62 years ago, on the 9th of August, 1956, 20 000 women defiantly marched on the Union Buildings in Pretoria, in protest against the pass system. In South Africa, on Women’s Day we honour those brave women who stood up for the rights of all women, in spite of the hostile regime imposing the system.
There is little doubt the rights of women have long been denied, not only in South Africa, but with most of the world. And although the world seems to be waking up to the vast inequality between men and women – in most spheres – action to try narrow the gap has been slow.
For most of us in the civilised world, the rights for women to vote, to be free of slavery, to own property, and to be educated, has been in place for some time. However, the real issues still affecting women today are around violence against women, the massive gender earnings gap, and discrimination in general.
For years, I – like you – have been programmed and taught how to treat women. My mother was a nurse and my father a technical instructor at South African Airways. My mom took on the ‘traditional’ role that was prevalent in the day, of mother and wife. This was in spite of her working night shift as a nurse. My dad was a ‘typical’ post World War II father who worked hard, looked after his family, took care of everything, and kids were to be seen and not heard. However, he did most of the cooking in the house, and because my mom worked night shift, he would us ready for school. He would never hesitate to help around the house, nothing was beneath him.
I also saw, and was part of, discrimination against women in the workplace. It’s undeniably going on in many organisations, in fact, the behaviour is entrenched. Discrimination can take on different forms, from unequal earning potential, to equal opportunities being denied to women. Corporations that address these inequalities would benefit through increased company morale, due to the inclusion of all employees.
As for violence, including sexual harassment, being perpetrated against women; it is good men that should call out the bad men. The ‘old boys club’ of men covering up the evil doings of other men, must end. It is not, ‘us men’ against ‘those women.’
The world has been slow to respond to the cry from women to be treated equitably. We should be ashamed for not realising the harm we were doing, no matter how subtly. I hope we learn how to behave so that we can teach the next generation, and the next, and never forget again.
I salute those 20 000 women of 1956, that took it upon themselves to rally together against the tyranny of oppression. I am thankful that their chutzpah has lasted through the ages and is prevalent in all the amazing women of South Africa.
To all Women –
Happy Women’s Day!