Speech delivered by the 2nd Deputy President of COSATU Cde Zingiswa Losi during SADTU Womens Day Celebration

9 August 2012

National leadership of SADTU
Provincial leadership
Comrades and compatriots

We are pleased to have been invited to give an input in this important occasion

We are able to do this with pride because there are women who walked a dangerous path and travelled where others dared to do so. They created new paths and set new horizons.

As we have gathered this day we are the same saluting the work of Charlotte Maxeke , Ida Mntwana, Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Sophia de Bruyn, Rahima Moosa, Frances Baard, Dorothy Nyembe, Albertina Sisulu, Adelaide Tambo, Winnie Mandela, Ray Alexandra, Dulcie September and many others who went through the humiliation and ill treatment by successive colonial and apartheid regimes.

They have left a legacy for all of us today and we have come to say that as this generation we will not fail them!

These women have taught us that participating in the National Democratic Revolution and understanding its strategic objectives constitute the short term objectives of Socialist conditions which are the only conditions that can give rise to our total emancipation as women. We do so with a clear understanding that each new gain of the working class represents a step leading mankind towards the kingdom of freedom and social equality: each right that woman wins brings her nearer the defined goal of full emancipation

They have made us to understand that Specific economic factors were behind the subordination of women; natural qualities have been a secondary factor in this process. Only the complete disappearance of these factors, only the evolution of those forces which at some point in the past gave rise to the subjection of women, is able in a fundamental way to influence and change their social position. In other words, women can become truly free and equal only in a world organised along new social and productive lines.

Through their teachings we know that the women’s world is divided, just as is the world of men, into two camps; the interests and aspirations of one group of women bring it close to the bourgeois class, while the other group has close connections with the proletariat, and its claims for liberation encompass a full solution to the woman question. Thus although both camps follow the general slogan of the “liberation of women”, their aims and interests are different. Each of the groups unconsciously takes its starting point from the interests of its own class, which gives a specific class colouring to the targets and tasks it sets itself. ...

These women have taught us that ours is not a feminist struggle but a class struggle . The feminists see men as the main enemy, for men have unjustly seized all rights and privileges for themselves, leaving women only chains and duties. For them a victory is won when a prerogative previously enjoyed exclusively by the male sex is conceded to the “fair sex”.

They have taught us that proletarian women must have a different attitude. We do not see men as the enemy and the oppressor; on the contrary, we think of men as our comrades, who share with us the drudgery of the daily round and fight with us for a better future. The woman and her male comrade are enslaved by the same social conditions; the same hated chains of capitalism oppress their will and deprive them of the joys and charms of life. It is true that several specific aspects of the contemporary system lie with double weight upon women, as it is also true that the conditions of hired labour sometimes turn working women into competitors and rivals to men. But in these unfavourable situations, the working class knows who is guilty. ...

( comrades let me make an example of the tragedy that engulfed us in the trade union movement particularly NUM. The incident and the death of the late Binky Mosiane at Khomanani branch followed by an attempted rape at Khuselani branch in Rustenburg talks the challenges that continues to confront us as women and how some males still perceive women as nothing else but sex objects not equal partners in society. In order for us to deal with these perceptions and sterotypes, we must be where man are in order to make our voices heard by them and also to demand our space as rightful equal partners in society and in our trade unions. We can`t therefore fight patriarchal tendencies if as women we become comfortable meeting alone in our meetings and not participating in general meetings where decisions of transformation are taken. We must demand our right to organise and exist in the sectors of our economy and to take leadership positions. We must never be apologetic for being women in the trade union movement)

Through the teachings of our forebears we know that the proletarian women’s final aim does not, of course, prevent them from desiring to improve their status even within the framework of the current bourgeois system, but the realisation of these desires is constantly hindered by obstacles that derive from the very nature of capitalism. A woman can possess equal rights and be truly free only in a world of socialised labour, of harmony and justice.

Through the teachings of these women and through our own experience we have learnt that equal rights with men would mean only an equal share in inequality, but for the “chosen few”, for the bourgeois women, it would indeed open doors to new and unprecedented rights and privileges that until now have been enjoyed by men of the bourgeois class alone. To a greater extent I do share the concerns of women of questioning exclusive rights to males.

For an example there is a need to challenge stereotypes even by our own male counterparts , within our ranks, that sees women only as voting cattle’s that can only serve the purpose of advancing factional battles only to be discarded after elections. Sometimes I am worried by the extent to which women in our own structures get treated like minors by our own comrades.

The fundamental question that we must respond to as a trade union movement is, are we building capacity and confidence for our female comrades or they remain voting folders in our meetings and even if they get elected they get treated with disdain and patronised and forced to become members of other members. Are we really non- sexist unions who do not see female comrades as sex objects and as individuals who cannot think independently, whose view must always get approval of male comrades? Are we linking our bargaining strategies to gender equality?

How many times do we hear comrades saying this or that women comrades is not fit for this or that task and needs to be developed when the same question does not arise when it is a male comrade. Comrades I do not what it will cost me, I will fight this mentality with everything I have. Who said the only people who can occupy strategic positions in our organisations are males?

All these have been clarified through experience both in the course of struggle for democracy and when we achieved a democratic breakthrough in 1994.

As we meet here today 18 years into democracy we must celebrate the fact that women representation has increased in different institutions that are meant to deepen democracy. We must celebrate the fact that women opportunities for women advancement have opened up. As we do so we equally need to ask as to exactly which class of women really have benefited. Has the ordinary women benefited and who must define her benefits?

Have we in the past 17 years been able to reduce the racial and class divide amongst our people?

The racial income gap in monthly incomes among women is R8 400. The race gap is therefore overwhelmingly severe among males. The gap in monthly income between African men and White women is R7 200. In addition, 56% of Whites earn no less than R6 000 per month whereas 81% of Africans earn no more than R6 000 per month. These income disparities are deeply connected to the social relations of production at the factory floor and other places of work, and macro-policies that violate the historical commitment to redistribution.

Inequality has increased the most among the Coloured population, by 9 percentage points, whereas among Africans it has increased by 1 percentage point between 1995 and 2008.

These are the hard facts we must confront and that as the working class women we must not drop our guns and loose our morale because no one except us can give meaning to our own and have observed that for far too long we have allowed the other class to define our freedom. It is us who must determine the type of conditions that will allow for our full emancipation.

This occasion allows us to reflect and clarify ourselves about the issues of strategy and tactics that must inform our struggle. We need to be clear that the type of freedom we want can only be achieved in the context of the working class struggle as a whole.

In the words of Alexanders Kollantai “ only the working class is capable of maintaining morale in the modem world with its distorted social relations. With firm and measured step it advances steadily towards its aim. It draws, the working women to its ranks. The proletarian woman bravely starts out on the thorny path of labour. Her legs sag; her body is torn. There are dangerous precipices along the way, and cruel beasts of prey are close at hand.

But only by taking this path is the woman able to achieve that distant but alluring aim — her true liberation in a new world of labour. During this difficult march to the bright future the proletarian woman, until recently a humiliated, downtrodden slave with no rights, learns to discard the slave mentality that has clung to her, step by step she, transforms herself into an independent worker, an independent personality, free in love. It is she, fighting in the ranks of the proletariat, who wins for women the right to work; it is she, the “younger sister”, who prepares the ground for the “free” and “equal” woman of the future

..... The working woman guards her class interests and is not deceived by great speeches about the “world all women share”. The working woman must not and does not forget that while the aim of bourgeois women is to secure their own welfare in the framework of a society antagonistic to us, our aim is to build, in the place of the old, outdated world, a bright temple of universal labour, comradely solidarity and joyful freedom. ...”