The role that many women played in the history and formation of the ANC has barely been recognised, President Jacob Zuma said on Saturday.
"Admittedly, given the history of patriarchy in our society and in our movement, the early history of women's participation in the struggle for liberation has not been adequately recorded and told," Zuma said in a speech prepared for delivery.
"The struggle for freedom has produced numerous outstanding women who were in the forefront of our struggle. The centenary provides an opportunity to celebrate this contribution."
Zuma was speaking at a joint ANC Women's League fundraising and ANC centenary gala dinner at the SunCoast hotel in Durban.
He said younger generations needed to know more about ANCWL founder Charlotte Maxeke, to better understand the position of women in the struggle.
"During Charlotte Maxeke's time women suffered what was later known as triple oppression, they were oppressed as blacks and Africans, oppressed as black women and oppressed as workers," he said.
"Comrade Charlotte Maxeke was a leading figure in African politics throughout her lifetime, and for many years she was usually the only woman who participated in committees which were always dominated by men."
He said she was the only woman to participate in the ANC's founding conference in Mangaung in 1912.
"The fact that women enjoy equality and human rights today is a result of these courageous women who led the early struggles. Charlotte Maxeke was at the cutting edge of those struggles," he said.
"We must always celebrate the role that women who came before this generation made an everlasting impact in our struggle, South Africa will not be the same if there were no women like Charlotte Maxeke."
He said women like Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa, Bertha Gxowa, Dorothy Nyembe, Ruth First, Ray Alexander, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, June Mlangeni and Albertina Sisulu also needed to be acknowledged.
"While consolidating the gains made politically, women have to work towards achieving true economic emancipation for women... Women in our rural villages, townships and informal settlements must be able to share fully in the country's wealth," he said.
"We have begun that second struggle, and working together, we will succeed, and the memory of Charlotte Maxeke should inspire all women."
The role played by women like Winnie Madikizela-Mandela also needs to be acknowledged. Photo: Gallo Images