Why Women’s Day Matters

Why Women’s Day Matters

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):

For two comprehensive lists of women who are worth researching and looking up to, check out African Feminist’s blog posts entitled 15 Women Worth Looking Up To and 8 African Feminists of Note.

On Deciding Who To Vote For

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It is the evening before Election Day and I still don’t know who to vote for. I know that I will definitely vote, though. I have the privilege and responsibility of influencing the governance of my city in some small way and I cannot refrain from exercising that option (Accounting joke!). I don’t think that I would be able to forgive myself if I didn’t play a role in how this election turns out.

Living in Cape Town, it is pretty much a given that the Democratic Alliance (DA) will win, so it doesn’t really matter who I vote for, but it is still important to think through the issues and to think about who is best equipped to solve those issues.

I am an ANC (African National Congress) baby, like so many other people of colour. When I say ANC, I mean the heroic ANC. The ANC that fought for freedom from the Apartheid government, the ANC with the underground movements, the ANC of Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela and The Freedom Charter. The ANC that had millions of people of colour lining up to vote for the first time on 27 April 1994 and had those same people proudly accept and adore Nelson Mandela as the country’s first black president. That ANC.

I am too young to know exactly what things were like in South Africa just before 1994 and during the ten or so years thereafter, but I do know that the ANC I read about from those years is the not the same ANC that I see now. The one I read about fought for the people; the middle class lady from Eldorado Park or Bo-Kaap could be assured that the president would not use her hard earned taxpayer money to build a homestead for himself and if he did, that the rest of the party would stand up for her, the electorate, instead of defending the president. The ANC I read about is one who would not allow its ministers to be offered ministerial appointments by an influential family and definitely would not allow its main broadcaster to be censored.

Don’t get me wrong: the ANC will always have a special place in my heart because I know how much it means to the uncles and aunties who lived through Apartheid, but I simply cannot reconcile the current ANC with the one I fell in love with.

Then there are two other options: The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the DA. It is ironic that the EFF has the word ‘economic’ in its name, because most of its ideas appear to be economically unfeasible. In principle it sounds lovely: the socialist ideals of sharing equally in the wealth of the nation and of the wealthy minority giving back to the poor majority is an ideal situation, but it is an unfeasible situation to say the least and therefore the EFF is an unfeasible voting choice.

That leaves the DA, then. I personally have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the DA. Fundamentally, I appreciate the fact that the DA is there to call the ANC out on its shortcomings and mistakes. That is what the opposition is for. However, the DA’s stance (or lack thereof) on Affirmative Action is worrisome because it is an indicator that the party either does not understand the economic disparities which still exist because of Apartheid, or that it chooses to ignore the issue and hope that it will go away. To me, the Affirmative Action issue is a major issue because it affects the majority of the population. From the student uprisings of 2015 one can clearly see that this issue will not go away, but that it will continue to fester until something gives and usually that is not a pretty sight.

However, I am also a strong believer in “If it doesn’t work, change it” and right now the ANC is not working for anyone but a select few. The DA has also been relatively successful in Cape Town –  keeping in mind that Cape Town is not entirely a reflection of the rest of South Africa as it is generally richer and more politically stable than other major cities in the country.

Of course, one has to keep in mind that it is a local election and that these are national issues, but I think that how a party intends to govern nationally is a reflection of how it will run a local municipality.

I think I know who I want to vote for tomorrow, but don’t even try to guess because I am not divulging that information. My vote is between myself and the ballot.