‘To plan for a day, catch a fish. To plan for a year, plant rice. To plan for a decade, plant a tree. To plan for a lifetime, educate a girl.’
Lulama Xingwana, South Africa’s Minister for Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities, received warm applause when she quoted this proverb in her keynote address to 300 activists at the EI Women’s Caucus meeting on Thursday, 21 July, in Cape Town, South Africa.
Xingwana offered powerful evidence of progress towards gender equality in South Africa. For example, prior to the fall of apartheid, a mere two per cent of Members of Parliament were women. Today 44 per cent of MPs are women and, even more significantly, 43 per cent of cabinet members are women. She also noted progress towards universal access to free education and health care services for pregnant women and children under five, as well as vastly improved access to clean water and electrification, including in rural areas.
Noting that gender segregation persists in terms of educational and career paths of girls and boys, the minister emphasised new strategies to encourage girls to study the sciences and economics. She cited the ‘Techno Girl’ programme, which enables girls to participate in work internships in information technology, engineering, mining and other non-traditional professions.
EI President, Susan Hopgood, opened the day’s proceedings with a wide-ranging discussion of “the small and steady steps towards our goals of realising rights for women and girls, of achieving gender equality in our unions, in education and in society.”
Hopgood reported on the successful EI World Women’s Conference held in January 2011 in Bangkok, Thailand. There, 400 activists from around the globe discussed themes and outcomes such as: addressing stereotyping in curriculum, instruction, teacher attitude and classroom resources, and achieving gender-sensitive inclusive education; continuing to work towards gender equality in unions; and increasing focus on implementation of policy and legislation to improve the daily lives of women. These conference outcomes informed development of the Gender Equality Resolution to be debated at this World Congress, and which will provide the mandate for EI’s Global Action Plan for the next four years and beyond.
Hopgood identified the growth of the regional and sub-regional women’s networks as a major achievement of EI’s gender equality work. She praised the growing capacity of the networks to identify key issues, embedding gender equality and rights for women members into the policies and structures of their unions, thus bringing about positive change.