Updated 18 July 2013

Women's Month: a war lost

It's Women's Month, and Joanne Hart wonders what that means in South Africa where just being born a woman puts you at risk.


August 2010 and it's Women's Month.

I'm not even sure I know what that really means anymore.

In decades and centuries past it would have meant a call to continue the fight – for women to get the vote, the right (in some places) to own property, the right to work, reproductive rights, equal pay, maternity benefits and equality in the workplace.  But we've already achieved most of that, right? 

On paper. 

And yet, the statistics show us that the most tragic and hapless fate in Africa still is to be born a woman.

How do we fight the battle for simple gains like safety and basic health when the enemy is woven into the fabric of our culture – when the opposing army's generals, foot soldiers and torturers are our husbands, brothers and fathers – and, sometimes, even our mothers?  How do we stand up for ourselves when we're told that even our very ancestors join the line to keep us in chains?  How do we criminalise rape when some use rape as a means of therapy

There's no more legislation to be passed – it's all there in charters, laws and the Constitution.  But there are precious few with the will to enable any of the shiny new laws that are supposed to have given more than 50% of the population (women and children) freedom from such basic acts of cruel weirdness such as rape, murder and assault, and the burden of disease that comes after.

An awful apartheid

This more awful form of apartheid continues unabated, but women no longer organise on a grand scale to march against it.  Because now the "security police" wait for them at home, and in their beds. 

Leagues and organisations that are supposed to represent women have largely been neutralised and co-opted as political weapons – this while 1-in-4 women are raped, and almost 1-in-3 women aged 25-29 are living with HIV.

They used to say, when we were fighting apartheid, "strike a woman and you strike a rock", but all that has changed.  Today, if you strike a woman people will probably say that she deserved it, and no-one really gives a damn.

Counselling and support services:

  • Stop Gender Violence Helpline 0800 150 150
  • National AIDS Helpline 0800 012 322
  • Lifeline National Counselling Line 0861-322-322

(Joanne Hart, Health24, August 2010)




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