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Address by Deputy President at Fourth World Congress of Rural Women
International Convention Centre, KwaZulu-Natal
23 April 2007
Ms Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka


I wish to welcome you all to this beautiful part of our country's east coast and to South Africa. It is a pleasure for me to participate in the deliberations of this congress. As a representative of the South African government, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the organisers of this gathering for deeming it proper to allow South Africa to host the Fourth World Congress of Rural Women. It is all the more significant that this gathering of diverse women takes place on the African continent for the very first time. Africa needs solutions to the vexing challenge of feminisation of poverty.

Let me also extend praise to the Ministry of Agriculture and Land Affairs under Minister Xingwana, the Departments of Social Services and Foreign Affairs and the Women in Agriculture and Rural Development (WARD) and to all those who have contributed towards making this important historic moment possible.

As we say in Africa, Malibongwe igama lamakhosikhazi.

This international congress dealing with issues affecting rural women is indeed significant for all of us in developing countries. Most countries including mine grapple with the persisting underdevelopment.

This congress is a momentous occasion that draws attention to the plight of rural women and their needs, the benefits and tangible advantages that are to be derived from agriculture and other sectors of our economies, and challenges to do with quality of life. In your diversity, you all come with experiences, which can possibly enrich the struggle for women's emancipation and gender equality. Our different roles and responsibilities as mothers, sisters, and daughters offer opportunities and challenges.

The positions we hold in society are very relevant to the solutions we seek, they may not be enough but definitely helpful for success in the fight against women's global underdevelopment. What we do with our positions in what is most crucial and I am afraid there is much more to do on that front.

This congress also offers you and all of us an opportunity to reflect on these issues; what has been achieved since the third congress of Rural Women took place in Madrid, Spain four years ago. Emphasis has to be on direct benefits for rural women not how laws have changed and how well represented we now are because that is old story now. What next?

My remarks today will encapsulate what you have discussed no doubt or will discuss for the next four days as you examine the 'The universal and wide-ranging issues confronting rural women, share concrete experiences of successes in addressing these issues worldwide.' This work is a shared collective responsibility involving your respective national governments, civil society, international and intergovernmental organisations, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and community-based organisations (CBOs). The issues you are discussing are the macro-micro socio-economic context in most of our countries even though sometimes they are made marginal.

Goals of the congress

In this regard, in this Fourth World Congress of Rural Women, thematic issues from the third Congress are still the key issues.

For example:

  • governance for sustainable rural development
  • globalisation and poverty eradication
  • peace and stability
  • health and environmental security
  • peace and stability
  • I would Add Human Resource Development for women and girl children.
To a great extent, these areas echo some of the objectives made in Beijing in 1995 where we agreed on a Plan of Action that will be based on the 'eradication of poverty' and 'the prevention of violence against women and children.' For viability of rural development, realistic solutions are important in establishing a cohesive social force for our communities and empowering of women without cultural other prejudices is important.

If I may, let me share with you the agricultural dynamics in South Africa. We have "roughly forty two thousand households for whom agriculture constitutes a main source of income. There are least two million rural black households who engage in agriculture at some level representing about 45% of all rural black households. "So this is a significant number of our population. Life is generally very hard for our people who till the land. Since the discovery of minerals in South Africa there has been systematic destruction of the African peasantry and land ownership hence our land restitution and land reform policies. In that process of land dispossessions women lost even more. We have not recovered from that race and class dilemma our people have faced in agriculture for a century. Our democracy has to change these realities to matter to rural women.

The International Labour Organisation, in a document titled 'Training and Rural Development' reports that "almost 70% of the economically active women work in the rural sector in emerging regions and that female farmers nowadays are the majority of the 1 500 million people who live in absolute poverty. "And more disturbing, the same report continues to note that "the overload of work women suffer is reflected in the lack of access to public bodies of social security and support to old age."

In other words, in most developing nations women work well beyond the normal retirement age and they remain the poorest of the poor all their lives.

That is complicated by burden of diseases especially HIV and AIDS millions of children have been orphaned by the disease." It is indeed a race against time, its worse for rural women. How can we turn this tide around? Many girl children in this situation are destined to carry the load and burden of family responsibility. It is incumbent upon all of us gathered here to come up with practical interventions that are complimentary to women's developmental processes given this reality. This is a political-social and economic challenge. It is a moral challenge and obligation. We know girl children will be the one to give up childhood to play adult roles and worse.

