The Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande address on the occasion of the Ministerial Higher Health Roundtable on Youth Health and Wellness held at the Constitutional Hill – Johannesburg

Programme Director Ms Leanne Manas

Ms. Nolwazi Gasa, Deputy Director General DHET;

Prof. Puleng LenkaBula, Chairperson of GBV Technical Task team and VC of UNISA;

Dr (Professor) Ramneek Ahluwalia, CEO of Higher Health;

Technical experts:

• Nompendulo Mkhatshwa Technical expert parliamentary portfolio committee Higher Education;

• Ms Tamara Mathebula- CGE Chairperson;

• Ms. Z Aryetey – Principal at Elangeni TVET College and SAPCO Treasure General;

• Gcinile Khumalo: SAUS – Gender specialist;

• SATVETSA – Gender specialist;

• Mr. Des Ayob: CAMPROSA – Campus safety;

• Rev. Bafana Khumalo – Sonke Gender Justice;

All participants representing various organisations and stakeholders

Good morning


I am indeed honoured to have been invited to participate in this important event, as part of our activities to celebrate Women’s Month, and to commit ourselves to taking forward the struggle for women’s emancipation and gender equality. There could have been no better place to hold this event than the deeply symbolic Constitution Hill’s Old Fort prison, where many activists fighting apartheid and various forms of oppression and discrimination were incarcerated in the past.

Indeed, the Constitution Hill is a living museum that tells the story of South Africa’s journey to democracy and today, it is the home to the country’s Constitutional Court, the apex Court in our land.

Our roundtable discussion today, is unique and unlike any other events we have held within our sector.

We hold this roundtable under the Theme: “Generation Equality: Realising Women’s Rights for an Equal Future”

Our event today takes place during the Women’s Month, when women activists such as Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Albertina Sisulu and Sophia Williams-De Bruyn rebelled against a patriarchal system designed to subjugate women, also as black women in particular.

This year’s Women’s Month is a call to action to all of society, government and partners to take tangible steps forward in responding to the most persistent challenges affecting the lives of women and girls.

Indeed, as the Post School Education and Training sector, we are joining the call by our President Cyril Ramaphosa and our government at large in holding this roundtable.

I also want to raise right from the onset an important matter that I feel is not receiving the adequate attention it deserves.

The struggle for gender equality and women’s emancipation shall always remain inadequate unless and until we also pay serious attention to the mobilisation and engagement of boys and especially young men in these struggles.

My argument is essentially that the organisation and affirming of women is a necessary but not sufficient condition for gender equality and women’s emancipation. At the centre of my argument is the necessity to grapple with formation of masculinities in our families, communities and society as a whole, as a critical dimension to take forward the struggle for gender equality and women’s emancipation.

Ladies and gentlemen

Human rights perspective

The theme for our roundtable resonates well with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and our own South African Bill of Rights. These are the rights that everyone should have simply because they are human.

In 1948, the United Nations defined 30 articles of human rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It established universal human rights based on humanity, freedom, justice, and peace.

South Africa has included indivisible human rights in our own Bill of Rights, Chapter 2 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996.

The Bill of Rights also seeks to lay a foundation to comprehensively address South Africa’s history of oppression, super-exploitation of the black working class, especially women workers, colonialism, slavery, racism and sexism and other forms of violation of human rights.

We need not just to imagine but actively become combatants for a world where all people have equal rights and opportunities. Where and girls are not afraid of walking home late at night, and men and boys are not trapped in oppressive masculinities, but where gender equality becomes a reality, including men and women getting paid equally for work of equal value and share household responsibility.

It is also important that we understand that there is deep interconnection between, on the one hand, violation of human rights and oppression And, on the other hand, exploitative economic systems. Economic exploitation tends to thrive and benefit from racial and gender inequalities in society.

In fact, exploitative systems in turn reinforce such inequalities. Therefore, the struggle for genuine women’s emancipation must be accompanied by a struggle against exploitative economic systems.

Realising Women’s rights for an equal future

There is no doubt that South Africa has made significant progress towards achieving gender equality since 1956, when 20 000 women marched to the Union Buildings on 9 August in protest against the extension of pass laws to women.

Today, South Africa’s progressive laws have seen more women serving in high-ranking positions in government than ever before.

Access to education by young girls and women has improved substantially over time. Recent statistics depict a balance in gender parity ratios (GPR) amongst those who are functionally literate from 0,95 in 2002, to 0,99 (zero – no gender equality to one – full gender equality) in 2019, indicating that more women are now literate.

In South Africa and globally, one of the biggest challenges facing women is educational inequality. Access to education has played a pivotal role in ensuring that women have progressed to higher education levels.

According to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 2019 country report, gender parity ratios for female participation in tertiary education was 1,39 during 2016, underpinning the fact that significant strides have been achieved in ensuring universal access to education for everyone.

