Today, Tuesday, is National Women’s Day in South Africa, a time to mark women’s contributions to the growth and development of the country – and the continuing issue of gender equality.
To learn more about it, English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua spoke with Voice of America reporter Delia Robertson in Johannesburg. Delia says National Women’s Day has its roots in a 1956 march by 20 thousand women of all races, calling for an end to laws that discriminated against black women.
She says, “It was the day that women marched on the Union Buildings in Pretoria, led by several members of the African National Congress…and they marched on the Union Buildings to object to apartheid and to put their demands to the government of the day. And at the time there was a slogan, which essentially said, ‘You strike a woman and you will strike a rock.’ And it’s become a common slogan throughout. Today is the day that that march is remembered. It’s also the day that women in South Africa are brought to the fore, that issues of gender equality are highlighted.”
National Women’s Day became a national holiday, about two years after the country’s first multi-racial, democratic elections. Reporter Robertson says many large issues, such as crime, including rape, continue to plague women. “In addition, in traditional communities, and that’s across the racial spectrum, there are still many people who believe that women’s role is in the home, in the kitchen and taking care of the children, even though that is not part of what is built into our constitution regarding the equality of women. There are some people who don’t want to address those views at all. And that creates particular problems for women because in this day and age where we have such a high incidence of HIV that kind of attitude to women restricts their ability to make decisions about things like sex. Who they will sleep with or whether they even will have sex at all. Sometimes sex is considered a duty of women and they don’t get to have too much say about it. And that has contributed toward the spread of HIV in South Africa.”
However, as far as advances and politics, Delia Robertson says, “I think there’s been a lot of progress.” More women are getting involved in politics and starting their own businesses.