South African National Day for women

South Africa-the country of struggle for freedom, of anti apartheid, of Nelson Mandela and many many heroes .A country rich in its soil ,rich in its sea ,but most of all rich in its people -specially its women.

In South Africa women are celebrated twice-on International Women’s Day and on National Women’s Day.

 Reneva Fourie is a South African political analyst residing in Damascus and she has a lot to say about the topic of women in South Africa

 “South Africans celebrate August as Women’s Month to honour the specific contribution made by women in the fight against apartheid. In particular, August 9 is designated as a public holiday, called “National Women’s Day”.  On this day in 1956, thousands of women, across all cultural groups, marched to the Union Buildings, in Pretoria to protest the extension of Pass Laws (laws that required black South African men to carry passports authorising their presence in South Africa) to include black women. The event made a huge impact because it was the first massive, women-only planned, and women-only led, public demonstration against oppression. The march was also significant because it emphasised the links between the national struggle and the gender struggle. Thereby asserting that women are not immune to the problems that affect society, such as racism and economic exploitation.  Likewise, the challenges that women experience are a product of society and need to be challenged and addressed by all. Accordingly, the women who led the march to the Union Building on August 9 showed that women are good planners, good organisers, and can be very powerful and that women therefore should not be pigeonholed to particular roles and tasks in society.

 South Africans also celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8. The emphasis in this celebration is primarily on the link between the gender struggle, the class struggle and its international character. In other words, while it might appear as if the challenges that women in specific countries experience are unique, women across the world have much in common.  In 1910, the International Women's Conference that preceded the general meeting of the Socialist Second International in Copenhagen, Denmark emphasised that the liberation of women will never be complete without the fundamental transformation of the contemporary economic and social structure of society, world-wide, and accordingly designated March 8 as "International Woman's Day”.

 Reneva Fourie believes that women in South Africa still have a long way to go before obtaining their full rights.

“No, women in South Africa have not obtained their full rights despite the democratic government having introduced substantive regulatory, institutional and programmatic reform to advance gender equity. Women were equal and active participants in the South African liberation struggle, hence August 9.

 Given the ANC’s historic mission to create a non-racial, non-sexist, united, prosperous democratic South Africa, it was inevitable that this consciousness around women’s equality would be carried into governance once the ANC-headed government came into power.   In addition to having had a series of socio-economic plans and interventions to holistically address South Africa’s economic and social challenges in a pro-poor and people-centered manner, a number of gender-specific initiatives were introduced.

 A women’s department with dedicated, budgeted, measurable programmes that promote equality, empowerment and access for women; and to enforce gender-mainstreaming across government was established. We saw more women accessing education, including higher education. South Africa’s youth female literacy is almost 100 percent. There are incentives and institutions specifically aimed at economically empowering women. Legislative provisions were introduced to promote, protect and enforce the human rights and social and physical protection of women, as well as equality in the workplace and in politics. We have among the highest number of women in politics.  Harsher, minimum sentencing for gender-related crimes were introduced and a dedicated institution was tasked to monitor gender-sensitivity and effective legislative compliance in the criminal justice system.

 But despite all these efforts by government and civil society to advance gender parity in South Africa, sexism remains a stubborn feature in our society.  Our biggest challenge is the high levels of violence against women, especially by intimate partners.  Furthermore, women continue to bear the brunt of unemployment and generally dominate the lower paid jobs despite knowledge and skill. We are struggling to break the cycle of violence in our society because it is a deeper manifestation of the consequences of an economic system that produces demeaning conditions of unemployment, poverty, excessive crass materialism and unequal power relations including between men and women. That is precisely why we celebrate International Women’s Day.  Efforts to create a non-sexist society cannot succeed in an economic system where the value of women, continue to be undermined.  We believe that we must intensify efforts to build a society free of gender inequalities and exploitation while laying the building blocks for a more just and egalitarian economic system.”

“We commit to continue our solidarity with the women of Palestine, Venezuela, Syria, and Cuba in their struggles against imperialist aggression.”

This gathering is one of the ways in which we, as South Africa, wish to express our commitment.

In conclusion it is possible to say that women worldwide still have a long way to go before they obtain their full rights.Freedom for women does not only encompass appearance -it is rather re educating generations and generations to think differently from their predecessors ,to delete stereotyping and to always remember that women are primary community builders.

Reem Haddad

Editor -in-chief