“I am a Woman Phenomenally. Phenomenal Woman, that’s me.” – Maya Angelou
The above quote is testament to the extraordinary ways women are. Navigating through dire circumstances, facing challenges never anticipated and succeeding, the quote emphasises that women are indeed extraordinary human beings with dreams, goals, needs and most of all human rights. As Women’s Month is ending, one cannot help but wonder what it means for women in South Africa now.
This years’ Women’s Month coincides with different milestones that are being celebrated pertaining to the well-being of women around the world. 65 years ago, the Founding Conference of the Federation of South African Women was adopted into a Women’s Charter in 1954. The Charter recorded the aspirations of women of that era as they strived for equal rights and the removal of all laws, regulations, conventions and customs that were denying women equal rights in relation to property, marriage and children.
The women’s fight against injustice was then further marked with the women’s march to the Union Building in 1956 where over 20,000 women marched against another human rights violation – the Pass Laws. These are the women who, through their extraordinary character, stood to fight the injustices they were facing in that era. Today, more than 60 years later, we find women are still facing vast amounts of human rights violations and are fighting for their equality in South Africa. Gender-based violence in South Africa is a very profound and widespread social issue that women are facing with its claws affecting everyone, directly or indirectly. This is an issue that is systematic, and ingrained in institutions, cultures and traditions of this country.
What does it mean to be a woman in this era? To me, it means the struggle continues as we all are fighting against gender-based violence and calling for equal rights for everyone. Our country has the best Constitution in the world, with great strides in developing laws that promote our bill of rights. However, even with these rights in place on paper, women still find themselves at the inequality side of the scale – whether in the workplace, facing sexual harassment; at home, facing sexual and domestic violence; or in the streets, facing harassment and risk of sexual violence.
Just like the women of 1954, modern South African women are continue to suffer from the ongoing violations of their human rights, including sexual violence, femicide and domestic violence, even though we are living in a democratic society. Therefore, as a woman in democratic South Africa, I am still fighting for my existence to be recognised because my human rights are not as equal as those of the opposite gender.
Working with women and children on a daily basis who have been violated sexually or physically, I see that women today and in the same fight as the women of 1954 – the fight against inequality, albeit in a different form. I see the agility, strength and resilience that these women possess in the midst of bleak and harrowing situations. I watch them soldier on and fight for their own justice daily because they are phenomenal. Sometimes you wonder if, against all odds, the fate of this person ever change, however, you later realize that, simply by virtue of them being alive on that day and willing to follow through with their justice, these women are extraordinary.
As this month comes to an end, I want to say to the women of South Africa – you are impressive as we still struggle with the normative role expectations and the unequal power relations between genders in our society. To all those who are providing support and care to the women facing gender-based violence, including my team at LvA, embrace the challenge just like the 20 000 women who marched to have the pass laws abolished. Their fight against injustice delivered us to the democracy that South Africa has because they were just exceptional, and the world recognizes that today.
By Ncumisa Sopazi, LvA Legal Assistant