There are a number of historic dates South Africans will always put to mind. One of such days is the August 9 1956 Women’s march.
A day in the history of South Africa where women from all races marched together in the struggle for freedom and women’s rights in South Africa.
The historic event which took place in the state’s administrative capital, Pretoria, had more than 20 000 women of different races marched to the Union Buildings to deliver petitions to the then-Prime Minister, JG Strijdom, against the proposed amendments to the Urban Areas Act (commonly known as the pass laws) of 1950.
The march was led by Lilian Ngoyi, an anti-apartheid activist and the first woman elected to the executive committee of the African National Congress who also helped in launching the Federation of South African Women formed in 1954.
Other notable women in the march include: Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa, Sophia Williams and Frances Baard whose statue is mounted in Kimberley (Frances Baard District Municipality).
Today, the special 1956 women’s march is celebrated every August 9 across the country in what is popularly known as the Women’s day. A day set aside for all women in South Africa to commemorate a journey full of milestones and little victories that together make the whole battle for women’s emancipation and gender equality worth it.
The Post 1956 Women’s March: The Journey So Far
Since the post apartheid era of 1994, South Africa has done well in advancing policies, legislation that contributes towards women’s emancipation and access to services, e.g. water, electrification, health, labour laws, maintenance laws, reproductive rights.
The country has equally done well in the issue of representation in decision-making i.e. in parliament, in the cabinet and in provinces. We have women premiers, MECs and Councillors so also it is in the business world. With all these achievements, there is still a lot more to be done.
Nevertheless, there are still areas that need finishing touches. Majority of women in South Africa are yet to benefit from gains made in terms of gender equality.
The Commission for Gender Equality’s spokesperson, Javu Baloyi, says that although South Africa increased the representation of women in Parliament from 3% in 1994 to 44% in 2009, “more women are needed in positions of authority in various committees (of Parliament) such as speakers, deputy ministers, ministers and presidents that will translate into reality to women on the ground”.
Baloyi further pointed out that South Africa cannot achieve complete gender equality because many women – particularly those in the rural areas – do not have access to reproductive health services, and the government is slow in dealing with gender-based violence.
The silent protest during President Jacob Zuma’s speech at the election results operations centre in Pretoria brought attention to the prevalence of sexual violence against women on the eve of Women’s Day.
According to Ipsos research on the topics of violence against women and children, gender stereotypes and equality, showed that issues of violence against women in the country are still not handled with intense care.
It is also said that black women were obviously doubly disadvantaged as a result of their race and their gender.
However, it is believed that the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of the Unfair Discrimination Act which seeks to advance equality in public and private life, will continue to provide a framework to tackle unfair discrimination, harassment and hate speech, and work towards the transformation of South African society in line with the ideals expressed in the Constitution.
With this act that prohibits unfair discrimination on any grounds, alongside help from the state government, the vision behind the 1956 women’s march will be fulfilled and women in South Africa will in a short while gain their rightful place in the country just like their counterparts in various countries of the world.