Heritage and women in Sport: Advancing gender equality in accordance with our Constitution

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Every journey for change begins with just a single step of bravery. That first step often requires untold sacrifice and unshakeable belief as was demonstrated by the women who marched to the Union Buildings on 9 August, 1956.

These women and all others who fought for the liberation of the country stood side by side with men when it was tough and unfashionable to do so and demanded equality, justice and human rights for all. They carried the hopes and aspirations of their communities and inspired many others to take the baton of leadership.

It is through their sacrifices and that of many others that today we have political power and freedom that we continue to enjoy.

As we commemorate Heritage Month, we pay tribute to all those who risked and sacrificed their lives for us to be free.  We call on all South Africans especially children to visit our heritage sites so that they can learn about our painful history as well as heroes and heroines.

Heritage sites tell the South African story and remind us of the sacrifices made by a number of anti-apartheid activists who fought for our country. They are vital sources of our rich cultural heritage and diversity that has the power to help build our nation.

We should also use this commemoration to reflect on where we are going as a country especially in ensuring that our heritage sites reflect the full and equal participation of women in society. As government we are encouraged that our democratic breakthrough in 1994 has moved us forward and that we have improved the participation of women in all spheres such as social, political and economic areas.

One area where women and girls have often been held back in the past is in the sporting arena. Our immediate goal is to increase the participation of women and girls in sport in line with women’s empowerment and gender equality as enshrined in our Constitution. We are pleased that a number of programmes are already in place to ensure the development and mass participation of women and girls in sports.

For instance, the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee’s ‘Operation Excellence’ programme supports athletes with potential to qualify for world events at the highest level in a number of sporting codes.

These programmes help women athletes to reach new heights across several sporting codes and have laid the groundwork for our nation to host several women’s international sports tournaments.

It was therefore most fitting that women raised the South African flag high, when our country hosted the first-ever Netball World Cup to take place on the African continent.

It was truly incredible to witness how South Africans rallied behind our girls as they competed for the greatest prize in the world of netball. The Spar Proteas undoubtedly won our hearts with their fiery performances, passion and patriotic fervour, which drew us together as a nation in hope and expectation.

It was also most fitting that a tournament, which highlighted female excellence, coincided with Women’s Month. Later in August, Banyana Banyana made history by becoming the first senior South African national women’s football team to progress beyond the group stages of the FIFA Women’s World Cup. This feat was truly remarkable as they were competing against teams that play in full time professional leagues and who have sponsors.

These two high profile events have gone a long way to changing perceptions of South Africa, and they have shown that we can compete with any nation in all spheres of life. The successful hosting of the Netball World Cup has reinforced the fact that our country is truly remarkable. However, it was also so much more as it served to bring us together in hope and expectation.

We can now harness these two moments of sporting triumph to ensure that we lay the platform for future generations to come. Parents and teachers are encouraged to play an active role in ensuring that children have an opportunity to broaden their horizons by participating in sports, arts or any extracurricular activity.

The support of parents or caregivers is particularly vital in ensuring that our children succeed in whatever they choose.  Sport is an excellent way to ensure that children become active; it also helps to instil discipline as well as responsibility.

As a nation, we must continue to harness moments and events that have the ability to unify. Former President Nelson Mandela once famously said: “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.”

Let us therefore continue to build on the incredible legacy of our nation by working to build a better tomorrow for all.

by Nomonde Mnukwa, GCIS Director-General and Government Spokesperson