Women, This Is Not A Day of Rest

Wathint’ abafazi, wathint’ imbokodo’. These words were sung by more than 20 000 protesting women in 1956.

Translated to English, they mean ‘You Strike a Woman, You Strike a Rock’. The context in which these words were spoken marks a pivotal moment in South African history. On the 9th of August 1956, women of all races marched together, in protest, to the Union Buildings in Pretoria. On that day, their moving feet, their loud singing voices and their incredible resilience and bravery signalled opposition to the oppressive system that was most cruel to women.

Last Monday, while enjoying part of the public holiday on the beach I asked my daughter what she was going to do on this Women’s Day to make it count.  Her response dumbfounded me…she said she was going to make her father and brother treat her like a queen, they can be her slaves for the day.  What?!

The first National Women’s Day was commemorated on the 9th of August in 1995. This was 39 years after the initial march and just 26 years ago from this month’s commemoration. Women’s Day is a term that now represents women’s strength, courage and resilience and has evolved into a whole month of acknowledgement in South Africa.

It seems for so many women the significance of the 1956 march seems to be fading, particularly for youth who don’t seem to even know why we celebrate the day or confuse it with Mother’s Day. The importance of the day does not symbolise a day of rest or pampering.

We celebrate the efforts of the women who bravely marched and the women who have come after them in paving the way for gender equality. We celebrate the powerful women among us, and we continue to fight with them, but we also bemoan because women across the globe still face oppression. Due to COVID 19, Gender-Based Violence (GBV) has continued to scourge South Africa.

As the struggle for gender equality persists, we need to keep realising, practising and teaching others that the struggle will only be truly won only if we all do our part.

How do we commemorate this August in solidarity with women who face oppression? Our actions can be different, we can choose not to see August 9th as a bonus public holiday to rest. There are so many challenges being faced by girls and women, like the excessive days of school being missed by underprivileged girls due to their menstrual cycle, awareness and preventative measures of breast and ovarian cancer, safe houses and support for women being abused by partners and the list goes on.

We can choose to be pioneers as well. We can choose to use the day (or month!) to raise awareness, fundraise, recognise the women who are in the forefront steering the way for all women.