The role of women in the past and the future

nomondeBy Nomonde Mnukwa 

The historic march by more than 20 000 women to the Union Buildings on 9 August 1956 against the extension of Pass Laws by the apartheid regime was a turning point in the role of women in the struggle for freedom and our society at large.

We honour their heroic actions against the tyranny of an illegitimate system and the triple yoke of oppression of race, class and gender. They marched for freedom, equal representation, land rights and direct access to justice

While thousands of women stood up to make their voices heard, we remember stalwarts Sophie De Bruin, Albertina Sisulu, Mama Winnie Madikizela Mandela, Helen Joseph and Lilian Ngoyi as the vanguard of advancing the rights of women. 

These revolutionary giants together with many others played a formative role in the opposition to apartheid and in building a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa. Their powerful contributions to our struggle for freedom charted the way for a country that is inclusive and serves the interests of all South Africans.

The legacy of the women of 1956 teaches us that nothing is impossible when we remain true to our ideals. While they often faced overwhelming obstacles and the brute force of the apartheid’s enforcement machinery, they remained steadfast and triumphed.


As a nation that is still reeling from our horrific apartheid past we would do well to allow their  teachings and deeds to permeate with us as we work together to advance women in our nation and build a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa.

Emboldened by their enduring legacy, our generation is called to make it their personal responsibility to confront the pressing challenges women face today of inequality and the scourge of violence against women. We are also called to accelerate our nation’s progress in building a prosperous society.

It is unacceptable that women of our nation are raped, murdered and assaulted at an alarming rate.

This state of affairs goes against the founding values of our constitutional democracy, which is built on human rights, human dignity and equality for all.

 We encourage women to stand up for their rights and free themselves from abusers by taking the bold step of breaking the silence about abuse. Report abuse to your nearest police station or call the toll-free Crime Stop number: 086 00 10111. Victims of violence are encouraged to use the 24-Hour Gender-Based Violence Command Centre hotline 0800 428 428 to report any abuse.

Our government through the National Strategic Plan is ensuring a concerted effort in fighting Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF). It has ensured dedicated funding to combat GBVF and the enactment of key legislation to protect survivors of gender- based violence and ensure that perpetrators are no longer able to use legislative loopholes to evade prosecution.

We are also painfully aware of the number of women who stay in abusive relationships because of poverty and financial dependency. We are therefore redoubling efforts to advance the economic empowerment of women and have made gender equality an imperative in our nation. 

Formal employment for women is facilitated through the Employment Equity Act where employers are legally required to work towards more equitable representation based on gender, race and disability. Our Gender Equality Bill was introduced to accelerate the empowerment of women and attain 50/50 gender parity for the country.

It is the responsibility of all sectors of our society to make these progressive policies a lived reality that translates to tangible benefits in the lives of millions of women, particularly those living in our rural areas. For its part, government has ensured that 62 percent of the entire public service are female and 44 percent of senior management posts are filled by women. 

We call on all women to unite in the fight against economic imbalances and dependency and take their rightful place in society. The women of our generation should not hesitate to empower themselves through education which will open opportunities and allow them to become financially independent. 

Since 1994 our government has made great strides in ensuring access for girls to a better education, bursaries and training programmes for young women and funding for women entrepreneurs. 

The complete integration of women into our society and economy will go a long way in the fight against the triple challenge of unemployment, inequity and poverty. In the spirit of 1956, let us work together to prioritises the advancement of women so that they can take their rightful place in our society.

Nomonde Mnukwa is Acting Director General of GCIS