Keep your Women’s Day tributes

It’s not a happy women’s day. There may be food specials and clothes deals spewing from every shop, but I will not be celebrating this month. We come from a history marked by women fighting for gender equality, but the question is: Where are we going? South African women wake up every-day to cat-calls on the streets, magazines promising beach bodies and men who feel entitled to their bodies. This is not a time for flowers.

The South African government spent their Women’s Day unveiling statues of the women who fought against pass laws in 1956. But just a few months earlier, they decided not to vote for a United Nations resolution to establish an independent watchdog on violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender for the next three years. They were not alone, either. Not a single African country voted for the resolution.

Protesters take part in the Naked Protest during the #RUReferenceList movement at Rhodes University earlier this year. The movement was against sexual violence on campus and in the wider South African community. Photo by: Sam van Heerden. 


Women are still not safe – not in homes, not on the streets, at their jobs, or at their universities. Sexual offences have supposedly dropped by 5.4 % between 2013/14 and 2014/15, but as few as one in thirteen rapes are reported to the police. This number is decreasing. Does this silence indicate that women’s only recourse to justice fails them?

Students of the #RUReferenceList movement earlier this year thought so. Protesters, holding placards reading “#RememberKhwezi”, disrupted Zuma’s speech on the local elections last month, reminding us that even our own President, who citizens would like to believe embodies the Constitution, was accused of sexual assault.

“..keep your flowers, your advertising, your statues and your rose tinted ‘Happy’ Women’s Day tributes.”

The shadow of gender inequality still looms. Women still suffer the indignities of poverty more than men, and although there are more women than men in this country, the party lists in this year’s local election consisted of 40 % women to 60 % men. So Thoko Mpumlwana, from the Commission on Gender Equality, is right when she says gender power within parties is still skewed. Only 14% of ward councillor candidates were female.

So keep your flowers, your advertising, your statues and your rose tinted ‘Happy’ Women’s Day tributes. I am no longer happy celebrating the resilience of women in the face of unmeasured adversity. I want to celebrate that adversity being kicked to the curb by our country, our government, our institutions, our friends and our families. While the daily atrocities women face are rendered invisible, lest we forget, there is only one real celebration of women, and that is visible change.

Photo: Rhodes University students and staff protest against sexual violence in their annual Silent Protest. Photo by: Sam van Heerden.


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