Women get leg-up education investment

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

By Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa

Sixty-one years ago, the Freedom Charter was adopted and signed by delegates to the Congress of the People in Kliptown. The vision of these pioneers of our liberation movement was for a united, non-racial and democratic South Africa. Thus the Charter and its various clauses became a common rallying point enshrining the hopes and aspirations of all progressive South Africans.

Today more South African children than ever before, and in particular black children, have access to education.

So much so that we, as a country, are of the few who are on track to achieve the second United Nations Millennium Development Goal (MDG): Universal Primary Education.

Much has changed since the dark days of apartheid when black women had limited education prospects and were confined to low-paying menial jobs.

We are steadily achieving gender parity in both school and tertiary institution enrolments, with huge increases in enrolments at further education and training (FET) colleges and the racial and gender composition of the student body markedly transformed since 1994. Today, more than half of all students enrolled in university programmes are women.

The heroines of the Class of 1976 must be filled with great pride to daily see how our young women from Musina to Cape Town are pushing the boundaries in various fields and achieving great success on the global stage.

Take Alexandra born and bred biologist Dr. Natasha Mothapo, whose passion for science was ignited after a school field trip to the Kruger  National Park.  Through her Masters and her doctorate research she is protecting the country’s flora against invasive species.

Or Dr. Benita Olivier, 33, a lecturer in the Physiotherapy at the Health Sciences Faculty of the University of Witwatersrand, who hopes to use her Friedel Sellschop Award (which recognizes exceptional young researchers) to develop an injury-prevention tool.

Joining the brilliant minds working on the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) team is Pietermaritzburg native, computer engineer Shagita Gounden, 31.

The accomplishments of such young women are inspiring and it is thanks to the policies of this government they have been able to take advantage of the opportunities available to women in this country since democracy.

This government, led by the ANC, recognises the transformative potential of education in all its forms, formal, political and spiritual.

We know too well, in the words of Victor Hugo, that: ‘’He who opens a school door closes a prison.’’

To correct the effects of apartheid we have had to interrogate the links between poverty, social exclusion and access to education.

And in particular, tackling the symptoms, causes and solutions to the inter-generational transmission of poverty.

For research has shown, time and again, that certain factors can increase the likelihood of poverty being passed from one generation to another.

We also know that these same factors can negatively affect an individual’s chances of escaping the poverty trap.

The reality is that women continue to bear the brunt of poverty. To this end, the government has prioritised women and youth in all its programmes.

This includes continuous investment into the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) to support young people.

Several government departments provide bursaries with a special focus on young women in various fields. For example the National Research Fund, supported 1 044 women grant holders in 2012-13. 

The government facilitates learnership placements nationally, particularly in the tourism and hospitality sectors. Examples include the National Young Chefs, the Sommeliers and Tourism Buddies programmes.

To encourage women-owned enterprises and youth-owned enterprises, the government has allocated R30 million for the current financial year, to assist budding female entrepreneurs in acquiring critical assets and equipment required to grow and expand their operations.

Another successful venture has been the B’avumile Skills Development programme, which prepares women for the export sector. It targets women in rural areas and townships who have already acquired expertise in the creative, clothing and textiles fields.

Whether shutting apartheid-era constructed schools made of asbestos that pose health hazards to learners, or pushing for the empowerment of women contractors in the public sector, the track record of the ANC government in advancing the principles of the Freedom Charter has been exemplary.

On this, the 61st anniversary of the adoption of the Charter, that is the bedrock of our Constitution, we encourage the country’s women to take advantage of the opportunities afforded them - opportunities the youth of Soweto sacrificed and died for.

As we move into the next phase of our country’s development, let us move the country forward by filling our laboratories, workplaces and boardrooms with empowered women who will lead the charge into our third decade of freedom.



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