9 August marks a significant date in this country; this is a day when, in 1956, thousands of courageous women took it upon themselves to march to the Union Buildings to take a stand against the cruelty of the vicious apartheid government that had managed to constantly subjugate, degrade and steal from the citizens of the country. This was a daring effort from the women and it does warrant a celebration. It is in memory of these brave women that every year in August, women all over this country are celebrated in what is termed Women’s Month. These celebrations, in all their grandeur, should make one happy, but they don’t.
To this day this country remains a highly patriarchal society where the woman’s choices are still controlled and managed. Even in 2015 the woman’s body is still policed, more so the body of the poor black woman. It is instructed to be this way or the other in order for it to fit in and accommodate interests other than the interests of the woman. Women are told not to wear certain clothes if their bodies are a certain shape or size, they cannot wear their hair a certain way lest their way displeases the society or men in particular. The liberty to do with themselves as they please is taken away from them, even within the spaces that are most sacred to them; they are left rummaging through the crumbs that are left after their worth is reduced to what others would rather have them be; but they should ignore this. They are told to rather go and pamper themselves at a day spa, special price for Women’s Month.
Why are women wished a happy Women’s Month when they can almost guarantee that within the next day if they decide to walk alone somewhere they will be faced with street harassment, unsolicited contact, and of course, a spray of verbal abuse and unyielding expletives if they dare reject this kind of violence? It isn’t freedom if women always have to inform someone where they are going and let someone know if they have arrived safely. That’s the reality of women; it is a sad truth that many still take for granted to this day; but that’s okay right? Women get to have a free drink with their meals on Women’s Month.
There is a vast array of pressing issues for women that needs to be addressed; femicide, rape, physical abuse are only but a few yet the media is overflowing with ridiculous adverts of how women should be spending the month pampering themselves at day spas, doing their nails and fixing their hair for half the normal price. If not that, women are lambasted with sexist messages from large companies; what did Bic SA say again? “Look like a girl, act like a lady, think like a man and work like a boss.” They managed to insult the very woman they were meant to celebrate on 9 August. This is the same company that saw it fit to create brightly coloured pens especially made for women; but that’s a story for another day.
In this hetero-patriarchal society we live in, the woman’s identity is held at the mercy of the man’s approval. It is normalised that she is the subordinate of the dominant male character. You don’t have to look far in order to see it. On social networks we see men encouraging each other to treat women with respect this month. They promise, in jest, to be less abusive and more accommodating. These are the same people that will not flinch before they tell you that real women do this or that. Well, real women should be able to do what they want with themselves. Jacob Zuma, in all his patriarchy uttered words unashamedly on national television about how he wouldn’t want to stay with daughters who are not getting married because that in itself is a problem in society…you’ve got to have kids, he said. Kids are important to a woman because they actually give an extra training to a woman to be a mother. If this is the kind of talk that the most senior head of the country projects out to the public about the role of women in society, how can we celebrate on Women’s Month? The courageous women of 1956 are not remembered for giving birth or being better mothers but for taking a stand for what they believed in.
While there are policies and programmes set by the government to support women’s economic empowerment, there is still a vast gender gap in economic participation. In the labour force, there still remains significant differences in male and female involvement, regardless of women being the majority of the population at large. Under the ANC Government, just like it was under the apartheid regime, men are more likely to get a job than women and women are still paid insultingly far less money than their male counterparts. If the woman forms a lower part of the economically active population, there is less access and control of resources for the woman and the cycle of poverty continues. Women have less decision making power in the workplace even when they occupy senior positions, as the majority of these positions are held by men. The presence of a child in the household has been proven to impact more on the participation of women in the labour market than it does on the participation of men. There is still a need for the creation of conditions that are conducive to this participation if we expect any progress but instead of discussing these issues, women are told to have their nails done; special, two manicure pampers for the price of one.
Painfully, we still have little girls in rural areas that miss school an average of five days a month because they cannot afford sanitary towels. That’s a great injustice propelled at them for something completely out of their control. While there are NGOs that help, it is incumbent on all of us to help wherever we can. Instead of celebrating women by promising not to abuse them this month, a commitment that involves radical change is needed. Fight it in your circles. Don’t only make sure that a girl learns to protect herself from rape and abuse, also teach a boy not to rape and not to abuse. Half price on Women’s Month doesn’t serve a purpose in fighting against the constant injustices thrown at women except only to propel this burgeoning capitalism.