Each year on 9 August, South Africa celebrates Women’s Day. We honour more than 20,000 women who marched in protest of the pass laws.
During Apartheid, black people were required to carry passes designed to restrict their movements. If they were found to not have their passes, police would arrest and sentence them to prison. On 9 August 1956, thousands of women from different racial and cultural backgrounds marched to the Union Buildings to deliver petitions to the Prime Minister.
What makes this day so important in South Africa’s history?
It was diverse in essence. There were women of all races and backgrounds; black women, Indian women, domestic workers with their white employers’ babies on their backs. It also went against what was expected of women at that time. They refused to be quiet and sit back while the brutal Apartheid system tore their families apart.
One of the most iconic phrases sung at the march was: “you strike a woman, you strike a rock.”
Lead by extraordinary women such as Lilian Ngoyi, Rahima Moosa, Helen Joseph and Sophia de Bruyn, women fought for a non-racist and non-sexist South Africa.
What has actually changed since then?
Sophia de Bruyn, one of the few living marchers of that day, wrote on Twitter that she is disappointed in the little progress made since then. In South Africa, rates of violence against women are so high that it is normalised in society.
Some people blame women for provoking a man. Women who are abused by their partners are unable to leave. Some people even think that violence in a marriage is normal. Personally, I feel that as a country we tolerate and normalize many things we shouldn’t. Even though we have one of the most inclusive constitutions, government and civil organizations can only do so much.
Celebrating inspiring South African women
It is important that we celebrate inspiring South African women and remain positive that we can end inequality, discrimination and violence.
To many South Africans, Caster Semenya is probably the most iconic athlete of our time. But the rest of the world demonize and mock her for…well, not being woman enough. The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) has subjected her to gender testing for years. If you read her posts on social media, you’ll know that she tries her best to rise above the negativity.
Lady Skollie is a self-proclaimed ‘pussy power prophet’. She is a feminist artist who explores themes of sex, gender roles, violence and heritage in her work. Nothing in her work is taboo. In celebration of 25 years of democracy, she has recently designed new SA coins.
Then there is our very own Queen B, Bonang Matheba. She is a media personality who knows what she wants and works hard for it. She has a bursary fund that pays for girls’ university tuition costs and aims to send 300 girls to university by 2021.
Happy Women’s Day South Africa!