Each year on the 9th of August, South Africa celebrates the diverse group of women who marched against racist Apartheid laws in 1956. As we commemorate the heroes of the past and continue to fight for our futures, we are reminded of our present realities. As the women of 1956 taught us, our fight for equality should not be exclusive. And as this pandemic is showing us, our struggles have been the same if not worse than ever. As Women’s Month is ending, here are some of the issues women in South Africa are facing.
1. There is a very visible pandemic.
Gender based violence has been the visible pandemic in South Africa for a long time. In September last year, President Ramaphosa unveiled R1 billion action plan to combat gender-based violence. He also said that those who commit violent acts against women and children should not be allowed bail.
We are yet to be updated on how successful these initiatives have been. There are still instances where the police are failing to protect women against their abusers. Women and girls are still raped by men, murdered by men – or both. With the recent unbanning of alcohol, people fear that gender-based violence incidents may likely increase.
2. The economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been severe.
We have seen the economic effects of this COVID-19 pandemic. People are losing their livelihoods because of it. For too many, their salaries are being cut. Many small businesses are closing. Because of this people can’t put food on the table.
This pandemic has also left many vulnerable to poverty. In South Africa, women are the breadwinners. Women also contribute about 50% to the GDP but are more likely to be unemployed and underpaid. Now imagine the impact this pandemic has had on women’s finances.
3. Female frontline workers are at risk.
Caregivers, nurses and teachers are more likely to be female. Healthcare workers are working harder than they ever have. Teachers have to work extra hard to control children’s often unruly behaviour.
Nurses and teachers are more susceptible to contract COVID-19 as they come into contact with many people. They are also working under stressful conditions. Who is looking out for their well-being?
4. Period poverty persists.
Something I have learned this year is that sanitary products are a luxury to some women and girls. A 2018 study showed that 30% of South African girls miss school due to a lack of access to menstrual products. During this lockdown, I become anxious just going to a shop while others cannot afford such basic necessities.
5. Men misunderstand what feminism is.
As soon as yet another woman is murdered or raped, #MenAreTrash would likely be trending on Twitter. It’s not long until #NotAllMen trends where men are quick to defend themselves.
Instead of hearing women out, they make it about themselves. If a man is the victim of intimate partner violence, these same men bemoan the fact that feminist activists are not as angry. Many African men believe that feminists hate men or want to be men.
This year has been tough.
I’m sure it has been a difficult year for everyone. This pandemic has re-emphasized what an unequal society we live in. To see how many people are losing their jobs is heartbreaking. The levels of corruption in my country are infuriating.
It’s disgusting to see how the death of Breonna Taylor or the shooting of Megan thee Stallion has been turned into memes. It’s scary to see how many young women in South Africa are murdered for no reason.
These issues remain beyond this Women’s Month in South Africa.