Women’s Day was first celebrated in South Africa on 9 August 1995. I was only two-years-old at that time. I must admit, I grew up not truly appreciating the importance and significance of public holidays – I mainly saw them as a day off school. I only really began to engage with public holidays more deeply when I was in grade three. I remember seeing several pictures of what happened in Soweto on 16 June 1976. It shook me to the core and my value system changed toward what I believed South Africa to be. It is from that point that my view of Women’s Day has taken an evolutionary journey.
I deeply love and appreciate what the 20 000 women who marched on 09 August 1956 did for our rights as women as they protested pass laws that sought to further the oppression on black women. Their stand for justice changed the lives of generations to follow. As a result, growing up, I had a difficult time seeing the celebration of Women’s Month as anything but amazing. Yet, as another August has come about, I find that the rhetoric of ‘Women’s Month’ now brings such a high level of dissatisfaction. I find myself constantly trying to not be identified as an ‘angry black feminist,’ but here I am, finding myself angry, black and feminist.
The government has many programs that seek to bring attention and awareness to ‘women issues’ in August, much as they do during the 16 Days of Activism against Violence against Women and Children. However, the questionable impact of these campaigns makes me wonder who these campaigns are really for? I am privileged to have the opportunity to work with women that have been victims of violence in a poor community with high levels of gender-based violence, high levels of undocumented foreign nationals and citizens and lack of access to shelter, electricity and other resources. I am always confronted with the fact that many persons most affected are black women. I find myself wondering whether, with the very high-level approach to awareness and activism, we, as a country, have missed the persons that are the most vulnerable.
This is not to say that the government is the only one to blame, no. Corporate South Africa’s approach also worries me. I have seen and heard of many high teas where women are invited to pay for entry so that high achieving persons can teach them how to be empowered. While I do not have an issue with these events in principal, because I believe they really do benefit many, my issue is whether these events make a mark in the lives of society’s disenfranchised. Women continue to suffer at the hands of a society that still see them as bodies to violate, possess and control.
Even the civil society sector must continuously question whether the interventions currently used are having the intended impacts within the communities we serve and are making a meaningful difference for the women we are mandated to assist. Otherwise, civil society organisation must also go back to the drawing board.
I will not purport to act as though I have any real solutions to this mess that I possess in my head. I will however say that we need to sit and evaluate our efforts from every segment of society and question whether these efforts to bring awareness and advocate against an unjust system are having the desired impacts.
By Beverly Gumede, LvA Legal Officer