National Women’s Day South Africa – 9th August

The root causes of women’s oppression
– Helen Zille, the DA leader on the real obstacles to female advancement in SA

Failing our women: A tragic loss of human potential

On Women’s Day it is important to look beyond the symbolism of this public holiday, and address the root causes of women’s oppression.

The risk of trinkets, cards and gifts on such occasions is that they disguise (rather than address) the substantive issues.

The vision of an “open, opportunity society for all” faces major obstacles, none greater than the situation facing most women (not only in South Africa, but in many other countries).

The reason is that most women forfeit their opportunities before they begin to use them. Their careers end before they begin.

On Women’s Day, we should look hard at the catastrophic loss of human potential among South African women. For far too many, life’s opportunities have been shut down well before their 20th birthday. Multitudes have dropped out of school. Large numbers have become pregnant by fathers who will never support them or their children, so that both they and their babies are doomed to stunted, impoverished lives.

The South African Institute of Race Relations has recently published statistics on the state of the South African family. They are frightening. By 2007, only 34% of children in South Africa were living with both biological parents. 23% were living with neither. There were 148,000 households headed by a child of 17 years or younger. In 2006, more than 72,000 girls between the age of 13 and 19 did not attend school because they were pregnant. A pupil at a school in Mpumalanga claimed that 34 babies born to school girls were fathered by teachers.

Apartheid bears much of the blame for the disintegration of African family life. But the problem has actually been getting worse in recent years. From 2002 to 2007, there was an increase in the number of children living without a father, and in child-headed families. AIDS explains a large loss of life among young women but does not explain why fewer living men are staying with, and taking responsibility for, the children they fathered.

Helen Zille’s article continues at
A Message From the African National Congress Women’s League
Working together to empower women for development and gender equality

This year we commemorate the 53rd anniversary of the heroic march of 20 000 women to the Union Buildings on the 9th of August 1956. This year’s commemoration will take place under the theme “Working together to empower women for development and gender equality”.

Every year on this day, as South African women we remember the sacrifice, the commitment, the dedication and the unity in action of the women of the 1950s. They demonstrated that as women, we are strong, powerful, special and valuable.

This day marks the culmination and continuation of the great and heroic struggle of South African women. This is a history that not only demonstrated to the apartheid regime (and our men) that tempering with women could be dangerous, but also demonstrated to women themselves that they could be as hard as rock. As the women called out on the steps of the Union Buildings that day, “Wathint’ abafazi, wathint’ imbokodo. Strijdom uzakufa” (You touch the women, you touch the rock. Strijdom you will die.)

The 9th of August always gives us an opportunity to critically re- examine the history of the march and the foundations of the women’s movement in South Africa, but this day also offers the appropriate occasion to reflect on the current situation of women in the country in relation to progress made since the installation of the first democratic government in 1994. How do we assess our successes and achievements since 1994 and what do we need to do to ensure that we speed up the advancement of women’s empowerment and gender equality in South Africa?

The history of the South African women’s movement to a very large extent is the history of the ANCWL. It is befitting that as we celebrate 53 years of the Women’s march that we do so against the backdrop of the 91 and 61 years of the founding of both the Bantu Women’s League and the African National Congress Women’s League respectively. As members of the League this day reminds us of the glorious past of this great organization we are privileged to be members of.

Lillian Ngoyi who led the representatives of the 20 000 women together with Rahima Moosa, Sophie Williams and Helen Joseph to the office of Prime Minister Strijdom later recalled how she saw her own daughter cry as she led the delegation away, and how she thought that it would probably be the last time they saw each other. When Lillian knocked and a voice from behind the door shouted that she was not allowed to be there she responded as follows, “The women of Africa are outside. They built this place and their husbands died for this.”

Helen Joseph told the story from here: “When it was over women walked back to the bus terminus in two’s and three’s, singing now, never forming a procession, babies on backs, and baskets on heads. They reached the buses as African men queued after work for their transport home, but when they saw the women coming, in their green blouses and skirts, they stood back. “Let the women go first. It was a great tribute from weary men,” they said.

It is also important to contextualize the Women’s March of 1956 within the historical development of the women’s movement in South Africa. It is worthwhile to note that the women’s anti-pass march of 1913 in Bloemfontein stands out as the beginnings of the women’s movement in South Africa with the formation of formation of the Bantu Women’s League in 1918, led by Charlotte Maxeke.

It is also worth noting that in those days women were only granted auxiliary status by the ANC and had no voting rights in the organization. It was only in 1943 that women were eventually allowed to become full members of the ANC and the Bantu Women’s League became the ANCWL.

ANC article continues at
Token day for South Africa women

We celebrate Women’s Day to recognise the contribution women made to the fight against apartheid. On 9 August 1956 over 20 000 women marched on Parliament to protest against the ‘pass books’ law.

The words: “Wathint’ abafazi, wathint’ imbokodo uzokufa!” (when you strike the women, you strike a rock, you will be crushed), have come to symbolise the courage of South African women.

However, the fact that we celebrate Women’s Day is a sign of both how far we have come and how far we have yet to go. For while it recognises that women ought to be celebrated for their contribution to society; it simultaneously demonstrates how far we have to go before we can truly be regarded as an egalitarian society.

Women’s Day might be a step in the right direction, but it is also simply a token of recognition in a country where the incidence of rape increased by 17.8 percent between 1994 and 2004. It is one day on which the rights and achievements of women are recognised. To whom, one is forced to ask, do the remaining 364 belong?

The answer, unfortunately, is not humankind.

Laws lacking conviction

South Africa has one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, in which all citizens are protected and entitled to basic necessities as well as the freedom of movement, expression and religious or sexual orientation.

Enshrined in this Constitution are laws which provide pregnant women with free health care and the right to terminate a pregnancy (Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act); laws which make marital rape and violence in both marital and non-marital relationships illegal (Domestic Violence Act); and laws which amend patriarchal customary traditions to ensure that women do not become property in marriage (Customary Marriages Act).

There are even bodies in place to ensure that these laws are observed. The Commission on Gender Equality is a statutory body which was established with the Constitution to ensure that gender-related laws are upheld. It is an independent body which is subject only to the Constitution and law.

The Office on the State of Women is meant to ensure that the gender equality envisaged by the Constitution becomes manifest in government programmes. This year, President Jacob Zuma introduced a new ministry for Women, Youth, Children and People with Disability. While this may have been done with the intention of furthering the cause of women, its very existence (particularly the grouping with children and people with disabilities) indicates the marginalised position which women hold in South African society.

And yet, our fledgling democracy is failing its women dismally.

Rebekah Kendal’s article continues at


%d bloggers like this: