In the midst of all the doom and foreboding news we read every day around the overwhelming violence we as women face, it can be quite hard to see a parting in the clouds revealing optimism. It is however important that we find this optimism in order for us to continue the business of inspiring, empowering and just generally living our best lives. In doing so we need to look to the positive and admirable advances that women around us are contributing to our society daily; in fact, we affirm that we too need to aspire to being such formidable women. By THABANG POOE and ZUKISWA PIKOLO.
There seems to be a pervasive attitude from men that Women’s Day is their gift to us and in doing so the damaging patriarchal narrative of women existing at a man’s mercy gains legitimacy. It is this narrative that makes men feel they are entitled to sanction our actions by beating us when they think we are out of line. It is this narrative that makes figures of authority think that violence against women is only to be paid lip service at official engagements, but when away from the public eye they flout the law and abuse women with impunity.
Yes, we’re talking about you Deputy Minister Mduduzi Manana. ?We need to decentralise men from the discussions on women’s self-actualisation and achievement which is imperative to a progressive social discourse around gender. Not doing so maintains the currently unequal gender relations. It is infinitely frustrating that somehow even in the case of gender-based violence conversations, men still find a way to steer and shape these discussions. We don’t need guidance from men in order to be self-determinate. Women’s month and more specifically Women’s Day is meant to remind us of our greatness, our achievements and that among us walk formidable forces of nature. It is imperative that we change the narrative of our power being based on how resilient we are in the face of poverty, pain and trauma, often at the hands of patriarchy.
We must never forget that within every one of us lives the burning spirit to reach beyond ourselves and to contribute equally and indelibly to the tapestry of our country. Therefore our actions should speak to the continued renewal of spirit and undeniable shaping of an ethos that sees and respects women as equal partners in taking South Africa forward.
Last year on Women’s Day the women of SECTION27 wrote a letter to the public urging people to remember the many powerful women (both those in the public eye and behind the scenes) that South Africa has known. Both those that have gone before us and those continuing to make significant strides towards our fight for the South Africa envisioned in our democracy.
And that is why we honour Mam Duba, who had to nurse her dying husband after he was retrenched from the mines after decades of service. Mam Duba borrowed money, took a bus from the Eastern Cape and arrived in Johannesburg to find her ailing husband sitting in cold bath water unable to get out because of his health condition. Mam Duba carried him to the bus station, took him home and took care of him until his death. From housewife to sole provider – Mam Duba works hard to ensure that her children are able to attend school and have a meal to eat. Mam Duba was one of the women activists who spoke out against the mining companies’ continued opposition to the silicosis action and demands compensation for her family and thousands of other women and children who have lost fathers, brothers and sons to silicosis.
We honour Mam Sibiya, mother of a child living with disabilities in Manguzi, KwaZulu-Natal. Mam Sibiya wanted to ensure that her daughter, like other children, gets the opportunity to learn and get an education so that she is able to make something of herself. Mam Sibiya carries her daughter on her back to school and back because she is determined to ensure that her daughter gets to school. Mam Sibiya will not allow the pace of government efforts to get her daughter a wheelchair to get in the way of her child’s education. Mam Sibiya is not alone, we honour her together with all the mothers in her position.
We honour Tobeka Daki who was a single mother from Mdantsane township in the Eastern Cape, and was diagnosed with HER2+ breast cancer in 2013. Following her diagnosis, Tobeka was informed that she needed trastuzumab, in addition to a mastectomy and chemotherapy, to improve her chances of survival. She was denied the necessary medication because she could not afford to buy it. Her cancer spread to her spine and on 14 November, 2016 she died in her home. Tobeka advocated strongly for equitable medicine access for all during 2016. In the months before her death, Tobeka led a march calling on the South African government to end delays in reforming South Africa’s patent laws to improve medicine access. Tobeka’s inspirational leadership continues to inspire activists working on patent law reform to continue fighting for access to affordable medicines.
We honour Justice Leona Theron, recently appointed to the Constitutional Court. Justice Theron joins only two other women Justices on the ConCourt bench – which unfortunately continues to be untransformed. When appointed to the KwaZulu-Natal division of the high court in 1999, Theron became its first black female judge and, at the age of 33, its youngest. Her judgments reflect a deep passion for women’s rights and in 2008 she made a judgment which forever protected the rights of women in customary marriages. Prior to her judgment, women in customary marriages could not make a claim on property if they got divorced. The moral of Judge Theron’s story is this: Never underestimate the person who is packing your groceries, filling your petrol tank, or cleaning your garden. You could be looking at the next Judge of the Constitutional Court.
We honour Mokgadi Caster Sememya, one of our country’s and the world’s most groundbreaking athletes, who despite the many challenges of gender discrimination and prejudice has risen to unfettered heights. Born in the Limpopo village of Ga-Masehlong, Caster exploded onto the athletics scene in 2008 when she participated in the Junior Olympics and won the 800m. Since then she has gone on to win at the 2009 World Championships, achieved silver medals at the 2011 World Championships and the 2012 Summer Olympics, won gold in the 2016 Summer Olympics and this week won the bronze in the 1,500m at the IAAF World Championships. She is one of the many South African women inspiring a nation of young girls to reach for the dreams that seem unattainable and to shatter expectations.
We honour women from all walks of life who despite adversities continue to inspire. As women we have to realise that our right to equality is not conferred but innate when we realise and harness that, none will dare challenge us when we say Sizimbokodo! DM
Thabang Pooe is a Legal researcher at SECTION27
Zukiswa Pikoli is a Communications Officer at SECTION27
Photo: Higher Education and Training Deputy Minister Mduduzi Manana and Higher Education and Training Minister Dr Blade Nzimande briefs the media on opportunities for Matric Class 2016 in Post-School Education and Training system at Tshedimosetso House in Pretoria. (Photo: GCIS)