Sunday, August 20, 2006

To the women of South Africa

Source: The Hindu

To the women of South Africa

THIS is a letter to our sisters in South Africa.

Fifty years ago, on August 9, 1956, 20,000 of you
defied your country's oppressive laws and marched to
protest against the discriminatory pass laws of that
despicable system of apartheid. Two years before
this, on April 17, 1954, when you founded the
Federation of South African Women, you formulated
"The Women's Charter" that is relevant even today.
Your words, "The level of civilisation which any
society has reached can be measured by the degree of
freedom that its members enjoy. The status of women
is a test of civilisation," have echoed around the
world since then.

Your slogan during the August 9 march also struck a
chord: "Now you have touched the women, You have
struck a rock, (You have dislodged a boulder!), You
will be crushed!"

Eventually, your prophecy came true and the terrible
nightmare of the apartheid regime ended in 1994 when
South Africa took its first step towards freedom. At
the opening of your country's first democratically
elected Parliament on May 24, 1994, your
inspirational first President, Nelson Mandela said,
"Freedom cannot be achieved unless women have been
emancipated from all forms of oppression."

Today, some of that oppression has ended. The new
South Africa has accepted women as equal partners.
One third of your Parliament is made up of women.
And 43 per cent of the Ministers in President Thabo
Mbeki's cabinet are women.

That is enviable. But what is even more impressive
is the acknowledgement by the current male
leadership that despite being part of a
"progressive" movement to end apartheid, they did
not fully accept the need for gender equality. It
was a pleasant surprise to read what President Mbeki
said in his address on the 50th anniversary of the
Women's March. He admitted that in its earlier
history, the anti-apartheid movement "also
perpetuated the inferiority of women within its own
ranks." He said that at its foundation, the African
National Congress did not accept women as full
members and that its 1919 Constitution only allowed
them to be auxiliary members with no voting rights
or the chance to be elected to a position within the

This changed in 1943 when women became full members
of the ANC and a Women's League was established.
Even so, it took more than 10 years for the first
woman to be elected into the National Executive
Committee of the ANC. "The fact of the matter
therefore is that it took our movement more than 40
years fully to give expression within its own ranks
to the principle and practice of gender equality,"
said President Mbeki. He went further to acknowledge
that although 12 years after liberation, much had
been done to enhance women's status, "we have as yet
not achieved gender equality and are still some
distance away from realising the goal of a
non-sexist society."

That kind of admission from a head of state has to
be applauded because it is so rare. It would be
truly unusual if one of our leaders, from any of the
political parties, admitted past errors and accepted
current realities.

(To read the rest of the article, click on the link)

1 comment:

hmmm... said...

yeah, as women continue the never ending struggle, more difficult and complex challenges seem to be in store... long way to go, but as you said struggles like these inspire the counterparts to go on...