On August 9, 1956, 20,000 women marched on the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest against the proposed amendments to the Urban Areas Act (commonly known as the pass laws) of 1950.
The pass laws were the manifestation of the apartheid ideology and put the control of people’s movements in the hands of the authorities (whites). It made segregation legal and divided whole communities along racial lines.
Led by Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Albertina Sisulu and Sophia Williams-De Bruyn, the marchers delivered a petition against the laws containing over 100,000 signatures and then stood outside the Union Buildings for 30 minutes singing a song- Wathint’Abafazi Wathint’imbokodo!(Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock.)
August 9th is National Women’s Day, and celebrates the actions of this group of brave women- how sad that they did not intervene more often in such a peaceful, and yet forceful way.
Women’s Day has moved on from this original meaning, being a good event to use as a backdrop to wider issues. In our modern South Africa we may have seen the back of the Pass Laws and other mechanisms of apartheid but the lot of many women has improved little. One wonders what the original women who marched on the Union Buildings would think how of how the average woman is still treated. Rape, beatings, oppression, inequality, slavery… the list could go on. These women are someone’s mother, someone’s daughter and the ills they face are not going to be put right with a day off work.
Enjoy your day off work, but let’s not forget why we are at home. It is not to remember that 20,000 women marched in 1956 (it seems to have done nothing in the fight against apartheid since the laws remained in place for another 38 years, and were finally overthrown through a willingness to bring the white regime to its knees through violent struggle and by turning the rest of the world against it), but celebrates the potential nobility that is womanhood (though I suspect that if the weather is nice there will be a lot of fires sparked up- a male dominated pastime in most parts of the world.)
For me it is not a question of competition between the sexes- this seems to be a poisonous pursuit that leads to more problems than it solves- it should be more about embracing the differences.
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