5 Issues South African Women are Facing this Women’s Month & Beyond

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.

Why The Anti-Sexual Assault Bill in Nigeria is Useless

Moya Bailey, coined the term ‘misogynoir’ that describes where racism and sexism intersect. Rape culture and misogynoir are upsetting me and my homegirls in Nigeria, my home. Experiences of rape culture exist in other places too. Yet, I want to place a specific emphasis on how Nigerian cultures perpetuate rape culture.

Note, I say Nigerian cultures because Nigerian culture does not exist as a whole. We exist as over 250 ethnic groups with different cultures.

“Why did she wear that?” “Her skirt is too short.”

These statements are often said without malice – patriarchy and rape culture is just deeply ingrained in Nigerian cultures. Yet, Nigerian women are advocating and speaking out against the practices and the rape culture that persists.

The view that a woman can ’cause’ herself to be raped because of how she looks needs to die. And never resurrect itself.

I am so proud to see my Nigerian sisters protesting for our basic human rights and demanding a change. Thankfully, the work of Nigerian women who have been doing this work for years is now gaining more exposure. I am so proud to see my Arewa sisters in the Northern region. They use their voices to tackle patriarchy one step at a time.

According to statistics, 717 sexual assault cases have been reported in Nigeria from the beginning of January until May 2020.

However, I truly believe these figures are just the tip of the iceberg. We are talking about a country whose population figure is unknown. Little to no data exists on the entire country’s demographics based on the vast number of ethnic groups.

As Nigerians, religion is deeply ingrained in our respective cultures. However, it is an utter disgust to see how certain demographics see their religious leaders as more than a human. As if we don’t all bleed red?

Rape culture is so rooted in Nigerian societies to the extent that it is even reflected in our laws.

The Penal Code, section 55, condones domestic violence and permits husbands to ‘discipline’ their wives. However, this is mainly applicable in the Northern regions of Nigeria:

‘Nothing is an offence which does not amount to the infliction of grievous harm upon a person and which is done by a husband for the purpose of correcting his wife…’

In this context, grievous harm counts as ’emasculation’. It is incredible to see how misogynistic Nigerian cultures can be that laws against women are enforceable today.

The atrocities Nigerian women endure in their educational institutions are sickening.

For the sake of attaining a certain grade women have been requested to sleep with their professors. Watching the Sex For Grades BBC documentary uncovered the disgusting abuse of power that Nigerian professors have and it’s detrimental effect on the wellbeing of their students. Following the release of this documentary, the Senate introduced a bill in order to ‘protect’ students from abuse in education.

Yet, it seems as though our excellent senators are forgetting something. Rape culture exists in the home, the workplace and other sectors of society too. They forget about the police officers raping and abusing women in their custody or demanding sexual favours for freedom.

Recent protests in Nigeria demand justice for women, girls AND babies who have been raped and/or murdered. Social media has taken its toll. Influential celebrities such as Adesua Etomi-Wellington and Temi Otedola have used their platforms to broadcast the obscene acts of injustice being committed against our girls, our women and our babies.

When writing this, I conducted brief research on the proposed bills and legislation in relation to sexual assault in Nigeria.

It appears that another bill was passed back in 2016 but was criticised, rightfully so.

Charity starts at home. How can a piece of actively unenforceable legislation influence change in the country? How scalable is the legislation? Will the Senate be looking at all 36 states – from Ogun State to Yobe State – to ensure rape and sexual harassment is no longer occurring? The anti sexual harassment bill focuses exclusively on the education system, similar to the preceding bill in 2016. It begs the question – does the government truly care about Nigerian women unless it’s their rich daughters and wives?

I highly doubt that a bill will all of sudden outlaw the disgusting patriarchy that is deeply rooted in our Nigerian cultures and systems.

Why is there no general bill against sexual assault in Nigeria?

Whether Nigeria’s bill is enforced in our society, misogynoir is planted in Nigerian societies. Until we overcome misogynoir, there is nothing a bill can do for us.

What Does It Mean To Be a Yemeni Woman?

What does it mean to be a Yemeni woman? How does it feel to be raised in the worst country in the world on gender equality? Glad you asked, but I must warn you. It’s not going to be an easy answer. 

To be a Yemeni woman, means that you must carry a huge burden on your shoulders for as long as you live.

It means being constantly reminded that for some reason you are carrying the honor of the whole village. The honor can definitely expand and shrink based on the situation.

As a Yemeni woman, if you’re with someone who happens to be from the same country or a neighboring one you can surely expect them to feel responsible to (or rather have the right to) tell you what to do. This is because your actions for some reason affect them.

