National Women’s Day is celebrated as a day when we remember the over 20 000 diverse South African women who marched against the pass laws in 1956. Their march was a testament to the ideals of; “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free” (Fannie Lou Hamer).
In practise however, many people who work at Rape Crisis are confronted daily with the realities of violence against women and children in South Africa, and are finding it increasingly difficult to relate to the true meaning of Women’s Day because of how much progress we still have to make in fighting for our rights.
On the 1 August 2018 many women across South Africa took to the streets as part of the #TotalShutdown demonstrations. This started as a small, diverse group of women who decided ‘enough is enough’ and brought women to the streets to make a statement about the impunity against human rights violations especially in this case, the lack of justice for gender-based violence in this country.
Many women in South Africa still face the harsh realities of the staggering numbers of gender-based violence crimes which occur daily in our country. This is an issue which cannot be swept under the carpet and ignored. So, should we be using Women’s Day to highlight and celebrate the achievements of women? Or should we be using this day to take stock and get real about the numbers, the crimes, the rapes, the cat calling, the inequality, the sexual harassment and more that women face every day?
We chatted to our staff here at Rape Crisis about what “Women’s Day” means to them. Here are some of their thoughts;
“By being a woman I am extremely blessed. I can care, nurture, create and still earn an income to explore all my dreams that I have.”
“Women’s Day is about celebrating women in our country. We acknowledge their achievements, strengths and resilience. It is also a day where we advocate for those that are still oppressed and live in vulnerable situations.”
“Women’s day is about empowering women to be able to stand for themselves and to fight against gender-based violence.”
“I think the day should be spent highlighting the survival of women in a violent and patriarchal society! We should highlight that no matter how much patriarchy women are subject to we are still here, we still have a voice, we still fight for our rights, we still break the silence, we still feed our families, we still wake up in the morning to care for our families, we still work towards our empowerment and independence – we are still here.”
National Women’s Day can easily be overlooked as just another public holiday. But we can also use it to become aware of who’s fighting the good fight, to learn what we can do to help, to resist, and to celebrate those who inspire us. Organisations do their part by making these actions accessible, desirable, and consistently showing the change we can make if we support women and marginalised groups. Many people in the world are doing absolutely phenomenal work in the gender-based violence sector and other humanitarian sectors too. As a young person, I too am reminded about the importance of being an empowered woman, and what that means in today’s society, especially when women’s uprisings are becoming more and more common. Part of that empowerment is seeking the support and spreading the information so that more people have access and awareness.
Is the spirit of women taking leadership in social justice movements back? Is it being revived? I don’t know but maybe now is the time for hope.