A museum devoted to uncovering and celebrating the history of modern humankind was a fitting venue to host the Minister of Public Service and Administration, Lindiwe Sisulu, who spoke to students yesterday about the importance of setting a new gender agenda.

A new agenda

Sisulu was the keynote speaker at the cocktail dinner hosted by the Student Development and Leadership Unit (SDLU) in association with Mail and Guardian at Wits Origins Center, on Monday.  “I want to propose a new agenda, to begin by recording the struggles of women as women. To make sure that it’s a woman’s voice that speaks about the conditions we find ourselves in,” she said.

Speaking on the “agenda on gender”, Sisulu said women’s struggles were poorly documented and were often written by men. She said women still experienced gender-based violence and sexism in all spheres. Sisulu said the African National Congress (ANC) was dedicated to mainstreaming women’s struggles to ensure that these were identified and attended to effective.

The Spear

“We of the ruling party the African National Congress remain undeterred in our fight for the attainment of a society where men and women would not live in fear of being discriminated against or oppressed,” she said. Kelebogile Setletjeke, 4th year Actuarial Science, asked Sisulu why there wasn’t as much outcry over the rape a four month year baby this month as with the Zuma Spear saga.

[pullquote]We must demand equality[/pullquote]

Sisulu said Kelebogile’s question was a fair criticism of the ANC. She said there was an outcry because “it was the first time that we had seen a frontal image of any president in that nature. We thought we needed to show our abhorrence on the attack on the president.”

We have run our course what remains is your course

Sisulu said addressing Witsies was a mark of her “coming full circle” as she had occupied the same space in her youth. She said as a student she wanted to ensure that woman’s struggles where always brought to the fore.  Sisulu who holds as a Master’s degree in gender studies said, the task of highlighting women’s struggle was now placed upon the new generation of young women. “We have run our course – what remains is your course.”

Sisulu highlighted the importance of remembering women such as Charlotte Maxeke who had paved the way for the women of this generation. “Women’s struggle remains an appendix to our history but from time to time these struggles are only dug up as a feel good gesture in a month like this.”

Memory lane

She took the audience down memory lane, discussing how women had to carry over six passes to qualify to be out of prison. She used this anecdote to highlight how three generations of women had fought to give current generation women the opportunities they now have.  “We are here today because they fought; there was no divine intervention,”

Sisulu said the responsibility now lie with the youth to ensure that they “address systems of patriarchy and systems that did not lead themselves to a nation of equality.

We must demand equality

Students also asked Sisulu where she drew her strength from and how men could be re-educated about the role of women in South Africa? Sisulu said she received support from the ANC Women’s League and the tireless work they do to ensure that equality is achieved. She said the education of men would not happen overnight but rather through persistence by the new generation of women consistently claiming their equal space in society.

“We must demand equality.”