The Significance and Importance of Women’s Day in South Africa
Driving to work one morning, I heard two news stories that were both shocking but at the same time commonplace in current South African discourse. Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Mduduzi Manana, has admitted, courtesy of a sound clip which went viral, to assaulting two women at a Johannesburg night club. It appears fragile masculinity is being compensated for with violence. The second story in the same news segment was the arrest of four men who allegedly assaulted a man and his wife outside of a KFC in Pretoria some weeks ago. Statistics reveal that on average, one in five South African women older than 18 has experienced physical violence and on average, a woman dies at the hands of an intimate partner every eight hours in South Africa. Fortunately, both incidents were reported and are now being investigated.
In May this year, a pregnant woman was gang-raped in Johannesburg’s inner-city where eleven men are said to have been involved. In the same month, an eight year old girl was raped at her Randburg primary school by three boys, aged twelve to fourteen. Little three-year-old Courtney Pieters was raped twice before she was killed and buried in a shallow grave. Karabo Mokoena was murdered by her boyfriend, had acid burned over her and was burned beyond recognition, her body being found in an open veld. A fifteen-year-old girl reported missing was found murdered and burnt in Klerksdorp in the North West on Mother’s Day. These are almost daily headlines in South Africa and the level of violence against women and children appears to be escalating. A 2016 report indicates that there is no single reason or cause for gender-based violence, but that inequality and the acceptance of violence are two extremely important factors as well as social constructions of manhood.
Society at large has a massive role to play in curbing the scourge of violence against our women and children. Amanda Gouws, Professor of Political Science at Stellenbosch University, feels that the actual wording in reports of these cases needs to be addressed. According to researcher and journalist Nechama Brodie, less than 20 percent of all femicides that happen every year are covered in the press, with acts of violence against women in all forms are among the most under-reported crimes in the world. The aforementioned cases trend in the media with various accompanying hashtags and engagements on gender-based violence but in reality, violence against women and children don’t ‘trend’. It is omnipresent, cuts across racial and socio-economic groups and shows no sign of abating.
August represents Women’s Month in South Africa but what does this mean? On a government level, major changes have been made to the significance of women in South African society – for example, female representation in parliament has increased from 2, 7% to 48%. However, women and children from all walks of life are being bullied, abused, raped and murdered. A revolution needs to take place in this country where apathy against these abuses is shunned. Reporting of abuse cases needs to become commonplace, with no fear of judgement, retribution or failed justice for victims. Women and children need to know that this abuse can happen to anyone at any given time. Young girls need to stand up in schools and condemn violence against them in the strongest terms. There is still far too big a gap between realities of abuse and rhetoric. The catchphrase from the 1956 Women’s march to the Union Buildings was ‘Wathint' Abafazi, Wathint' Imbokodo' - (you strike the women, you strike the rock). Although this was in context of the oppressive apartheid laws at the time, lessons can still be drawn from it. These women were fearless and brave, standing together to shape ideologies and fight for a cause they believed in, despite threats of intimidation, arrests and banning. Women should cease judging themselves by what others have done to them. Literally nothing but reticence stops women from coming together and formidably fighting against this abuse. The time has come for women to be quiet no longer. No one is above the law and weak, fragile, male egos cannot continue to be stroked by violence, threats and intimidation. Let this Women’s Day be the first wave of serious, positive change we see in the country regarding gender-based violence and not just a public holiday which is made reference to in vague terms. Early women’s rights activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton once said, “The best protection any woman can have is courage”. This Women’s Day should be used by men and women in South Africa to examine their role in this continuing abuse and how we can all find the courage to implement change. Lives literally depend on it.