by Pamela Maringa

This month we celebrate women from all walks of life. From the women in the boardroom, to the women who are selling vegetables on the street corner. We celebrate the resilient, heroic, courageous and brave women of South Africa who rise against circumstances to make things happen.

This year marks the 61st commemoration of one of the largest demonstrations staged in South Africa’s history. More than 20 000 women from all races marched to Pretoria’s Union Buildings. This march, organized by the Federation of South African Women, was against the pass laws. The Federation challenged the idea that “a woman’s place is in the kitchen”, declaring it instead “to be everywhere”. The first National Women’s Day was celebrated in 1995 and the day is celebrated annually on the 9 August throughout the country.

Just as many women celebrate their lives, there are also many women who may want to distance themselves from celebrating this day. Women are no longer required to carry pass books (originally referred to as a dompas), yet today, 61 years later, women are still victims of circumstances. Today women are victims of gender based violence. Women are killed, raped and stripped of their dignity – often by those close to them. According to Statistics South Africa, South Africa has the highest rate of domestic abuse in Africa. Violence against women is a significant public health issue and a violation of human rights. It has a negative impact on a woman’s physical, mental and sexual health.

President Zuma gave a speech at this year’s Women Day celebration in Galeshewe, Kimberly. He said he commits himself to making sure that the South African labour market accommodates women. He said women should be uplifted and be encouraged to follow a career in all industries, including those that were previously seen as the domain of men. Despite all this, he has still taken no action against the country’s Deputy Minister of Education who admitted to beating a women up in a night club a few days earlier.

It is clear that women today are face different challenges compared to those of the women in 1956. Women should be given equal opportunities and we should be able to feel safe. We would also be able to enjoy the same benefits as men, such as being paid the same amount for doing the same job.

Instead of women looking to be equal to men in this modern society, I think women and men should treat one another as partners. There are things that women can do of which men can’t, and vice versa. In a partnership, they will able to pick up on one another’s strengths and weaknesses and work to complement each other. It should be a partnership that is not based on gender but on one’s abilities to do the job. We could accomplish so much more as a team. Instead of seeing a woman as one whose place is in home in the kitchen, she should be seen as a partner, a team player. What she does in the kitchen is critical to the survival of the whole team.

An environment of mutual respect would help to improve productivity and harmony. It would reduce many of the social problems facing women.