Throughout the history of South Africa, women have been at the forefront of the country’s liberation struggle. From the Alexandra Women’s Council (AWC) opposing squatter movements in 1947 to the 1956 Women’s anti-pass laws, women in the struggle have defied the odds and fought against an oppressive apartheid system.

64 years later and women are faced with issues of Gender-Based Violence, unemployment, gender discrimination and poverty.

We take a journey down memory lane and ask if women in politics are still championing the fight for women in modern-day South Africa.

Some women who took part in the march recount the day: 

Women march to the Union Buildings

A protest that would change the course of history in South Africa, thousands of women from various racial backgrounds marched to the citadel of power to demand the abolishment of pass laws.

Defying the odds and challenging an oppressive and patriarchal system; women began mobilising themselves and throughout history, several formations like – the Bantu Women’s League and the Federation of South African Women – were formed.

Those who led 20 000 women to the Union Buildings remember the day that would be written in the history books of the country.

“We went into those grounds. We marched up to the prime minister’s office. So, for that day, the women achieved freedom, confidence in themselves that they could go where they want to go,” says Political Activist, Ruth Mompati.

Political Activist Sophie De Bryn says it was a multitude of women who marched to the Union Buildings.

“It was a multitude of women. It was an army of women and those were the women who marched that day to the Union Buildings to voice their opposition and their disgust and their indignation against the dompass as it was called that day and they were tired and they said enough is enough. It was about all the laws that impacted their lives. Of course, there were fears amongst them and the contingency plans in case they were arrested or the protest became violent. They carried on disregarding their fears, so they were determined to meet up with Strijdom.”

Another Political activist Bertha Gxowa, says, “My memories are women from all parts of the country under difficult circumstances but determined to get there and they got there. I can’t even describe how it was that day. To me, I didn’t even know if I was Mary or Jane, or Jack or Jim. The way I was overwhelmed seeing women coming in, determined to do what they wanted to do, handing in their petitions urging the government, that they will never rest until all discriminatory laws against women and children have been abolished.”

The video below What She Said is a curated video of women’s ‘power’ soundbites/quotes:

Struggle continues

Decades later, the struggle still continues as South African women are faced with different struggles, the brutal killings of women and children, the triple challenges of poverty, inequality, unemployment, gender parity and lately adding to that list is the novel coronavirus.

Through some of its efforts, the African National Congress Women’s league has managed to achieve 50% of female representation in ANC structures and government.

Last year, they accused government of being lukewarm in dealing with issues of Gender-Based Violence, but believe more needs to be done to beat this social ill.

“Right now, the issue that is on top of the agenda of the ANC is the issue of Gender-Based Violence and femicide. At least for the first time in the last NEC meeting, we have someone that agreed with us that violence against women and children must be declared a state of disaster. There are views that are moving towards the right direction,” says ANC Women’s League President, Bathabile Dlamini.

But one young leader says issues dealing with women should not be used as political weapons.

“Gender-Based Violence is comfortably being used as a conversation appetiser in political discussions. Gender-Based Violence is not being taken seriously. If it were, government would put its money where its mouth is,” says Democratic Alliance MPL in the Free State, Karabo Khakhau.

The soon-to-be-launched Economic Freedom Fighters Women’s Command before the party’s third National Assembly promises to bring more radical views and policies in attaining justice for women.

“The EFF must launch the women’s command before the third national people’s assembly,” says EFF Leader, Julius Malema.

Political analyst Tessa Dooms, explaining the role of women formations within politics, says, “Women’s organisations such as the ANC Women’s League, the DA’s Women’s Network, the EFF’s impending women’s Command are that they often are focused on political imperatives rather than social justice imperatives that rethinking gender dynamics require.

“We have to be cautious about what role we expect from these organisations. Is it important to challenge political organisations to mention women’s agenda and gender issues? Absolutely! Do these organisations always achieve that? That is doubtful and in question,” Dooms explains.

As the Class of 1956 united against an unjust system, the modern-day woman is implored to pick up the baton and lead the fight against social ills like Gender-Based Violence.

A woman is murdered every 3 hours in SA

According to 2019/20 crime statistics released last week, a total of 2 695 women were murdered in South Africa – down from 2 771 in 2018/19. This means a woman is murdered every 3 hours. Former Statistician-General Dr. Pali Lehohla explains: