South Africa commemorates Women’s Month in August as a tribute to more than 20 000 women who marched to the Union Building on 9 August 1956 in protest against the extension of Pass Laws to women. The Government of South Africa declared August women’s month and 9 August is celebrated annually as Women’s Day.
The historic march was a turning point in the role of women in the struggle for freedom and society at large. Since that eventful day, women from all walks of life became equal partners in the struggle for a non-racial and non-sexist South Africa.
The march was coordinated by the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW) led by four women; Lillian Ngoyi , Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa and Sophia Williams De Bruyn. These leaders delivered petitions to the then Prime Minister JG Strijdom’s office at the Union Buildings. Women throughout the country had put their names to these petitions, indicating their anger and frustration at having their freedom of movement restricted by the hated official passes.
Women’s Month is a tribute not only to the thousands of women who marched on that day in 1956, but also to pioneers of the women’s movement in this country, dating back to 1913, when women like Charlotte Maxeke led the way in establishing the ANC Women’s League and encouraging women to engage in the struggle for freedom.
There were also women who formed the Black Sash, and who were the first to protest against the disenfranchisement of the Coloured voters during the 1950s. The Coloured voters played an important role in the united front of anti-apartheid forces that developed in the last three decades of apartheid.
Government has since made significant progress in empowering women in the political, public and educational spheres, but the marginalization of poor women severely compromises progress. Gauteng Department of Social Development (GDSD) strives to empower more women through funding their cooperatives throughout the province.
The Hunger No More cooperative is one in many owned by women. That’s according to Thandi Ngcingane, one of the founding members of the sanitary pads manufacturing coorporative in Roodepoort, West Rand.
“This cooperative was started 10 years ago; we began as a non-profit organisation (NPO) that did referrals to the needy. We set up our own girl child project, and GDSD then funded us. We have created 50 jobs for abused women, social grants beneficiaries and people with disability to ensure that we eradicate poverty. Employees can provide for their families. We package dignity packs for learners throughout the province. We are grateful to the department for affording us the opportunity; we will continue to empower others especially women. We are also looking at expanding our services. We are now manufacturing cleaning detergents with the aim of creating more jobs. Our mission is to become a dignity packs hub,” said Ngcingane.
Amazebra Dignity Pack Cooperative, based in Etwatwa, Ekurhuleni, founded by a 59-year-old Gladys Ngozo has grown to employ over 75 women. “Starting a cooperative with only five members eight years ago was not an easy task,” said Ngozo.
Ngozo gathered women from her community because she saw a skills gap. She then registered her cooperative with the department to assist with the production of dignity packs and help women in her area to generate an income for their families.
“We thank the department for helping us and many other co-ops to fight social ills that are destroying the future of our children. Through this programme, we managed to restore dignity to thousands of young girls. I remain grateful to the Gauteng Department of Social Development because through working with cooperatives, they are able to provide for many households especially women who are previously disadvantaged,” said Ngozo.
Women independency is one of the vital measures to fight social ills in society because some get trapped in abusive relationships due to poverty. Gauteng Department of Social Development will continue empowering women for the role they play in communities.