President Cyril Ramaphosa: Opening of the Women’s Economic Assembly


Program Director,
Minister in the Presidium for Women, Youth and People with Disabilities, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane,
Chairwoman of the Women Economic Assembly, Ms. Futhi Mtoba,
Ministers and deputy ministers,
Gauteng MEC for Economic Development, Mr. Parks Tau
Industry leader,
Representatives of all participating organizations,

We come together today to inaugurate the Women Economic Assembly.

With this initiative we are embarking on a journey together to reshape our economy and change the lives, opportunities and perspectives of millions of South African women.

We have come together to implement one of the fundamental provisions of our Constitution: that our nation should be founded on human dignity, the realization of equality, and the promotion of human rights and freedoms.

As long as women bear the greatest burden of poverty, as long as they are unemployed more often, as long as they earn less than their male colleagues, as long as they have difficulties starting a business, as long as women face these and other challenges, our vision of an equal and just Society remain elusive as they are discriminated against in the workplace.

The Women Economic Assembly is a multi-stakeholder initiative to promote the economic empowerment and inclusion of women.

Since the beginning of our democracy we have worked to change our society, to bridge the material gap between black and white, between men and women, between boys and girls, between town and country.

We have made significant progress in a number of areas, including the provision of health care, education, and essential services and infrastructure to the poor.

But we haven’t fundamentally changed the patterns of ownership, control, and utility in our economy.

The empowerment of women is therefore an integral part of our efforts to achieve inclusive growth, create jobs and expand economic opportunities for all.

It is a task that requires dedicated and relentless attention.

In addition to being under-represented in almost all areas of the economy outside the community, social services, housework and informal work, women are virtually absent as owners in key industries such as steel, energy, mining and agriculture.

The unemployment rate for women is just under 37 percent, compared to 32 percent for men.

In 2018, the average monthly income of women was 76 percent of the monthly income of men.

These disparities are not just the product of a profoundly unbalanced economy; they also arise from and contribute to gender inequality in society.

42 percent of children in South Africa live only with their mother, compared to four percent who live only with their father.

The wide gap in parental responsibility leads to a wide gap in economic opportunities and circumstances.

Equally worrying is that among the reasons given by children ages 7-18 for not going to school, 17 percent of women cited family responsibilities, compared with just 0.3 percent of men.

It is therefore perfectly clear that women’s economic empowerment is not a technical task achieved simply by improving policies and introducing progressive programs.

It is basically a process of fundamental social transformation in which every institution, every sector and every citizen must be involved.

There’s another reason this initiative is so important.

The economic empowerment of women is one of the pillars of our National Strategic Plan on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide.

By improving the economic situation of women, we reduce their vulnerability to abuse and violence.

With less economic dependence on male partners, women have a better chance of leaving an abusive relationship.

For this reason, a significant part of the R 21 billion that national government departments have made available over the next few years for the implementation of the National Strategic Plan will be used for programs to strengthen the economy.

This assembly builds on this commitment and brings together key social partners to pursue a common national goal of inclusive economic transformation.

There is enormous untapped potential for empowering women in the design of the value and supply chains in industry and in preferred procurement.

Every government agency, public agency, and private company can and should implement mechanisms to expedite preferential procurement for women-owned companies.

The Presidency, in collaboration with departments such as the Department for Women, Social Development, Small Business, Rural Development and Land Reform, and the National Treasury Department, has developed a strategy to achieve 40 percent preferential procurement in the public sector.

Current public procurement accounts for 9 percent of GDP, which is roughly R500 billion annually.

Of these, 12 percent went to women-run companies in the first and second quarters of 2021.

The government, in partnership with industry, has begun building the capacity of women-owned companies to propose the provision of goods and services in the public and private sectors.

Around 1,300 women in the Eastern Cape, Free State, and Limpopo have so far been helped through this extensive capacity-building program to do business with the government.

These are women entrepreneurs who have been trained in compliance and registration, procurement and regulatory frameworks, financial literacy, marketing and access to markets, as well as financial and growth opportunities.

It was very encouraging to hear stories like the one from Ms. Nokuthula Maphanga from Limpopo, who attended one of the capacity building workshops.

Your electrical engineering company doubled its annual sales to over R2 million during the COVID-19 period.

She said that the first workshop she attended provided valuable information on various service offerings from various departments and organizations, particularly on access to funding.

She says self-employed women usually struggle to secure funding for their business and usually don’t know who to turn to.

Through this work, we are building a pipeline of women willing to respond to procurement tenders.

We know that even if we expand the procurement opportunities for women in government, it will never be enough to meet demand.

As the main driver of economic growth and employment, the economy must move forward.

Companies must consciously and actively use the value and supply chains of industry as key instruments for economic transformation.

By transforming the value chain, we can promote the development of SMEs owned by women, youth and blacks.

By enabling them to produce value-adding goods and services, companies enable these SMEs to attract investment and employ more people in productive activities.

In my engagement today, I look forward to the pledges and bold practical steps that business is taking to advance women’s participation in supply chains.

There are several goals that we should achieve through these commitments and plans:

First, to increase the number of women-owned businesses within the sector;
Second, to create an ecosystem to support women entrepreneurs;

Third, to increase the employment of women and young people with set goals;

Fourth, rebuild community and rural economies in an inclusive way;

Fifth, to create a conducive political environment; and,

Sixth, to encourage similar commitments in related industries.

If effectively implemented by all parties, our measures will benefit not only the women of this country, but the entire economy through job creation, increased production capacities and accelerated economic growth.

I would like to encourage other industries and sectors to join this initiative and take up their commitments and action plans for the empowerment of women.

I would like to praise all those industries, companies and interest groups that are embarking on this path together.

Let us use this assembly as a platform for greater and more meaningful progress.

Let’s show what can be done so that others will be encouraged to follow him.

Through this work we are building a better economy, a better society and a better life for the women of our country.

I thank you.


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