. She called on the government to recognise sign language as an official language.  
End forced marriage

The Minister for Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities, Ms Noluthando Mayende-Sibiya, said she was investigating the issue of “ukuthwalwa kwabantwana” (forced marriage of girls), including preventive measures, empowering women to report cases of abuse and mobilising community action against such incidents. She said a firm commitment and legislative framework was also needed to compel political parties and all sectors of society to achieve gender parity.  The women’s movement should continue to strive for unity, to sustain the struggle and advance towards a non-sexist, non-racist, inclusive and caring society.