So, you have to be careful, to save your tribe’s face! But careful of what exactly? Well, the list is endless. To be on the safe side, all you must do is have a man’s permission. The permission needs to be received before doing anything major in your life or considered unusual in society. Which man are you talking about though? Again, the list is long. If you’re married, you’d need your husband’s permission, if not, it’s your father’s and brothers’ permission you need. If they aren’t available, you need a family member, or any man from your tribe.

I’ve seen this with women from different Arab countries, not just in Yemen, but I can mostly talk about Yemen. I lived there for two decades of my life so I know what I’m talking about. So let’s dive into women’s role in Yemen and how its political instability is affecting women.

There’s a gender role shift in Yemen.

Yemeni women had their fingerprints in 2011 revolution. In fact, Nobel committee recognized it when they awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize to Yemeni activist Tawakkol Karman. She was one of three women who jointly received the award that year.

Now, Yemen is entering its 5th year of war. The economy has collapsed. There’s a shift in gender roles, as women are seeking work to help support their families. One could ask if women’s empowerment is on the rise in Yemen.

The situation for women and girls is far from perfect.

On paper, this all sounds promising. The revolution and the war seem to empower women in a way.

Given that Yemen is a highly patriarchal society, most women in Yemen are raised convinced that men are their guardians. It’s not easy to shift this mentality.

All these changes in roles has led to a sharp increase in domestic violence.

According to the United Nations, around three million women and girls in Yemen are at risk of gender-based violence. Assaults and abuse targeting women increased 63 percent. Child marriage rates have escalated to 66 per cent, as of 2017. According to Yemeni Women Union (YWU) violence against women has further increased because of Covid-19. 

What about the law? 

Gender discrimination is common in Yemen. There aren’t any women in parliament, although women are supposed to get 30% of the seats under the law. Women hold fewer than 20 percent of executive positions in the country.

Article 40 and 41 unification constitution of Yemen stipulates that all citizens are considered equal before the law. It states “Every citizen has the right to participate in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the country”.

However, there are many laws that discriminate against women. Women cannot marry without the approval of their male guardians. They don’t have equal rights to divorce, inheritance or child custody. 

What’s next for women in Yemen? 

Clearly, Yemen has a long way to go to achieve gender equality and there’s so much that needs to be done. Because of the devastating situation the country is in, the focus has shifted away from discrimination of women.

Famine, the death toll, COVID -19, and other issues are taking the light away from the severe gender inequality in the country.

Let’s not forget that women represent around 50% of the society. If half of society is silenced and disregarded the country will never thrive. Gender inequality is the root of the problem. It’s an issue that needs to be addressed!

Do Women Benefit from Revolution?

This is the question I’ve been asking myself while reading Thomas Sankara’sWomen’s Liberation and the African Struggle’.

The book has made me think about the powerful images of Alaa Salah from Sudan. It’s also made me think about the women in South Africa – of all races and backgrounds – who marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria in 1956, and the female members of the Black Panther Party draped in leather and berets.

I thought of all the women around the world who have taken to the streets to demand their rights, and I thought about how women have always sacrificed their time and bodies in the name of a revolution – just as men have.

“You are our mothers and life companions, our comrades in struggle, and because of this fact you should by rights assert yourselves as equal partners in the joyful victory feasts of the revolution.” – Thomas Sankara, March 8 1987

Women have long been asserting ourselves as equal partners, but are we fully indulging in the feasts of revolution?

In my own country, South Africa, I would say that the answer is no. Women have been written out of history. When I learned the history of Apartheid in school, there was zero mention of any women. Not Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. Not Albertina Sisulu. Not any of the other women who participated in the March of 1956. Not the women of the Black Consciousness Movement. I also remember learning about the Black Power Movement and hearing no mention of women like Angela Davis or Kathleen Cleaver.

Despite revolution, women still struggle for equality.

One current example is that the government in my country wants to expropriate land to the historic rightful owners. However, there is no clear plan as to how women should be included in this. We want ‘radical economic transformation’, but women are excluded from holding powerful positions. According to Africa Check, in South Africa women made up 72.5% of teachers and 37.3% of principals in public schools. The statistics in other fields are just as depressing.

Historically, the women’s rights movement has also been exclusive to middle-class white women.

This was shown by leaders of the Women’s Suffrage Movement in the United States through the exclusion of black women. Why would you exclude a group of people who undergo even more oppression than you do?

Personally, I still think the #MeToo movement has mostly benefited white women in Hollywood and middle-class white women in the West. What has changed for girls and women in countries like mine because of #MeToo? To me, it seems like nothing at all.

In some countries it is still legal to mutilate a girl’s genitalia, despite widespread acknowledgement that female genital mutilation has absolutely no health benefits for girls and women. It is a way to ‘prepare’ girls for childbearing and marriage. With this in mind, where is this ‘sexual revolution’ the Western world speaks of?

These are sad truths, but I want to call on all my sisters worldwide to take a stance together.

