In defence of our women

Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula

One would expect the military frontline to be lined up with tall, built men with guns and ammo, but as the Department of Defence (DOD) will tell you, some of its most valued and vital members of the force are indeed of the fairer sex.

While gender transformation is a key focal point on the department’s agenda, the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, readily admited that there is still a lot of room for growth.

During her recent Women’s Month Celebration keynote address at the air force base in Swartkop, Mapisa-Nqakula emphasised that the gender transformation in the department goes beyond the defence force and should also focus on senior level positions where decision are made.

“Gender training has been promoted as a key strategy in efforts to mainstream gender perspective in National Development Plans, this therefore implies that as we finalise the DOD’s plans to implement the Defence Review, we should also ensure that the Defence mandate is pursued through gender lenses.

“Therefore, female soldiers’ participation in military exercises, the SADC Standby Force Brigade, UN and AU missions must be underscored and promoted. The importance of the Defence Review as a policy document for both the SANDF and government cannot be overemphasised. So is the National Development Plan, as we move forward with our plans,” she said.

Mapisa-Nqakula further highlights that the reason to ensure transformation is tied up in the success of the mandate of the organisation and government in general. “We need women to lead to ensure the very success of our mandate, of protecting the Republic of South Africa’s territorial integrity and sovereignty and further contributing to peace and stability at home and abroad. There should be no contradiction in the relationship between these two tasks,” she said.

As a result, the concept of national security includes promoting human security, according to Mapisa-Nqakula. She said the general consensus is that, to achieve long-term peace and stability, both women and men need to be involved in the peace processes, peace negotiations and in the reconciliation processes. “Strangely enough, this is still not the case!” She said women, who make up more than half of the world’s population, are often excluded from these processes; despite the fact that they are often the ones hardest hit by the consequences of war and conflict.

“The SANDF has the largest contingency of women in our deployments in the country and the continent and this has been acknowledged by the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Office. With this we have set an example that women are as good as men in the military field. Women in the DOD have taken on multifaceted responsibilities in peace support operations, in the hardest environments on the African continent.

“Today the DOD is proud of the contribution that women make towards the carrying out of the Constitutional mandate and sustenance of democracy in the country. This is evident in various internal operations that seek to support the people of our country. The DOD women serve at the front line of safeguarding our borders, they support other government departments in times of need, and they are there for communities that are hit by natural disasters and over the years have become part of decision making bodies in the DOD,” she said.

According to Mapisa-Nqakula, the protection and defence of our country’s sovereignty is no longer a male only preserve. Women are now actively involved in the provision of peace and security. “Every passing day brings confirmation that women in defence occupy a very special place in the South African society because they have chosen to lay their lives for the protection of the sovereignty of the republic. This is not an easy decision to make in one’s life,” she said.


The Minister says it is important to direct the message to all women that they are welcome in the SANDF and will be of great value to the organisation and the country. She said that indeed, a significant part of our history has been about women of courage, who fought against injustices and challenged social barriers for acceptance and recognition as equals and leaders in a patriarchal society.

“Gender is nothing more than a social construct. We should regard it as our legacy to change the social relations in which we live. Women’s participation in all spheres of life is not a zero sum game which equals to victory for us and loss for men. It is an opportunity to unleash everyone’s potential to the maximum.

“Going forward, our challenge is to chip away some of the patriarchal attitudes so that women can take their rightful place in defence of our democracy, just as they are, in the governing of our country. After all, the litmus test of democracy and real transformation is the devolution of power relations between women and men in all spheres of society,” she said.

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This edition

Issue 68