While many women celebrated Women’s Day on August 9, a group of women questioned the true meaning of the day.
Marching with hundreds of other cheerfully dressed women on a chilly Thursday morning from Lilian Ngoyi Square to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, following the footsteps of those pioneering women, our walk was interrupted. The walk, led by the Premier of Gauteng, Nomvula Mokonyane, hit a snag when we were stopped by a protest group ‘One in Nine campaign‘. But it was a voice that needed to be heard. A voice for the sexually violated.
The group blocked the road with a huge banner and dummy’s of bodies lying sprawled and twisted on the ground. Their message read ‘No cause for celebration’. One activist Mpumi Mathabelam asked me passionately, “Why are we celebrating, what is there to celebrate, when everyday more women are abused, raped or lesbians discriminated against?”
The ‘One in Nine campaign’ was established in February 2006. Their name is derived from the Medical Research Council study on sexual violence in 2002 that indicated only one out of every nine rape survivors report the attack to the police.

“Why are we celebrating, what is there to celebrate?”

Premier Mokonyane addressed both groups and acknowledged that there was still much to be done before true gender equality was achieved. The march was momentarily paused and a minute of silence observed for those women who lost the battle with gender violence. Mokonyane’s message was echoed by the President in his speech to the large group that gathered at the Union Buildings lawn to celebrate the day. The protest group’s message made me think. Walking the rest of the way I found myself contemplating the meaning of this march and if the memory of those brave marchers was being honoured? On this day in 1956, the historic march saw thousands of strong women march against the pass laws at the time in Apartheid South Africa.Pictures of the march in 1956 show a group of formidable woman striding confidently, united in achieving equality, a different scene from the one seen on Women’s Day 2012.The women marching today were fashionably decked out with their stylish handbags and high stilettos, singing and chanting but without that same sense of purpose.
While the day came to an end with the singing of local talents, the question of whether the demands of Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Albertina Sisulu and Sophia Williams-De Bruyn have been achieved or is it a day of struggle as the protest group suggests it, is one that still has no real answer. Looking back 56 years, one cannot deny we have come a long way with the right to vote, education and basic rights but there is still much more that needs to be done. – edited by Tanja Bencun

– By Hasina Gori