The National Institute for Occupational Health (NIOH) is a division of the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) and is administered under the NHLS Act. As the CEO, it is indeed my pride and pleasure to welcome you all to this very important event and to launch the NIOH Gender, Health and World of Work Programme. We appreciate your interest and your enthusiasm for the opportunities and the challenges workplaces offer to positively address gender concerns.

We host this event in close proximity to the Constitutional Court where our democracy has triumphed over the starkness of our apartheid history in a unique embrace of the importance of the protection of the dignity and human rights for all. The ­women’s jail of the past now hosts a museum. We also meet one week after the world celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8th. On this day we remember, in particular, women at work and all their sacrifices, including their lives, to provide for themselves and their families.

In September 2015 the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Sustainable Development Goals will inform the development agenda for the next 15 years. These goals include good health and well-being, gender equality, decent work and economic growth, and the reduction of in­equality between and within countries. Under the guidance of these ­aspirational goals, we therefore have golden opportunities to harness the immense potential of workplaces for creating decent work and for greater equality. These include equality of opportunity for girls and boys, and for men and women to good education and income equality. The world of work can significantly contribute to the realisation of these goals.
In spite of progress in the world since the Beijing Women’s Conference in 1995, there remain major gender gaps in workplaces as clearly demonstrated in a recent report by the ILO: “Women at Work: Trends 2016.” The report shows the enormous challenges women still face in finding and keeping decent jobs. It demonstrates the persistently unequal earning capacity of women and men. It shows the imbalance between paid and unpaid work and between hours worked by each, and the ­difficulty women have in obtaining adequate maternity protection and pensions. It also shows that violence in all its different forms continues to be a daily experience for many. In order to overcome these challenges we need to break the silence and acceptance of these problems, and find unity of purpose.

In order to overcome these ongoing challenges, we need men and women to discuss these problems and find common solutions. The goal of decent work for women and men should empower both to earn decent wages and allow both to participate in providing care for family and the home. Creating ­policies that identify and promote ­solutions for the underlying structural causes and consequences of gender inequality and discrimination are needed. Women ­present an incredible pool of talent and that should be recognised, but we need to start young and make sure we help raise our daughters and sons to respect every person as equal and to respect all work as important.

The National Institute for Occupational Health is launching the above programme in a quest to help mainstream gender concerns in Occupational and Environmental Health and Safety in workplaces in South Africa. The aim of the Programme is to facilitate greater gender awareness in workplaces by collaborating with different role-players in different sectors of the economy and in institutions of higher learning.

The creation of new workplace knowledge, in the form of in­clusive research, is fundamental to help prevent occupational injuries and diseases. New knowledge which is gender informed, makes for better policy and practice in public health, in surveillance as well as the development of occupational health services. It is also an investment in the future and promotes greater equity at work.

I would like to acknowledge the many workplaces that make it possible for OHS research and OHS training to be conducted. I want to remind you how proud we are of the creation of new knowledge which we believe should include a gender supportive component and which undoubtedly will have a positive impact on the lives of working people. Please be assured that we will continue to find ways to support researchers to embrace a gender inclusive approach and to be the very best that they can be in their efforts, nationally and globally.

We would like to salute, celebrate and remember with fondness the many women and men who sacrificed for us to enjoy the constitutional democracy we now have. It is far from perfect and it is up to each and every one of us to treasure and deepen that hard-won democracy.

Let us all strive to “Getting to Equal by 2030, The Future is Now!

Published in OHSA March/April 2016 Vol 22 no 2