National Assembly Deputy Speaker Lindiwe Mahlangu-Nkabinde says women empowerment is a prerequisite for the achievement of gender equality.
The Deputy Speaker addressed a special parliamentary debate marking this year's Women's Month and celebrating the first decade of freedom.
"Women participation in decision making structures, whether at a global, regional or sub-regional level is an area of concern," she said.
Ms Mahlangu-Nkabinde added that women in Africa fought for a long time against colonialism in the continent and particularly in South Africa they fought hard against apartheid.
"Women have tended to make their contributions outside political and policy making structures, that is why women all over the continent are organised in families, communities and non-governmental structures...their participation in a more formal political structures tend to be marginal," the deputy speaker said.
She noted that even in South Africa where a lot of work had been done to advance the status of women, political life was predominantly male and some of the norms and standards shaping it were not readily acceptable to women.
"Many countries are slow to implement substantive change. Research suggests that in order to bring substantive difference in political decision making, a critical mass must be reached in holding at least 30 to 35 percent of women (in public office)," she said.
Ms Mahlangu-Nkabinde explained that South Africa was different to other countries because women were increasingly represented in public life at all levels.
She described South Africa as the country with the second highest record in Africa in terms of women representation in Parliament at 32. This ranks South Africa as twelfth in the work with regard to gender representation in Parliament.
"Empowering women entails more than really enabling some women to become leaders. True gender equity entails addressing the needs of women as a whole.
"Recognising our shared oppression, women are committed to seizing this historic moment to ensure effective equality in a new South Africa, in Africa and in the world," she said.
The deputy speaker reminded women that South Africa had set the standard for the advancement of women by ratifying several international and regional legal instruments.
Ms Mahlangu-Nkabinde also announced that on Friday parliament would launch the United Nations handbook for parliamentarians on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women.