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A longer walk to freedom (if you are a woman)

Happy Women’s Month, sistahs!

South African Women’s Day is celebrated on August 9, the anniversary of the Great Women’s March of 1956, when about 20,000 South African women of all races marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest against the extension of pass laws to women.

The pass laws required South Africans who were defined as “black” under The Population Registration Act to carry a passbook, an identification document designed to maintain population segregation and white domination.

The march was led by Lillian NgoyiHelen JosephRahima Moosa and Sophia Williams.

The women left 14,000 petitions at the office doors of the prime minister, JG Strijdom. The women stood silently for 30 minutes and then started singing a protest song composed for the occasion: Wathint’ Abafazi Wathint ‘imbokodo! (Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock).

In the intervening years, the phrase wathint’ abafazi, wathint’ imbokodo (most often translated as You strike a woman, you strike a rock) has come to represent women’s courage and strength.

 The first National Women’s Day was celebrated in 1995. In 2006, the 50th anniversary of the march, saw its re-enactment that included many of the 1956 march veterans.

Women in South Africa have a long long way to go, sometimes it feels like we are stuck in the dark ages. Gender-based violence continues to be a devastating and widespread problem, ruining the lives of so many girls and women and terrorizing just about all others at some point in their lives.

The 10X Investments Retirement Reality Report 2021 summed up SA’s women’s struggle from cradle to grave neatly: “The gender disadvantage starts at birth, is often magnified through education and peaks during working life (more so if a woman’s career is interrupted by pregnancy and the raising of children). All these inequalities compound and carry over into retirement.”

Data from Statistics SA (noted in the RRR2021) show girls as being significantly more likely than boys (17,1% versus 0,3%) to offer “family commitment” as a reason for not attending school, and women earning approximately 30% less than their male counterparts on average.

Some countries are getting it right, eg Iceland (see video below), but many aren’t. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2022, it will take another 132 years to close the global gender gap.


To end on a happier note, watch this cracking celebration of women’s progress in Iceland from Michael Moore:

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