SA women mark epoch march

An estimated 15 000 women marched on the Union Buildings in Pretoria in commemoration of Women’s Day on Wednesday, bringing with them a memorandum stating the challenges being faced by women in South Africa.

The women were led by Sophie Williams-De Bruyn, one of the leaders of the 1956 march, and apartheid struggle veterans Adelaide Tambo and Ruth Mompati.

Leaders of the Progressive Women’s Movement (PWM) handed the memorandum to President Thabo Mbeki at the Women’s Memorial, following a re-enactment of the 1956 march by the multitude of women present.

They said the plight of women in the country was still a grave concern, as they were largely still viewed as “secondary citizens”.

They told Mbeki they believed “there is still a lot to be done” to address the challenges of gender inequality and to ensure that the fruits of freedom were also enjoyed by the poor.

In a speech accepting the memorandum, Mbeki said South Africa had “failed” to meet the demands of women as they were still to enjoy the benefits of their hard won freedom.

“We should, all of us, study this document; study these demands in order to say: What does the entirety of our government do to respond to the demands of the women? This constitutes a failure.

“The fruits of our liberation have not reached many of our women,” Mbeki said.

He said the whole country should commit to meeting the concerns raised by the women and pledged that the government would begin to act on the memorandum “immediately”.

“I would like to commit all of our government in all of its echelons, in all of its spheres that we shall act on these demands to make sure of the advances that we need to make about the conditions of the women of our country, about the emancipation of our women, that we sustain those advances and, indeed, move faster,” Mbeki said.

The march has also raised the spectre of challenges being faced by women throughout the African continent, highlighted by difficulties in meeting the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on gender equality.

While the dateline for the achievement of the MDGs has been set at 2015, almost halfway since the inception of the goals in 2000 little progress has been reported.

The UN has raised concern at the likely failure of most Third World countries to meet the goals, and has said few countries will be able to achieve the targets.

Analysts believe the only hope for the continent could lie in the rapidly increasing number of females who are getting into leadership positions.

“It is a slow but sure process, but in the long run it could bring results. The increasing number of women presidents can definitely only be a good thing for Africa and women in general,” Wits University sociologist Prof Jacklyn Cock said.

She said the key challenges in the quest for gender equality would be violence against women and “general discrimination” of women within various environments.

Mbeki slammed the inactivity of stakeholders in addressing women’s and gender issues.

He said while a lot had been said about the vision of achieving gender equality, the evidence on the ground did little to support the rhetoric.

“Accordingly, as government, business and civil society, we should, even today, ask ourselves what have we done in the past 12 years to remove all laws, regulations, conventions and customs that discriminate against women.

“We should answer these questions honestly.

“What have we done to remove obstacles that militate against women’s progress in society and deprive them of their inherent right to the advantages, responsibilities and opportunities which other members of society enjoy?”

Opposition Democratic Alliance leader Tony Leon expressed the concern that women now had less to celebrate on the day.

“The simple and devastating truth is that they bear the brunt of virtually all the social ills that confront us today in South Africa,” he said.

On 9 August 1956, 20 000 women marched to the Union Buildings to protest the pass book law, which required them to have a pass book on their person at all times.

Throughout the apartheid struggle, the women’s march stood out as a symbol of unified resistance to the apartheid system.

August 2006
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