On 9 August 1956, more than 20,000 South African women of all races staged a march on the Union Buildings in protest against the proposed amendments to the Urban Areas Act of 1950, commonly referred to as the “pass laws”. … The women left 14,000 petitions at the office doors of prime-minister J.G. Strijdom. According to an internet article “History of Woman’s struggle in South Africa”- www.sahistory.org.za) it is only over the last three or four decades that women’s role in the history of South Africa has, belatedly, been given some recognition. Previously the history of women’s political organization, their struggle for freedom from oppression, for community rights and, importantly, for gender equality, was largely ignored in history texts. The reason for this ‘invisibility’ of women, calls for some explanation. South African society (and this applies in varying degrees to all race groups) are conventionally patriarchal. In other words, it was the men who had authority in society; women were seen as subordinate to men.
Women’s role was primarily a domestic one; it included child rearing and themselves seeing to the well-being, feeding and care of the family. They were not expected to concern with matters outside the home – that was more properly the domain of men. Economic activity beyond the home (in order to help feed and clothe the family) was acceptable, but not considered ‘feminine’. Woman were tired of staying at home, powerless to make significant changes to a way of life that discriminated against them primarily because of their race, but also because of their class and their gender. Beside the challenges still faced, women have made considerable gains enshrined in the new Constitution of the Republic of South Africa which seeks to protect many important rights for women. The constitution provides women with the right to equality; freedom and security of the person; reproduction, security and control over their own body. The constitution also provides measures to improve the quality of life of all women such as the right to education; property; clean environment; adequate housing; health care services; sufficient food and water; and social security for those in need.
Stats South Africa (http://www.statssa.gov.za) states that there are more women than men in South Africa. A figure of 1 000 people that perfectly represents the country’s population of 56.5 million would consist of 511 women and 489 men. In other words, women comprise 51% of the total population. Despite women making up just over half of the population , they remain relatively unrepresented in positions of authority and power. This is recognized by South Africa’s Constitution, which sets out gender equality as a founding principle. The Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill in particular calls for 50% representation in decision-making positions. Although South Africa has made great strides, gender representations is still below the 50% mark for positions that come with a great deal of influence. Women comprised 32% of Supreme Court of Appeal judges, 31% of advocates, 30% of ambassadors and 24% of heads of state-owned enterprises.
According to an article ‘The Woman’s Charter” (http://www.dac.gov.za) published by Arts and Culture the following were instituted:
- We demand that equality applies to every aspect of our lives, including the family, the workplace and the state. The right to equality shall not be limited to our relationship with the state.
- Women demand equality in the development, application, adjudication, interpretation and enforcement of the law.
- Women have social, economic and ideological barriers to the full and equal participation in the economy.
- Education and training must meet the economic, social, cultural and political needs of women in South Africa.
- Women should participate in designing and implementing development programs to meet their needs.
- Social services should be a right and not a privilege and should benefit all areas of women’s lives.
- Democracy requires that the political playing field between men and women be leveled by acknowledging women’s right to participate equally in all political activities.
- Woman should have all rights to family life and partnerships.
- All women shall have the freedom to practice their own religion, culture or beliefs without fear.
- Women shall be entitled to security and integrity of the person which shall include the right to be free from all forms of violence in the home, in communities, in the workplace and in public spaces.
- Health services in South Africa have to be traditionally unequal, accessible and appropriate for women.
- In South Africa women need to enjoy equal access to, or coverage in the film, print and electronic media.
This Charter gives expression to the common experiences, visions and aspirations of South African women. Woman are breaking their silence. They call for respect and recognition of their human dignity and for a genuine change in their status including material conditions in a future South Africa.
“If you don’t like being a doormat then get off the floor.” Al Anon