Comrade delegates to this august gathering of SAFTU women fighters, welcome!
On behalf of the National Office Bearers and the National Executive Committee, let me welcome you to this historic inaugural meeting of the National Gender Committee of SAFTU. Thank you for making a sacrifices to join us in this first meeting of gender activists of SAFTU.
I am delighted and feel honoured that I am in the leadership collective that initiated this meeting. We aim to bring together comrades from all our affiliates to ensure that the federation drives gender parity and meets our women’s interests, informed by existing federation policies, with the scope of adding where necessary.
I hope you also feel honoured, comrades, that you are the first delegates to this historic gathering. We are in a struggle, comrades! This is a period in history when both Covid-19 and worsening environmental catastrophes have shown the critical role of women caregivers and our place in ecological stewardship. This is on top of our traditional roles in community work, in household upkeep, in raising families including our kinship networks, in cooking, in cleaning, in childcare and eldercare, and in the capitalist system’s need to have both men and women proletarians fit for their working day.
We are the ones with these burdens – because we have not defeated capitalist patriarchy, gender-based violence, and the triple role we play at work, in communities and in our households. We therefore have a policy and political agenda to right all the wrongs associated with multiple oppressions, and we have examples of women’s struggles, state social policy, employer equity and community organising that we can turn to for inspiration.
This is the beginning of our struggle to ensure that SAFTU as an organisation plays a leading role in the broader struggle for the total emancipation of women, so we unshackle ourselves from all the vestiges of patriarchy in our society, inside our homes and in our workplaces and communities.
“Those who do not move do not notice their chains”, as the great woman socialist warrior Rosa Luxemburg put it.
We are taking the first step into battle with trade union support. That battle includes educating even our male counterparts in our leadership, about how our struggles are inspired not just by the most prominent feminist Communist, Luxemburg, but also inspired by our own determination and an understanding that our freedom is in our own hands.
We are starting a journey side by side and hand in hand with our male comrades, whom we must ensure participate in this structure with the full understanding that patriarchy will not be fought only by women comrades but by all comrades who fully understand that men themselves cannot be free while backward and oppressive cultures they benefit from remain unchallenged.
“The Emancipation of women is not an act of charity, the result of a humanitarian or compassionate attitude. The liberation of women is a fundamental necessity for the revolution, a guarantee of its continuity and a precondition for its victory.” Samora Machel 1973 speech
Mozambican revolutionary Machel, whose birthday we celebrated few days ago on the 29 September is smiling in his grave, to see women and men beginning a journey that will ensure that this young giant, SAFTU, rises to guarantee the total victory of women.
We are meeting under conditions in which the ravages of a capitalist order continue to create conditions that makes living on our planet unstainable. Our meeting coincides with a coronavirus that reminds us that we are reaching the ceiling of sustainability for an anthropocentric industrial capitalist civilization. In other words, corporate agriculture’s invasion of the space of animals causes these so-called ‘zoonotic’ diseases, that move from bats to humans. Unless we fight to change the whole system and assure it is ecologically sustainable, we are going to perish in droves. Unless we make radical changes to capitalist industrial production, consumption and disposal systems, our ancestors will simply not survive.
Worst of all, we are in the early stages of the climate catastrophe, the Sixth Species Extinction, ocean plastification and other ecocidal processes, and we face the continual threat of nuclear holocaust. We have already been battered by outbreaks of Ebola, Zika, dengue fever, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and influenza, and by the looming threat of rising antimicrobial resistance.
For many years, scientists have warned of the danger of a global pandemic.
Unless the dangers of the anthropocentric industrial capitalist society are addressed, the world will move into new, inevitable disasters that can wipe out humanity.
This all-encompassing burden has, again, fallen disproportionately on women to bear. The so-called “Rain Bomb” caused by climate chaos – which killed more than 70 people in Durban and the South Coast on Easter Monday in 2019 – was just one example of the way women suffered most from the terrible housing stock on the hills and the shacks next to the rivers. The droughts that hit the Western Cape and Eastern Cape in recent years, with many towns already at “Day Zero” for water access, hit women hardest – and our government is not providing anything near the emergency relief we need.
As these disasters strike, the capitalist system which is so entrenched in the world today is structurally unable to respond each of these crises. The world’s people and ecologies have become sitting ducks, under fire in these capitalist-generated crises, in which patriarchy pushes the pain onto women, children and the elderly.
We know that there will be more epidemics going forward as the system of capitalism forces humans to invade unknown ecologies. Today 1.12 million people have died with more than 40 million already infected. There is a second wave that is ravaging the Europe and many countries in the Americas. In our country we have seen between two and three million workers losing their jobs. One study shows that women lost 33% of their employment, including in the informal sector, while men only lost 20% of theirs. The situation has also left young women doing precarious forms of jobs, and women risking more than men in healthcare professions, teaching and other service work which are now hazardous due to Covid-19.
All this has worsened the existing crisis of unemployment and poverty whose face is unmistakably women and youth. The Treasury’s refusal to extend what is a pathetically-small monthly grant to 11 million caregivers means the end of this month will be brutal. The R440 per child each month is already well below the minimum amount required for essential food, so losing the R440/caregiver will stretch us to even worse misery.
The timing of this National Gender Committee could not have been better. This is the month we have begun to unite our labour and social movements, to fight back. We urgently need to add the chores of organising, concientising and activism so that the level of street heat and strategic alliance-building we can generate, meets the challenges of our time.
I am raising these points to emphasise how women will always be most affected by the crises of capitalism, and that we can only eradicate our oppressive conditions by thinking big, combining our interests as women with our interests as members of the working class. Women and men have an equal responsibility to pursue a common struggle that will not only guarantee the defeat of patriarchy, but that will also defeat the capitalist system.
Not surprisingly, during the lockdown, women became victims of worsening gender-based violence that reached unprecedented proportions, even if trust in the police is so low – and danger at home is so high, with few escape options available – that most incidents still go unreported. There is a war that has been declared on women’s bodies by the most backward men in our country. Violence directed at women and children is on the rise despite gallant efforts by a rising number of women’s organisations mobilising against this surge. This underlines the need for permanent vigilance inspired by our slogan that power concedes nothing without a struggle.
Thanks to your hard work, SAFTU is not starting this struggle from a clean slate. In our short three years of SAFTU’s existence, our Central Committee has adopted two critical policies on gender and sexual harassment. These policies did not fall from the skies like manna, comrades. They were fought for.
The role of the body we are creating today and tomorrow, will be to ensure that these documents are living policies and practices, used as instruments to ensure a more gender-sensitive federation, whose leadership must appreciate the responsibility we share, to enforce these policies. These policies are weapons in our hands for our own survival and emancipation.
One of our tasks is to ensure that these policies are from to time updated. That is why we must fight to ensure we always have a gender policy conference prior to the national congress, so as to debate these policies and monitor progress. We must ensure that each SAFTU congress makes further progress in adopting more progressive measures to end patriarchy within and outside the federation, and these are not only policies on paper, but that they inspire activism and radical change.
SAFTU has gone back to the streets! We submitted our Section 77 notice on the 17 September 2020 and on the 7 October 2020 began a process of mass mobilisation in support of our demands.
In the conclusion of the demands we have submitted, we made it clear that we make no apologies that we are fight for an egalitarian society, one organised along democratic socialist lines, in which the economy is driven by common ownership.
“A society that lives up to the promises that have been repeatedly made by those leaders who fought against oppression.”
This sums up why this meeting today is so historic! And with those few words, comrades, I welcome each of you to the journey that will are undertaking. As we undertake this journey we know that if we walk together we will go far.