Published September 7, 2012
You hear advertisements on the radio and see announcements across the city. Special events are held in commemoration and many workers are given a day off.
It’s Women’s Month in South Africa, a celebration throughout August in honor of the rainbow nation’s female citizens.
Within Women’s Month is Women’s Day, August 9th, which memorializes the same day in 1956 when 20,000 women marched in Pretoria, the current legislative capital, to protest a new requirement that women carry passbooks, a form of identification non-white citizens were made to carry at all times during apartheid.
To mark the start of the month-long celebration the Minister of Women, Children and People With Disabilities Lulu Xingwana, released a statement: "I can state without any fear of contradiction that, as a country and government, we have registered significant progress in the promotion of women empowerment and gender equality. An array of measures introduced since 1994 to promote women empowerment and uphold gender equality have drastically improved the position and conditions of women in our country.”
While the month aims to celebrate women with theatrical events and programming in every female’s honor, women in South Africa often have more to worry about than to cheer for.
“Women in this country are worse off in 2012 than we were in 2010, than we were in 2002 and than we were in 1994, without a question and in every respect,” said Kelley Moult, director of the University of Cape Town Gender Health and Justice Research Unit.
Although many promises were made to women after the constitution was adopted in 1996, Moult believes that since then no real transformation toward equal rights has occurred.
While the rights of women, including protection against domestic violence, rape and sexual assault, are enshrined in the constitution, they are not always realized in daily life. According to the 2010-2011 South African Police Services statistics, 56,272 incidences of rape and sexual assault were reported, an increase from the previous year’s report of 55,097 and an increase from the year before that as well.
Celebrating the women of South Africa once a year gives some activists a chance to appreciate the past, but for many the struggle and frustration still continue.
Former University of Cape Town professor and writer Helen Moffett says that the government wastes significant amounts of money on Women's Month while organizations vital to women’s health, such as Rape Crisis and the Saartjie Baartman Center, are losing funding. Many directors and leaders of non-governmental organizations worry that if such organizations shut down, there will be nowhere for women to go and seek help.
“It’s going to have a disastrous affect because the government isn’t providing those services,” Moult said, and many other women’s rights advocates agree.
Virashni Pillay, deputy editor of the Daily Mail & Guardian, called this women’s month the worst women’s month ever in her weekly column. Rhoda Kadalie, director of the non-profit Impumelelo, a former human rights commissioner and outspoken supporter of women’s rights, said the entire month “laughable.”
While this is only the third official celebration, it has left many supporters of equal rights asking for less fanfare and congratulations—and more funding and concrete action.