Rethinking South Africa’s Women’s Day

Today is National Women’s Day in South Africa, commemorating the women’s march against pass laws held on 9 August 1956, and concurrently, August in South Africa is considered to be “women’s month”; thirty-one days are better than just the one it seems, and August is marked by women’s festivals and events, ranging from discussion evenings to concerts.

In many ways these “days” to commemorates some sort of struggle (sex worker rights day, women’s day, world AIDS day, etc.) are never really something I entertain too much; yes the events are fun, and sometimes interesting, but in general it seems that the interest only lasts for the prescribed 24 hours, not nearly long enough to create any sort of meaningful change. In cases of extremely marginalised groups, such as sex workers, I do see the value of creating public visibility through events and march – the huge marches every 3 March in India by sex workers and allies come to mind – however, with a group so large as “women” it seems all somewhat superficial.

In South Africa women’s month is suppose to celebrate women, it remembers the role women played in the struggle – think Frances Baard or Lilian Ngoyi – and rightfully so, as their contributions to the end of Apartheid in South Africa are too often overlooked. But beyond celebrating women, there is a need to create focus on the extreme rape culture in South Africa, the insane level of gender based violence that happens on a daily basis… I wonder, shouldn’t women’s month be less about celebrating, as there doesn’t seem to be much to celebrate about; I specifically say celebrate, because that’s often the language that is used. It is even recognised as a public holiday, and working at an NGO in South Africa, I still find it strange that the office of a  human rights organisation, specifically focusing on gender, is closed with the staff enjoying a long weekend.

Thus women’s day/month is South Africa is a commemoration, to a struggle that supposedly has ended; it is a celebration, of the achievements of women… of cisgender, straight women; it is filled with discussion and talk, this is at a time when, as a country, South Africa is deeply in need of action… We know what is wrong, but when will we stand up, and walk the talk, when will we rise up as women, in all diversity and in all solidarity?


South Africa marks Women’s month, (2013-8-1). Retrieved 2013-8-8

Mkalipi, Musa. Freedom Park marks Women’s month, (2013-8-6). Retrieved 2013-8-8


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