“Wathint’ aBafazi, waThint’ iMbokodo!”

“You strike a women, you strike a rock!”

The 9th of August is National Women’s Day in South Africa. You see huge advertising campaigns in all spheres of the media actively “celebrating” women during the month of August. Women’s Day has in fact become Women’s Month.

No matter what gender we are, of course we all like to feel appreciated. Why is it then that I am so irritated by the way in which this concept is activated over the month of August? Is it because so many companies assume that women love to be pampered on this day? Sure, everyone likes to get a massage or whatever every now and then, but in all honesty I’m a very no-frills kind of girl. Manicures don’t last on me and I’m running around after kids half the time and I don’t really have time to spend hours on my hair and make-up. I resent the fact the “pink it and shrink it” mentality that still permeates the tech industry and I think it’s ridiculous that when I Google Women’s Month Specials, the majority of the entries on the first page are about beauty spas. I feel an irritation about the way Women’s Month is used to leverage a stereotyped marketing pitch for retailers.

Do you know what is Women’s Day in South Africa is actually about?

On 9th August 1956, 20 000 women, many of them a part of the resistance movement, the Black Sash, marched on the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest against the extension of the Apartheid Pass Laws to women in South Africa. Women of all races marched in this protest, leaving bundles of petitions containing over 100 000 signatures on the steps of the Union Buildings. The phrase “strike a woman, strike a rock” has come to represent female courage and strength in South Africa – or at least to those people who actually know that it’s about more than high tea and pink drinks.

Photograph of women marching on Pretoria. *From The Golden Jubilee report.
Photograph of women marching on Pretoria. *From The Golden Jubilee report.

Seriously, that is amazing. It’s courageous and awesome and it’s the thing that should be foremost in our minds when we think of Women’s Day. You don’t see marketing campaigns around Youth Day that say, “C’mon kids, put your feet up this June and get a massage and some sweets!” No, you see people talking about educating the youth and providing them with opportunities for a better future.

It’s belittling to think that we’ll be satisfied with a nice manicure and a cocktail.

Women’s Day is about Apartheid resistance, not about being pampered. In today’s society it’s about gender equality and standing up to violence against women and children. It’s about empowering women in the workforce and lessening the gender divide. How has it become so distorted and so cannibalised by consumerism that we largely have forgotten the true origins and meaning of this public holiday?

In a more recent statement of intent, “The Black Sash believes that at this time in the history of South Africa, and of our organisation, the most urgent issues to be addressed are the on-going poverty and inequality afflicting the lives of the most vulnerable members of our society. South Africa cannot be free as long as the majority of its people continue to live under conditions of deprivation and injustice. We are affected and diminished by this….We therefore commit ourselves to foster, support and encourage community initiatives to monitor, record and analyse the socio-economic conditions prevailing in South Africa.”

It’s belittling to think that we’ll be satisfied with a nice manicure and a cocktail to “celebrate our womanhood”. How about fewer incidences of rape in a country that has one of the highest rape statistics in the world? How about better maternity leave and benefits so we can offer our children the recommended 6 months worth of breastfeeding? How about equal pay? Less discrimination in the workplace? Less incidences of sexual harassment?

What could we do to celebrate this month that is more helpful than offering pamper specials?

Find out more about the Black Sash movement here.

One thought on “Opinion // On Women’s Month”

  1. I totally agree with you on this, Pippa.

    I didn’t know about the Apartheid Pass Laws and it’s extension to women and so I honestly had no real idea what Woman’s Day is about. I always used it as a day to give my Mom a much needed break; it and Mother’s Day, but I also try my best to make sure that I keep that up every day of the year.

    I agree with you when you say it’s insulting to think that a manicure and a cocktail is a means of celebrating Woman’s Day; it feels more like a cheap attempt – which, incidentally, isn’t so cheap either – at placating women for whatever reason. I think that if this is how we celebrate Woman’s Day then it should be all year round sort of thing.

    I’m also in agreement with fewer cases of rape and sexual harassment, equal rights and pay as a means of celebrating Woman’s Day, but that should be a default thing as well. Anything you can think of that could be done to celebrate Woman’s Day, I feel, should be done by default; women of my acquaintance work a thousand times harder than any men I know (including the time taken to ensure she looks good).

    As Emma Watson said in the HeforShe address to the UN, “…it’s not about woman’s rights, or men’s rights. It’s about human rights.” I don’t mean to say that neither men, women or the youth don’t deserve a special day; I’m saying that until such time as all are treated equally, the intent of the special days seem more like a weak attempt to placate a demographic that should get better.

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