Let us take a stance against oppression in all forms, so that society can reap the rewards of equality. Maya Angelou said, “Each time a woman stands up for herself, she stands up for all women.” Let us be those kinds of women.

A Word to Men Ahead of International Women’s Day

Feminists around the world have put endless effort into explaining that International Women’s Day is for all people to fight together for gender equality. And while the statement is true, I don’t believe everyone’s job is the same. Every year, ahead of 8th March, there’s heated debate on men’s role in the gender equality movement. Are they doing enough? Are they doing too much?

These are my reflections for all men willing to listen.

Believe in Feminism

Take part in International Women’s Day because you believe in gender equality. It’s not our duty to make you feel included. It certainly is not our responsibility to convince you to fight for women’s rights. I often struggle to find the correct arguments to get men onboard, or the best feminist angle so as not to offend anyone. But I shouldn’t soften my words for the sake of masculinity.

Know your beliefs and own them. Advocate for women’s rights because you want to. Don’t wait for an invitation. Be a feminist because you see the burden of unbalanced gender dynamics and you want to tackle it.

It’s not just about the Women you Love

Whenever a case of sexual assault or domestic violence occurs, it’s common to hear that “it could have happened to your girlfriend/sister/daughter”. It seems like the offence is aggravated by the victim’s relationship to a man. Sure, we’re someone’s relative or friend but our worth doesn’t rely on this kinship. Before someone’s daughter or sister, we are our own selves. Women are deserving of respect, public presence and integrity because we exist.

Don’t march on International Women’s Day for your mother, daughter, girlfriend, wife, sister or female friends. Forget about the women you love for a second. Get involved for the billions of women you don’t know. This is not about someone close to you suffering, it’s about justice for half the world’s population.

Know your Role and Step Back Sometimes

Being an ally to any cause means acknowledging your privilege, offering support and settling for a secondary role to leave space for others to speak up.

Being an ally to women means understanding men’s role in the movement. While you’re welcome to stand at the very front of a march, think twice: do you really have to be right there? Or are you taking someone else’s place? Feminism wants and needs men to be involved but we don’t need you to lead. We can lead. We don’t need you to give us a voice, but we do need you to shush people when they aren’t listening. Shout with us, not for us.

An effective way to take part in International Women’s Day is to contact feminist organisations and offer to volunteer or make a donation. You can also babysit the children of your female friends or relatives so they can fully commit to the day. In your workplace, support female colleagues, employers and employees if they decide to go on a strike. Campaign on social media, don’t mansplain feminism to women and encourage your male friends to march. But mainly, don’t be scared of calling yourself a feminist – it’s a good thing.

Women’s Rights for Everyone

Gender inequality doesn’t just affect women, and it doesn’t affect all women equally. Working class women, BAME women, trans women, lesbian and bi women, Muslim women, older women, female sex-workers, disabled women, women in non-paid domestic jobs, women who don’t adhere to traditional beauty standards, homeless women, migrant and refugee women… All of us struggle in different ways.

Listen, learn and acknowledge the different ways patriarchy constrains women’s rights. Not all discrimination looks the same. So make sure you don’t assume, judge or take anyone for granted. Every single woman should feel as worthy as everyone else. 

Question Yourself

International Women’s Day is a great opportunity to reflect on the invisibility of everyday sexism. Turn off autopilot and question everything you assume about gender. Work to deconstruct your normalised behaviour and interrogate your day-to-day vocabulary. Likewise, pay close attention to bias that goes unnoticed, like sexist news headlines and misogynist commercials. Take some time to understand the concept of toxic masculinity and how it affects you. Understand that your position as a man might not allow you to witness the whole spectrum of gender discrimination.

Take this opportunity to interrogate your conduct and examine if there’s anything about your actions that could change to achieve a fairer future for everyone. 

March and Be Proud

You’re campaigning for female empowerment, against gender-based violence, for respect and justice, against stereotypes and gender-bias, for full social, political, legal and economic equality and against the othering of women in society. That’s major.

Don’t question your power and feel proud of what we can achieve together.

Power Advice for Activists from Nomtika Mjwana

Nomtika Mjwana is an activist for sexual and reproductive health and rights from South Africa. Many women and girls may be struggling to claim their space when fighting for human rights, social justice or gender equality. In this recorded monologue for Girls’ Globe, Nomtika shares her power advice to activists and advocates worldwide.

Nomtika encourages you to know that you are not alone, to dare to challenge power and to not be afraid to take up space. Watch and listen to this piece of power advice to girls below:

We stand for global solidarity for human rights, gender equality and social justice. On Instagram, Girls’ Globe shares powerful inspiration from the voices of women and girls worldwide – don’t miss out! Want to share your power advice or story too? Get in touch or apply to be a blogger.