However, it is important that in talking about improved conditions of women in South Africa since 1994, we must not only focus on elite women and forget the fundamental importance of the liberation of working class and poor women in urban and rural areas.

The provision of clean drinking water, electricity and other basic services like health and education has greatly contributed to the liberation of poor, especially black women, from the oppressions of having to walk for miles to fetch water and firewood.

Educational and employment inequality still exists

However, amidst all this, the female unemployment rate has remained higher than that of their male counterparts. This is indicative of apparent disparities between men and women in different facets of life, which leaves women lagging behind in terms of socio-economic opportunities. And it is black African women who are at the bottom of the rung when it comes to unemployment – and this must be a reminder to all of us that the struggle for gender equality must not be a colour blind struggle!

According to the unemployment figures from the Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) Q1: 2022 released by Stats SA, South Africa unemployment rate is 34.5%.

Unemployment rates for males and females is 33.0% and 36.4% respectively. Of these, the unemployment rate among the Black African population group remains higher than the national average and other population groups at 38,6%.

There were about 10,2 million young people aged 15–24 years in Q1: 2022, of which 37,0% were not in employment, education or training (NEET). In this age group, the NEET rate for males and females increased by 5,9 percentage points and 3,3 percentage points, respectively. The NEET rate for females was higher than that of their male counterparts in both years.

Compared to Q1: 2021, the percentage of young persons aged 15–34 years who were not in employment, education or training (NEET) increased by 2,7 percentage points from 43,6% to 46,3% (out of 20,7 million) in Q1: 2022.

The NEET rate for males increased by 3,8 percentage points, while for females the rate increased by 1,6 percentage points in Q1: 2022. In both Q1: 2021 and Q1: 2022, more than four in every ten young males and females were not in employment, education or training.

Equal pay for equal work

In terms of the perceptions on income being the catalyst for women to be independent, results of the Governance, Public Safety and Justice Survey (GPSJS) showed that only 55,6% of males believed that earning an income was the best way for women to be truly independent.

On average, 64,7% of South Africans believed that women earning more than their partners would almost certainly cause trouble; 67,5% of males and 62,2% of females agreed with this statement. The country’s gender pay gap is highlighted in the QLFS 2018 report, which showed that the median monthly earnings were below parity at 0,76 in 2018, an improvement from 0,71 in 2013.

Teenage pregnancy and gender-based violence hinders progress

Issues related to teenage pregnancy significantly impact the empowerment of women. In 2019, almost 6% of girls between 14 -19 years of age were at different stages of pregnancy during the 12 months prior to the survey.

Even though young girls are allowed to attend school while pregnant, other challenges such as financial and family support and discrimination and victimisation from society exist, thus seriously hindering their progress in continuing with their education.

Evidence shows that women of childbearing age who had their first birth at age 15-19 and 20-24 are less likely to attain a tertiary qualification compared to those who had their first birth later in life.

Gender-based violence is another major societal challenge in South Africa. While it is encouraging to note from the Governance, Public Safety, and Justice Survey (GPSJS) that most people do not justify wife-beating, some believe it is justifiable under certain circumstances.

About 5,6% of the population believes that it is justified for a man/husband to beat his partner/wife if she has sex with another man or woman, and about 3,3% believed it is justified to do so if she neglects the children.

According to the South African Demographic and Health Survey (SADHS) 2016, one in four (26%) ever-partnered women age 18 or older have experienced intimate partner physical, sexual, or emotional violence in their lifetime.

Empowering women is key to reducing poverty and food insecurity

Poverty and food insecurity are central to women being vulnerable. There is a strong correlation between hunger and gender inequalities.

The Marginalised Groups Indicator 2019 report shows that, on average, 40,6% of female-headed households were without an employed household member.

Gender equality is regarded as an important determinant of food security. However, during 2019 approximately one-tenth of female-headed households (11,1%) reported having suffered from hunger as compared to 9,7% of male-headed households.

Ladies and gentlemen

Having given you all these important statistics, the question is what the intervention mechanisms are to ensure that we realise women’s rights for an equal future.

This is amongst the reason that I discussed extensively with the HIGHER HEALTH CEO, Prof Ramneek Ahluwalia, that HIGHER HEALTH must include an extra mural curriculum on civic education amongst its focus areas.

The development of this country lies in an education system that permits good performance of students and safe custody of these students in residences that are free of crime and any racial prejudice.

Over half a million students joined this civic peer to peer education curriculum every year. This is the hope of building well rounded adults by using education as a tool for empowerment, building civic values, teaching peer education, building volunteerism whilst empowering them on issues plaguing our communities like, gender-based violence, sexual reproductive health, HIV, mental health, gender diversity and racial tolerance.

Amongst others Civic education will help us to address amongst others:

• Gender- Based Violence in our institutions;

• Greater contributions of men as gender equality advocates;

• Racial tolerance in our institutions, for both employees and students.

