by Rev Joe Taylor
Every year in August, South Africans mark “Women’s Month”, where we pay tribute to the more than 20,000 diverse women who marched to the Union Buildings on 9 August 1956 in protest against pass laws for women.
This year is the 67th anniversary of the march. As National Women’s Month draws to a close in South Africa, it is fitting to ponder how far we have progressed as a society in bringing about equality between men and women, particularly the transformation of unequal power relations, addressing gender oppression, patriarchy, sexism, racism, ageism, and structural oppression.
We should begin by noting the significant strides South Africa has made in bridging the gaps between men and women in our society, with some of the biggest being made in government, business, sport and religious institutions. Watching Banyana Banyana and the Netball Proteas represent South Africa so well at the women’s World Cups earlier this month was particularly joyful and fitting.
However, we must admit that we are still far from realising the dream of true equality for our country’s people.
South Africa faces a major pandemic of gender-based violence and femicide, with over 100 women murdered or raped in our country daily. Worse, many women do not speak up about the abuse they experience because they have watched other women being silenced or ridiculed.
Have we come a long way in the last 67 years? Yes, certainly. Do we still have a lot of work to do? By God, yes!
Many would claim that the Church should be one place where women feel safe to speak up and bring their hardships for support and protection. However, many women have found churches to be places where abuse is too often hidden, covered up or even perpetuated in the worst ways. This is a grave injustice to the institution built on Jesus of Nazareth’s legacy – the Jesus that listened to and elevated women’s voices, even though it went against the cultural norms of his time.
In Scripture, we read that men and women were created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27). What gifts are we missing out on by silencing the women in our communities? What joys could we experience if we learn to listen to and elevate women’s voices in our churches and societies?
“When the female voice is repressed and stifled, the entire community can easily find themselves cut off from the sacred feminine, depriving themselves of the full image of god.” – Rob Bell.
The Church throughout history has benefitted from numerous women’s voices: Jesus’ mother, Mary, Priscilla, Hildegard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich, Susanna Wesley, Sojourner Truth, Corrie Ten Boom, and Mother Theresa, to name a few.
South Africa, in particular, has immensely benefited from powerful women’s voices such as Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Suzman, Miriam Makeba, Pregs Govender, Thuli Madonsela, Purity Malinga, and many more.
Still today, countless women are willing to share their wisdom with us. As Women’s Month ends, how can we listen to and elevate their voices in the coming weeks and months so that next year, we can be even prouder of the work being done to bring equality and thriving to women and girls in our country and throughout the world?