I love Women’s Day. Actually, as you might know by now, I love commemorative days in general. Firstly, because introspection and reflection is always a good thing to do and secondly (and most importantly), because it gives me something to write about and writing makes me happy.
I have a soft spot for Women’s Day, though. I like to celebrate it by doing something I enjoy, so in previous years I have gone hiking and running on Women’s Day and this year I am eating an entire pizza in bed in my most comfortable pajamas while I read, stalk my ultimate crush (Barack Obama – *swoon*) and do some minor writing.
Today I want to focus on why Women’s Day exists. I often overhear or participate in conversations about why we have Women’s Day and they usually go something like this: “Why exactly do we have Women’s Day? Why no Men’s Day? Surely now that women are equal to men, Women’s Day should no longer exist?” Well, this is why:
Globally, Womens’s Day is actually celebrated on 8 March every year. What we celebrate in South Africa on 9 August is the commemoration of the march of approximately twenty thousand women to the Union Buildings in Pretoria on 9 August 1956. This year is the 60th anniversary of that march. These women marched in protest of the ‘Pass Laws’ which required all black South Africans to carry an internal passport known as a pass with them under the Apartheid regime. The women stood silently for 30 minutes and then sang a struggle song which was composed specially for the occasion: Wathint’Abafazi Wathint’imbokodo! (Now you have touched a woman you have struck a rock.) The song title has since become the catch phrase of Women’s Day and the embodiment of the strength of the South African woman.
It is eerily fitting and ironic, then, that four women chose to exercise their right to protest peacefully at the IEC briefing on Saturday 6 August during president Jacob Zuma’s speech, just 3 days before Women’s Day. Unfortunately, 60 years after the peaceful march to the Union Buildings, these women appeared to have been roughly removed from the venue by the president’s security and had their placards (which read “Khanga”, “Remember Khwezi”, “10 yrs later” and “I am 1 in 3”) snatched from them. It is a sad state of affairs that we are able to applaud women for protesting peacefully in 1956, but when four women protest peacefully and silently about a matter which causes disrepute to the president, they are removed roughly by said president’s security cohort.
Which brings me to why we need Women’s Day. Women’s Day is not only a commemoration of the heroic actions of women like the Union Building 20 000 who helped bring about change to how women are perceived today, it is also a reminder that as far as we have come in the last few decades, women are still not equal counterparts to men in society.
Although women are able to pursue careers in any industry and in any field and are able to enlist in every branch of the military, women are still paid less than men in the workforce (and this wage gap disparity is even worse for black women). Inherent biases and ideas about women still run rampant in society today, one of which is the perception of sexually active men as opposed to sexually active women. When a teenage boy has had numerous sexual partners he is often congratulated and praised, but when a teenage girl has had the same number of sexual partners, she is shunned and slut-shamed.
Victim blaming, therefore, is still one of the reasons why Women’s Day and other reminders of the inequalities which still exist are so important.
Then there are the issues relating to sexual violence and the treatment of sexual violence victims and survivors. The justice system, in an attempt to ensure that no one is found guilty of a crime which he/she did not commit (sensibly so), often appears to favour the accused instead of protecting the victim and many times these victims are women. The Jacob Zuma rape case comes to mind here, where his accuser, known to the media as Khwezi, had her clothing choices questioned (she wore a traditional khanga) and had her entire sexual history recounted to the court in order to acquit Jacob Zuma of the charges against him. Victim blaming, therefore, is still one of the reasons why Women’s Day and other reminders of the inequalities which still exist are so important.
The issue of having Women’s Day and not Men’s Day is like saying ‘All lives matter’ when someone says ‘Black lives matter’.
Lastly, the issue of having Women’s Day and not Men’s Day is like saying ‘All lives matter’ when someone says ‘Black lives matter’. We know that all lives matter, just as we know that men are valuable contributors to our societies. The point of Women’s Day, like ‘Black lives matter’, is not to say that men do not matter, but to celebrate the fact that women have had to fight an uphill battle to attain the freedoms and privileges which we now enjoy, as well as to point out the fact that there is still work to be done in creating a 100% equal society.
Some of the famous women who inspire me (hover over the picture to see the name):