Programme director, delegates and distinguished guests, the challenge of women especially in rural areas is simply poverty and powerlessness. So as we speak about rural women we must call the problem by its name and proceed to fight it. Poverty is a multi-dimensional phenomenon, which includes income poverty, chronic hunger, and inability to access basic services such as water, energy, sanitation, and being without capability to access opportunities that mostly need education sometimes class and gender is often an issue.

It goes without saying that negative conditions in rural areas have a greater adverse effect on women than citizens working in the cities and elsewhere. Women are more affected by unrewarding seasonal wage-work. As unskilled causal workers in large scale farms their overall value is not recognised. And coupled with the demands of the household, they suffer from double exploitation and patriarchy. The circumstances of women are not often helped by traditional views on women's roles.

The factors that perpetuate poverty and reproduce it for large masses and for women specially, are what we need to deal with and eradicate in large scale. There are specific factors that perpetuate the poverty cycle and they are massive and large scale.

"These are factors that reinforce a vicious cycle of poverty and keep households, communities and women from contributing to their own development and national growth."

They remain in the "poverty trap" which is in the multi-dimensional circumstances that trap sustaining the poor in that state of poverty, unable to break free on their own. The challenges associated with these 'poverty trap' factors, makes it a macro challenge and it cannot be left only to civil society and isolated interventions. It needs to be broken down and cover all. Dealing with women's poverty is the biggest and most urgent business of developing states. It has to be mainstreamed. It cannot be left to macro economic plans or helped by Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth only. It needs massive macro and micro targeted socio economic interventions.

This massive macro and micro targeted socio economic interventions must target women and have expressed intentions to eradicate poverty and women's poverty specifically and in large measures and intergenerational.

It has been shown that factors that reproduce the 'poverty trap' include:

  • asset poverty, land, rural
  • lack of access to affordable basic infrastructure
  • poor health which reduces productivity and lack of health services
  • social society safety rights with predictable
  • 4,9
  • 12 million
  • health, education, houses
  • poor or no skills and education.
Exposure to labour market risks - poor people are risk averse, out of dispensation they will rather opt for secured low paying jobs, and in large parts are unable to fight for fair working conditions.

Poor communities are hindered by lack of resources from being innovative and finding solutions so talent is wasted.

Unsatisfactory human settlement e.g. informal settlement, further poor human settlements do not attract experts.

Poor communities need large resources, but are often under-funded and "unable to manage large resources" in reality and perceptually.

Capacity and responsive state:

  • effective and purposeful access to leadership
  • often the weaker and under resourced institutions work with the poor and women and are simply unable to rise to the daunting challenge placed upon them
  • social security, especially for disabled old and children / with extension 12 nothing for youth health, schools, houses, free basic electricity, private sector and first economy have not learnt to make eradication of poverty and women empowerment part of their business and get a win-win out of it. Because that is possible; that is not aligned with poverty eradication which is not in conflict with economic growth.
It is in tackling these large issues and turning the pyramid on its head, tip down that we can hope to make a lasting difference. This is what we mean when we talk about mainstreaming women empowerment and gender equality.

Initiatives such as:

  • micro credit
  • co-operatives
  • adult education
  • youth development.
In an enabling environment that allows for massification and quality, all these initiatives have greater impact. There are critical choices to be made at policy level to be responsive to women's needs such as when and how we balance growth and redistribution, what are trade offs, at what point is redistribution more needed than growth and, therefore, targeting those we must distribute is critical to make a real difference. Those attending from government and large institutions must please engage with these issues with an aim to link and deal with the macro and micro issues in national policy making. The industrial strategies of countries must speak to plight of women whose talent in most countries is wasted but needed. In a macro and micro targeted interventions we must close these gaps which are massive. If we go a long way in dealing with these issues such as:

  • asset poverty
  • skills and education
  • access to infrastructure
  • ending prejudices against women.
I put my neck on the block.

Most of the problems of humanity will be solved. There is a big role to technology in this regard especially fast track and broaden access. We need vigilance on technology and development. We must value and work for partnerships. The partnerships are important but they must be about making a real difference not just a feel good.

In conclusion, allow me to go forth commend you on the sterling work you have done thus far through previous congresses, and also to encourage you to go forth and do much more with just as much vigour and energy as you will deliberate in the next few days. What is important for all of us is to know that if developing countries do not target women and poor people in the most direct manner, there will be no meaningful growth and development for all. Further if in Africa we ignore youth, we give up on our best hope in Africa which is a youthful continent. Our young women will be another generation of women at risk. I hope with you we can change the paradigm, it is not enough to simply shift it. My government is committed to walk the talk, and to work with all of you.

I wish you success in your work and beyond.

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