In South Africa, the month of August is known as “Women’s Month”. It is set aside as a time to reflect on South African women’s resistance to oppressive systems through movement building and other acts of disruption. We specifically remember the 1956 women’s march against the unjust pass laws through a multitude of talks and lectures, media interviews of women’s organisation and civil society, and various government-sponsored celebratory functions throughout the country. And yet, like Beverly, I question whether the material conditions of women improved significantly and whether Women’s Month truly adds any value to women’s lived realities.
Ncumisa’s blog references the Women’s Charter of 1954 and its aspirations for equality before the law. Like the Women’s Charter, The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) guarantees the human rights, equality and integrity of women before the law. Further, the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (“the Maputo Protocol”) guarantees comprehensive rights to women including the right to social and political equality with men. South Africa has ratified both these instruments. South Africa is also said to have one of the most progressive constitutions in the world. The right to equality is enshrined in section 9 which states that “everyone is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and benefit of the law”. There have been clear legal gains in areas which impact directly on South African women; for example, the enactment of the Termination of Pregnancy Act, the Maintenance Act and the Domestic Violence Act. However, there remains a gap between the law on paper and women’s lived realities.
South African women still face discrimination in all spheres of life, both public and private. Violence against women continues to be a major problem. Women’s different social identifiers (i.e. race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, ability, religion/spirituality, nationality and socio-economic status) make them part of many groups, which can lead to either oppression, privilege or both depending on the specific intersections of these identifiers. We need to make sure that our awareness campaigns speak to this lived reality. We need to ensure that the laws we have are implemented properly and in a manner that speaks to the particularities of women’s lived experiences. A luta continua! The Struggle Continues!
By Rethabile Mosese, LvA Senior Staff Attorney