Defence minister Thandi Modise would like to see more women in the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), which at present comprises 28% women in the uniformed arms of service.
Speaking at a women’s month parade in Thaba Tshwane on Friday 5 August, Modise said the event was part of empowering women within the Department of Defence, and she was there to honour and pay tribute to men and women who continue to serve under extremely difficult and challenging circumstances.
Modise celebrated the women of the liberation struggle and the ideals they fought for. She singled out pioneers like Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Ruth Mompati, Albertinah Sisulu, Winnie Mandela, and Ruth First.
The minister urged the acceleration of creating a conducive environment for women in uniform. Despite “commendable progress” regarding women serving in the military, and the progress made in promoting women, “it is important to reflect on the gender parity status within the Department of Defence. The overall figure for uniformed women stands at an unacceptable 28%, compared to 72% for men.
“With regard to the civilian component, it is heartening to note that women representation stands at 55% compared to 45% men. The uniformed component remains a matter of grave concern for all of us. I now wish to challenge the leadership of the SANDF to address this weakness as a matter of urgency. In the lower ranks, I note that the recruitment of young agile women has been increased to 40% of the intake,” Modise said.
With the recent adoption of the National Action Plan on Gender-Based Violence and the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, Modise said South Africa is committed to a comprehensive approach to eradicate the scourge of gender-based violence and femicide.
Gender-based violence is also present in the military, she reminded those at the parade. “Allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation of women within the SANDF is not only an embarrassment to the country, but a violation of women’s rights. Together, we must break the silence against abuse within the force. Externally, the SANDF had suffered reputational damage as a result of negative reporting and in particular by the United Nations on sexual exploitation and abuse incidents allegedly committed by our deployed members. Internally, we made headlines when two MSDS (Military Skills Development System) soldiers allegedly raped a fellow student on course. This cannot be tolerated and must be dealt with harshly.
“We must insist on ethical behaviour and discipline befitting men and women in uniform. Those found guilty of sexual abuse and harassment must be hunted down, found, punished and smoked out of the department. They have no place in a free, democratic and non-sexist society,” Modise said.
“As women, we carry a responsibility to support and empower each other, especially in a hostile and patriarchal environment. I appeal to women generals to take the young ones under their wings. Be their role models and mentors. As you rise through the ranks, do not leave them behind,” the minister told the parade.