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Women lead through character; no need for artificial quotas to promote equality

*Note to journalists: Full Women’s Day speech by Ms Wessels follows media release:

Women need to recognise and appropriate their true value and place in society. We should not have to subject ourselves to a quota system in order to obtain posts or positions. By doing so, we actually admit that we need help to achieve equality. True gender equality cannot be accomplished by means of quotas.

The women of today should be more like the women of the past who stood up for what was due to them and did not wait for quotas and artificial privilege.

We live in challenging times where there is intolerance and often a sense of a loss of identity. We have forgotten where we come from because politicians and other groupings make populist statements about the Afrikaner and South African history.

It is, however, important to remember that the women in South Africa, and in particular the Afrikaner women, have a history of strength and perseverance that they can be proud of.

The Women’s Memorial Monument that was erected in 1913 in memoriam of the 34 000 women and children who perished during the Anglo-Boer War is not only a symbol of love and forgiveness, but also of the women’s strength. Afrikaner women are the true “bitter enders” of the war.

Women’s Day in South Africa should be a celebration of the history of all the women in the country, not just the ANC women.

Women should be proud of their shared history and must lead through their character amid challenging circumstances by cultivating love, tolerance and pride in our society.

 

Contact details: 082 490 6663

 

Speech: Women’s Day debate in the Free State Legislature

Friday, 3 August 2018

“All originality and diversity are repressed in a deadly, daily rut. Who knows what talented women Africa could have had if it were not for this prevailing, paralysing, deadening idea of what a girl and a woman should be.”

These words were written as far back as 1921 by the first Afrikaner feminist. Her name is Marié du Toit, she was Totius the poet’s sister.

Her words expressed nearly 100 years ago, still ring true today. Throughout the centuries, women have been marginalised and discriminated against and today things are no different.

But today it is not just the world that discriminates against women. No, it is us women, who discriminate against ourselves.

Yes, my dear female colleagues, allowing ourselves to be reduced to a mere quota in a party will never give us the power.

Approving of and supporting quotas is as good as saying: “I know I am not good enough”. It is condoning marginalisation and accepting the myth that women are inferior or even equal to men, because we are far greater.

Honourable Speaker, allow me to substantiate this statement with my own Afrikaner history.

The Women’s Memorial Monument was built in 1913 after years of saving up. The Monument is an obelisk symbolising love and forgiveness, but it also speaks of the suffering of the women and children of all races who perished during the Anglo-Boer War.

In accordance with the “Scorched Earth” policy, British colonialists threw women and children in concentration camps in order to force the “rebels” to surrender. Nine women and children died in the concentration camps for every one man that died fighting in the war. Women whose husbands did not want to lay down their weapons were given only half rations.

It, however, did not discourage the Afrikaner women and they supported their husbands and encouraged them to keep fighting right to the end. These women are the true “bitter enders” of the war.

We Afrikaner women are stronger than we look …

Emily Hobhouse said the following about the Monument:

“We claim it as a world monument of which all the world’s women should be proud; for your dead by their brave simplicity have spoken to universal womanhood…”

For eighty years, the Women’s Memorial in Bloemfontein was the only national monument in the world dedicated to women and children.

I invite members to visit the monument. On either side of the central obelisk, there are two bronze friezes depicting the suffering of the women and children. On the one side, one can see women and children with what little they had on their way to the concentration camps. They were mostly transported in open rail carriages, which were usually used for the transportation of cattle. On the other side, the frieze depicts a company of women and children solemnly watching the death of a child in a camp tent.

In 1843, when the Voortrekker men decided to no longer oppose the British colonisation of Natal, the women, under the lead of Susanna Smit, were livid. They pointed out that the men had given them the assurance, after they had fought side by side with the men, that in the future they will be involved in the decision making. The women would rather have crossed the Drakensberg mountains barefoot than give up their freedom and be under British rule once more. At the time, the British were shocked at how much freedom the Afrikaner women were allowed by their husbands.

On 4 August 1915, 6000 Afrikaner women handed over a petition at the Union Buildings for the release of General de Wet. On 22 June 1940, 10 000 Afrikaner women marched to the Union Buildings for peace. On 9 August 1956, 20 000 women marched to the Union Buildings with the slogan: “If you strike a woman, you have struck a rock”.

The past is important and we dare not forget it; but we are now tasked with making decisions for the present and not the past. We need to make decisions that will prevent the past from repeating.

Prof. Engela Pretorius from the Department of Sociology at the University of the Free State says: “I am convinced that formal institutions for women within government will only be effective in the long term if an effective feminist women’s movement is maintained outside the government that can challenge and question the foundation on which social policies are built.”

Thus, implying that you cannot govern women, and women in leadership, by a mere quota. Women need to be empowered and want to be empowered.

I stand here before you today as a woman in my own right. A proud Afrikaner woman. A woman who has fought to get here and to be elected as an equal, without a quota or pity.

The women of today should be more like the women of the past who stood up for what was due to them and did not wait for quotas and artificial privilege.

Speaker, I thank you.

 

 

 

 

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