If I may reflect just on each of these focus areas:

On gender violence in our institutions

The post-school education and training sector (PSET) is home to over 2,5 million youth, where more than 51% of these are adolescent girls & young women between the ages of 15 – 24 years old. With statistics from the Medical Research Council (MRC) indicating that 10% of all reported rape cases comes from the higher education sector.

Women students fall squarely into this high-risk demographic and sexual assault and violence against women on campuses, and it is a major concern.

In the recent past, we had observed the gruesome murders of our students mostly within their residential areas. This includes the barbaric murder of Nosicelo Mtebeni, the Fort Hare University student, Precious Ramabulana, the Capricorn TVET College student, Uyinene Mrwetyana, the University of Cape Town (UCT) student, Nthabiseng Rampai, the Goldfields TVET College student in Welkom in the Free State, Jesse Hess, the University of the Western Cape theology student, and many more.

I have personally denounced such barbaric and shameful acts against women, both in our institutions of learning and in society in general. But condemnation is not enough, more needs to be done by all of us!

It is therefore important that we all must commit to the fight against GBV, discrimination based on gender, and patriarchal attitudes and practices in institutions, workplace and homes.

Racial tolerance in our institutions

The commitment of the democratic government is to transform higher education, thus a range of initiatives seeking to effect institutional change are introduced into the system. These include the restructuring of higher education landscape and institutions; new policies; new funding formula; the remodelling of institutional governance; and the enactment of new laws and regulations.

This includes our White Paper 3: A Framework for the Transformation of Higher Education (1997) that “seeks to guide programmes and processes aimed at transforming the post-apartheid education system, with a vision of a transformed, democratic, non-racial and non- sexist higher education system that will “support a democratic ethos and a culture of human rights by educational programmes and practices conducive to critical discourse and creative thinking, cultural tolerance, and a common commitment to a humane, non-racist and non-sexist social order”.

This is the reason that I condemn any instance of racism in our institution such as the Reitz incident in March 2008 at the University of Free State (UFS) were four white students made university black cleaners drink urine.

I also condemned the recent Stellenbosch University blatant racist act were a white student was urinating on a black student belongings including his laptop at the Huis Marias student residence.

It is very clear that in some of our institutions racial and gender discrimination is still endemic.

Through this civil education, we will try to reach out to all our institutional communities and education them about our Constitution and the Bill of Right as part of our social cohesion endeavors.

Men as gender equity advocates

It is important that men must be part of initiatives to challenge negative masculinities.

In its most extreme form, negative or ‘toxic’ masculinity is discrimination, subjugation or violence towards the females. In many societies and cultures, men and boys are taught from an early age that showing emotions is a “sign of weakness.”

Statements such as “real men don’t cry” or “stop acting like a girl” teach boys they should not express their emotions and reinforces the idea that they should be “strong,” while girls are “weak.”

These sentiments could not be further from the truth. However, such statements can shape the way boys and girls, not only think of themselves, but each other, and as they advance into adulthood, society further reinforces gender stereotypes and norms through media, education and other areas of culture.

It is therefore critical that men and boys have outlets to not only learn about gender equity and positive gender representation, but to be able to address their hurts and pains and be transparent about their feelings.

It is now, more than ever, we challenge society’s definition of “masculinity,” and realize that manhood and boyhood is not all about being “machismo” and in control. It is about showing love, equity and respect for everyone; and acting in this way is not a sign of weakness, but a signal of true strength.

We must challenge the status quo of masculinity, so that we can break the cycle of gender stereotypes and have a more equitable and less gender-biased society.

In line with the comments at the beginning of my speech, I have requested Prof Ahluwalia and Higher Health to come up with a concept and programme on how to engage and involve young men in our sector on gender equality and women’s emancipation.

I intend to lead from the front on this score, and I will be engaging trade union leaders, student leaders, vice-chancellors and college principals, and all other leaders where young men are, to engage them on women’s emancipation and gender equality. UNESCO has prioritised the issue of engaging the boy child and young men in the struggle for gender equality.

Engaging the boy child and young men is important in properly locating what gender and gender equality are about. Gender is about both women and men, and gender relations are about the relationship between men and women. We must not make the mistake of equating gender only to women, as this will hamper the mobilisation of both men and women in fighting for gender equality.

As I conclude, I would like to thank HIGHER HEALTH, for all the good work that they continue to do as reported by the CEO, Prof Ahluwalia in his presentation. Amongst the foremost is the development a Policy Framework to Address Gender- Based Violence and increasing their awareness of the continuum of GBV and the ten (10) protocols to address various aspects of students and our campus staff interests.

I thank the leadership of University South Africa (Usaf), the South African Public Colleges Organisation (SAPCO), the South African Union of Student (SAUS), the South Africa Technical Vocational Education and Training Student Association (SATVETSA) and Union representatives, government departments and the private sector who continue to work with HIGHER HEALTH to ensure that they implement their mandate.

Let me take this opportunity to wish you productive engagements.

Thank you.

Source: Government of South Africa

News Reporter