Article written by Likeleli M. Monyamane.
Yayyyyy!!! It’s August again, it’s Women’s Month. On the 9th of August, we celebrated women’s day. My social media timelines were filled with colourful posters advertising different Women’s Events and Conferences. From Phenomenal Women Conferences, Women of Note concert, Woman’s Day High Tea, Woman’s Day Adventure Bootcamp… and the list goes on. As with Nelson Mandela’s Birthday, Women’s Day has been so commercialised that I feel it is necessary for us to remind ourselves what the day is actually about.
The History of Women’s Day
According to South Africa History Online, “On 9 August 1956, FEDSAW organized some 20 000 women to march to the seat of government, the Union Buildings in Pretoria to present a petition against the carrying of passes by women to the prime minister, J G Strijdom. This was the famous Women’s March celebrated as Women’s Day on 9 August each year. The women’s anti-pass campaign, the Women’s Charter and their famous march to Pretoria became benchmarks in the struggle and continued to inspire decades of women until democracy was finally realized in 1994.”
I am concerned that at the rate we are going we will get to a point where we have forgotten what this day is all about. The women on 1956 didn’t gather to go on about how awesome women are and to pat each other’s backs for surviving the “harsh world of men” and making it against all odds. These women gathered together for the common purpose of abolishing Pass Laws. They realised that they had a common enemy which was affecting their livelihoods and their ability to provide for their families (Pass Laws had the effect of preventing women from finding jobs outside of their homesteads) and they mobilised each other to do something about it.
I am concerned that we put so much focus on the successful women and we celebrate them endlessly while these women are still very few in comparison to the rest of the population of women who continue to struggle against a lot of factors that affect African women. I believe that it is time to include in our topics of discussion at our annual women gatherings the challenges that African women still face and that we devise action plans (and implement them) on how to address these issues that threaten the improvement of the status of the African woman.
It is for this reason that I have decided to compile my 2014 Women’s Day Wish-list which will highlight the issues that women still face in South Africa (and Africa at large) in a plea to say, “let’s not loose ourselves in the pink, the comfort of air-conditioned conference rooms and the pampering and end up forgetting that the Women’s Liberation Struggle is far from over. Yes, more and more women are making it, but the livelihood of even more women (and young girls) is threatened by these issues. So if you took away all the braais, the celebrations and glossy magazine articles and awards and gave us these for women’s day, we would be really happy”:
My 2014 Women’s Day Wish List:
– Safety and security: a decrease in the statistics of violent crimes against women and children.
– Ownership of Land and financial independence.
– Free sanitary towels.
– Access to a quality education in safe learning environments.
– Cultures that recognise our right to choose if and who we want to marry and whether or not we want to have children.
– The opportunities for free religious choices and expression.
– An opportunity to choose which cultural and traditional practises we would like to observe – if any (including being given a right to decide on virginity tests, female genital mutilation, Lobola, etc).
– Access to adequate health care during and after pregnancy – for ourselves and our children.
– Equal opportunities as men to pursue a career in any field and equal opportunities to advance in our careers – so that more and more women can be given an opportunity to be top executives.
– Better working conditions and arrangements for domestic workers – and education and development opportunities.
I’ll stop there, but I’m sure that each and every woman (and man) reading this could add a few of things that still needs fixing before we can really be happy with the progress made in the women’s liberation struggle.
We need a different conversation at our gatherings. We need to support (through providing publicity, funding and/or skills) the formation of organisations that seek to address these issues. We need to stand together as women, whether or not these issues affect us directly, and if we have to sign a petition and organise a march to make the world and listen for a few minutes, then we should do so. Change is needed, and it is needed quickly.
Lastly, I understand that the women who came before us struggled so that we don’t have to go through the same struggles. However, we cannot rest on the sacrifice of our predecessors, we also have a responsibility towards other women who do not have access to resources and opportunities that we have access to, and we have a responsibility towards the next generation of women who should not inherit the problems that are ours to solve.
Let’s unite for the right causes.