On August 9 1965, an estimated 20000 womxn and girls of all races, classes, color and creed marched on to the Union buildings in Pretoria, the seat of the apartheid government, to protest the introduction of Apartheid pass laws for black women and to deliver petitions to the then Prime Minister.
"Wena Strijdom, wa'thinthabafazi, wathint'imbokodo, uzokufa", chanted the gathering. "You Strijdom, you have touched the womxn, you have struck against a rock, you will perish!”.
This march signaled a paradigm shift bringing women to the fore playing a significant role in the struggle for total emancipation and equal rights. National Women’s Day in South Africa is celebrated on August 9 to commemorate this march and recognize the resilience of South African women in the struggle for emancipation and equality.
As we commemorate the achievements of our ancestors, their legacies, and how we are connected to their work, we wish that we could say their struggle was the last. That the pain they endured and strife they overcame during the 1950s, was the last time womxn had to fight for their rights in South Africa. Instead, ours has been a broken record, circling back to the same fight every decade; the fight for our true emancipation. For a little while, we hear the great music of progress and hope, then the track skips and it feels like we are right back where we started.
This year's 66th commemoration of the women’s march could not be more relevant. Statistics South Africa recently confirmed that the wage gap continuously widens for black people, and especially black womxn, earning the lowest and having very little representation at executive management level in corporate South Africa. Black African womxn are still the most vulnerable to unemployment, with an unemployment rate of 42.4% during the last quarter of 2021; this is about 4.2 percentage points higher than the national average. Gender-based violence and femicide are on the increase and the judicial system is slow in bringing the perpetrators to justice. For women, the burden has always been manifold due to the classed, racial and gendered character of national oppression. While we recognise the strides made towards realizing some aspects of gender equality, womxn still experience structural inequality throughout their lives.
For genuine transformation to happen, we must acknowledge that South Africa’s economy has long been a boy’s club and womxn have benefited little from it. There is a need to look beyond standard economic models to think more holistically about the impacts of economic reform policies on womxn’s social and economic rights. Using feminist economic theory as a starting point. This would factor in all activities that currently fall outside of the mainstream economic sphere, but without which the economy would not be able to run. We want to see an economy that operates with a total rather than a truncated understanding of the economy, that recognises the interdependent relationship between the productive and reproductive sphere, between paid and unpaid work, and between earning a living and caring for the family.
Knowing the scope of the problem is only the first step – the next is working to end it. Collective resistance against austerity measures and neoliberal policies is key. The womxn of 1956 discovered that unity makes things happen. They stood up for what mattered to them.
At a time when womxn are sinking deeper and deeper into the trenches of poverty,and have no place to hide in the world's rape capital, what role will you say you played?
The courage that the womxn of 1956 displayed to defy the pass laws under a very repressive regime, should strengthen our resolve to take up the baton collectively, at all levels in society to begin to change this pattern. At Fight Inequality South Africa, we are ready to take up the challenge to have our voices heard; to change policies at both judicial, corporate and organizational level, and change the system that is keeping us in chains. Enough is enough! The time is NOW!