Hurdles and Heroines – contemplations on Women’s Month 2018

As we approach the 62nd year since the women of South Africa joined forces to protest against pass laws, we once again reflect on the role and situation of women in our country, contemplating whether we have progressed or regressed as a nation in this respect.
As with most issues in society, we come up with a mixed result, with many achievements to make us proud, but simultaneously, many areas where we appear to have stagnated or worsened.
On the positive front, we see women taking up positions in our society in every sphere, from CEOs to politicians to day-mothers who provide Early Childhood Development for children in their communities. We see women embracing their own skills and strengths, and demanding to be given opportunities in terms of pursuing education and within the workplace. We see an increasing number of programmes targeting girls and women specifically, such as Bring a Girl Child to Work Day, or Brand South Africa’s Women in Science Awards.
One of the projects which has been taken up by various organisations across the country, from corporate stores to governments to private individuals, has been the provision of sanitary pads for young girls who often miss school for a few days each month because they do not have access to these basic items.
It is critical that we become aware of such issues and barriers which face women within our society so that we can assist and address such challenges as a community. For young girls to be deprived of their education because they cannot afford a basic hygiene product is outrageous, and we need to continue working as a nation to alleviate this difficulty.
The month of August in South Africa is usually spent reflecting on the achievements of various women, but even as we celebrate, there is one issue which plagues our nation, and throws shadows over all that we achieve. The scourge of violence against women continues, and until we can stop the horrendous crimes perpetrated against women on a daily basis, all other advances made in the name of women’s rights will continue to feel hollow and incomplete.
There has been discussion in recent years about the role which men need to play in championing this struggle, since it is men who perpetrate this violence, and if they are not involved in becoming aware and effect positive changes in the way they treat women, then the struggle cannot be won.
We need to take this one step further and realise that the issue of violence against women is not just an issue for women, or for men, but for the whole of society to address. Children are not conditioned or influenced by isolated sources – societies, communities and nations create the spaces in which we grow up, in which we observe practices and norms, and in which we develop behaviours and mindsets.
If we want to end violence against women, we need many sectors and groups to work together at various levels, in order to build a nation free from crime, hatred and terror.
From the role which parents play in their children’s lives, to what they learn through our education system, from the role of civil society, religion and media, to the role of politicians in drafting legislation which protects victims and suitably punishes criminals, from the role of government in ensuring that our people have access to food, and housing and employment, in order that they may be meaningfully engaged and balanced individuals, rather than desperate and isolated; at every level we need to build spaces in which it is understood that violence and crime are NEVER acceptable.
When we see injustices being committed, when we hear young boys speak to young girls with no respect, when we see young girls with little self-confidence, when we hear drunken neighbours fighting at night, when we see the wrongs, but say nothing and do nothing, then we become accessories to the crimes committed against our mothers, our sisters, our daughters.
This women’s month, as we celebrate those women who have done remarkable things in business and in sporting and in humanitarian spheres, remember too those women who have taken heroic steps which required a bravery many of us will never understand. Those women who walked out of abusive relationships, who reported partners for committing rape, those women who challenged cultural gender roles, those women who raise sons to respect and protect women. Let us celebrate the women who strive on a daily basis to build a better society through every small act which they perform.
Emma Watson, UN Ambassador for women, made these powerful comments: “Women and girls have always faced hurdles. But that’s never stopped us. We’ve sacrificed, fought, campaigned, succeeded, been knocked back, and succeeded again. In a race for justice, we’ve leapt over countless obstacles to win our rights.”
So for women’s day 2018, as we reflect on the hurdles that women in our country have had to overcome in the past, and the hurdles they continue to face today, we should ponder the kind of world we wish to live in.
I am certain that most of us will answer with the same basic desires – a world that is equal and peaceful, where our basic needs are satisfied, and where we can all thrive. So let us work together to build a world in which women are safe and can prosper in the way we all deserve to.

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