6 August 2013
Women’s Month celebrations began at Freedom Park in Tshwane, the country’s capital, where the struggle for women’s emancipation and equality was commemorated with the theme “A centenary of working together towards sustainable women’s empowerment and gender equality”.
Hundreds of women from different walks of life were at the event, where they formed a 2km human chain along Reconciliation Road. The road links the two historical memorials of Freedom Park and the Voortrekker Monument.
“As we join hands in unity to form the human chain, let us remember what drove the women of 1913 and 1956 to leave their homes and come together against the injustices of that day,” Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities Lulu Xingwana said at the event on Friday.
The injustices of today required women to form a united front to continue with the struggle for the total emancipation of women, she added.
The idea of the human chain was initiated by Die Dameskring, a cultural organisation for Afrikaans-speaking Christian women who seek to make a difference in the communities in which they live.
‘Awareness of modern day challenges’
“We believe this initiative will not only bring awareness of the modern day challenges that women face, but also a better understanding of our history and the common goal of restoration and peace,” said Lynn Kruger, the executive officer of Die Dameskring.
Homage was paid to women such as Charlotte Manye Maxeke, Sophie de Bruyn, Lillian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph and Rahima Moosa, who took part in the 1913 anti-pass defiance campaign – the first protest by black women against the Union government – and the 1956 march to the Union Buildings, respectively.
“This year’s commemoration coincides with the centenary of the Land Act and the last year towards the 20 years democracy since 1994,” said Xingwana.
The array of measures that were introduced in 1994 to promote female empowerment had improved the position and the condition of women in the country.
Although women’s empowerment had grown, many things needed to be done to eradicate violence against women, poverty, unemployment and exploitation – “challenges and gaps are still there and are being attended to”, added Xingwana.
Bishop Ellinah Wamukoya, the Anglican Bishop of Swaziland, was at the event and said: “The objective of this gathering is to highlight women’s abilities to come together and heal a nation.”
Xingwana announced that the Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill had been submitted to the Cabinet and was under consideration.
The Bill would help to emancipate South African women fully from the plagues of discrimination and inequality. It aimed to monitor, evaluate and enforce all initiatives aimed at empowering the women of South Africa.
It focused on vital issues affecting women and children and sought to establish a framework that would provide women, children and people with disabilities with the necessary governance authority to monitor, review and oversee gender mainstreaming and integration, the minister explained. The bill would provide for a number of issues, namely:
- Eliminating every form of discrimination against women and girls as well as women and girls with disabilities
- Promoting equal participation of women in the economy
- Promoting equal representation as well as 50 percent position in decision-making in private sectors as well as spheres of government
- Initiating and joining in partnership for a common goal
- Monitoring of legislation that address inequalities, discrimination against women, violence against women, access to services and economic empowerment.
“Cabinet’s approval of the Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill will be an important milestone for the struggle for gender equality in our country,” said Xingwana, who added that the department was satisfied that its drive towards female empowerment and gender equality would finally be fulfilled.
The Department of Land Reform and Rural Development has also made a commitment that will ensure that women have access to land.
Celebrating Women’s Month
This year marks a century since the 8 May 1913 Natives Land Act was passed.
Among others, it deprived women of access to land. In 1913, the colonial government legislated that women living in the urban townships would be required to buy new entry permits allowing them to be in the towns each month.
In response, women collected thousands of signatures and organised petitions to stop this law.
Charlotte Maxeke, a religious leader, social worker and political activist, as well as South Africa’s first black African female graduate, led about 700 women in a march to the Bloemfontein City Council to petition the mayor to overturn the law.
South African History Online explains the Act: “The Natives Land Act (No. 27 of 1913), also known as the Black Land Act, was passed because of constant pressure by Whites to prevent the encroachment of Blacks on White areas.
“This law incorporated territorial segregation into legislation for the first time since Union in 1910. The law created reserves for Blacks and prohibited the sale of White territory to Blacks and vice versa.”
National Women’s Day is observed on 9 August annually, in remembrance of the 1956 Women’s March in Pretoria. This year, the national commemoration will take place in Thulumahashe in Mpumalanga.
Xingwana said that the month would be used to bring to the fore programmes that would help to eliminate gender-based violence against women and children.
The minister also acknowledged women in South Africa who held high positions in business and government.
Among those mentioned was former deputy president Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka, who is now the executive director of United Nations Women and is based in New York, as well as Nkosazana Zuma, who is the chairperson of the African Union.