4 August 2015
By Acting Cabinet Spokesperson Phumla Williams
It’s that time of year again when the focus falls on the sector of society that holds us all together – our women. They will celebrated under the theme: “Women united in moving South Africa forward.”
As we pay homage to the women we are surrounded by in our daily lives, let us also remember that next year marks the 60th celebration of the 1956 Women’s march. The theme for this year’s Women’s Day celebrations is effectively also a rallying call to highlight the challenges that women continue to face.
As we also use this opportunity to take stock of our progress, we must bear in mind the challenges that women continue to face in the workplace where most still earn far less than men, in the offices where women are still overlooked for important promotions, in the home where women are sexually abused and in villages where young girls are forced into marriage. These are the realities still facing many women. As we observe 9 August, let us not forget the significance behind this day.
Let us not forget that it took the sacrifice of about 20 000 women of all races who marched to the Union Buildings to protest against the discriminatory pass laws which had restricted the movement of black people in South Africa. This march has been celebrated since 1995 as Women’s Day to recognise the important role that political activism by women played during the struggle for liberation against colonisation and apartheid. Our country will always be indebted to the women who participated in the 1956 march and whose actions set the tone for gender equality and empowerment in a democratic South Africa.
All South Africans should use this month to reflect on progress made, call for change and celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who played an extraordinary role in the history of our nation. And in honour of those heroines and the women who continue to inspire, pave the way and give hope to so many of us, President Jacob Zuma will release the first Status of Women Report on 9 August. It was compiled by the Department of Women after hosting dialogues from March and June 2015 across the country in a bid to assess the current status of women.
Let us also be reminded that this year’s Women’s Month is taking place against the backdrop of the 60th anniversary of the Freedom Charter and of the Women’s Charter in 2014. Furthermore, the African Union has prioritised women empowerment by declaring 2015 as the “Year of Women Empowerment and Development towards Africa's Agenda 2063.” The Women’s Charter, the Freedom Charter and the 1956 March greatly contributed to the full participation of women in all spheres of government.
Due to the selfless acts of many, South African women have taken their rightful place in parliament, government, the private sector and civil society.
While women in our country and elsewhere in the world are still faced with a long list of challenges, it is important to remember that we have witnessed significant progress over the last 21 years.
Our government has increased the access of girls to education, initiated bursaries and training programmes for young women and allocated funds for women entrepreneurs.
But things are not as good in every sector of our society. Many women remain marginalised and vulnerable to social risks such as violence, abuse, rape, unemployment and poverty. The latter two also relates to a greater percentage of women being unemployed compared to men and women mostly filling lower income positions. However, Government is addressing the challenges facing women. For instance, the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment is central to government’s efforts to combat poverty and stimulate sustainable development.
We nevertheless acknowledge that a lot stills needs to be done. However, by commemorating Women’s Day, we already show solidarity with many of our women who still continue to face different daily struggles. We should take time to reflect on what still needs to be achieved and remember that our country, and indeed Africa, will only advance when women are fully incorporated into all spheres of society, the development of the country and all decision-making processes.
This is why Women’s Day, and Women’s month, is important – they give silenced women a voice and bring to the fore hidden challenges that women continue to face in their everyday lives. And we should celebrate our women not just on 9 August, but every day of the year.