I’ll admit it; I’ve always just assumed Women’s Day is just about celebrating all that is woman. That’s why we call August “Women’s Month” and why every single brand is pushing the fact that you should be spoiled, to “do it for all womenkind” and the #girlpower theme that goes with the whole month.
But if you’re anything like me, you don’t really care why we have a public holiday. A day off is a day off! It’s not even like Mother’s Day where you at least get a gift or medal of some kind. So Women’s Day has always been just another day we get to spend time together, do nothing really, and perhaps get someone to send you a text saying how proud you should be for being a woman.
For the first time, however, this year I was curious. This year I wanted to know why I’m celebrating this day dedicated to women, and perhaps learn a little more about South African history.
*Disclaimer – I was not raised in SA, but in Namibia. And therefore only have like, 10% SA history stuck in my brain. I try, though…!
Ready to be surprised?
History Behind Women’s Day
Women’s Day in South Africa commemorates the 9 August 1956 when women participating in a national march petitioned against pass laws. (For anyone who does not know the history – “pass laws” were legislation that required African persons to carry a document on them to ‘prove’ that they were allowed to enter a ‘white area’ during the Apartheid regime).
On this day in 1956, over 20 000 women of all races and ages from every corner of South Africa marched together towards the Union Buildings in Pretoria. These brave women were marching in protest against the pass laws that proposed even further restrictions on the movements of women.
They were lead by 4 strong and determined and very wise women; Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa, Sophie Williams and Lilian Ngoyi. The women then sang a protest song that was composed in honour of the occasion: Wathint’Abafazi Wathint’imbokodo! (Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock.) which has since come to represent women’s courage and strength in South Africa.
They left petitions containing more than 100,000 signatures at prime minister J.G. Strijdom’s office door. And then they stood silently outside his door for 30 minutes.
Significance of That Day
National Women’s Day draws attention to significant issues African women still face, such as parenting, domestic violence, sexual harassment in the workplace, pornography, unequal pay, and schooling for all girls. It can be used as a day to fight for or protest these ideas. Due to this public holiday, there have been many significant advances.
Before 1994, women had low representation in the Parliament, only at 2.7%. Women in the national assembly were at 27.7%. This number has nearly doubled, being at 48% representation throughout the country’s government. National Women’s Day is based around much of the same principles as International Women’s Day, and strives for much of the same freedoms and rights.
How Does This Affect Me?
I’ll be honest; it probably doesn’t. At least not in a direct way that you would think.
But because of this march, issues that affect women in general has gotten more attention, and thus, it does affect you too. The fact that you can study anything you want, the fact that you can freely move around, the fact that you are able to been seen as an equal partner to your male-counterparts. Same, but different.
Celebrate your sameness. But remember to celebrate your differentness too.
This Women’s Day, step out of your comfort zone. Be brave. Be determined. And be wise.
All my love,