Women’s Day is wearying

Sara Gon says the day is just an opportunity for the ANCWL , of all bodies, to pontificate about ‘respect and dignity’

Women’s day, women’s month, whatever

31 August 2016

Every year we “celebrate” Women’s Day which is set in “Women’s Month” in much the same way as we celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness month, International Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome Awareness Day, International Day of No Prostitution, Self-Represented Litigant Awareness Day, Pig Day and about 120 others.

There is nothing like the commemoration of a day and a month specifically for the benefit of over 50% of the world’s population, as opposed to some other cause affecting a few hundred thousand or maybe a million people that would otherwise get little or no attention, to make women feel like they are always struggling to succeed and will never quite make it.

Commemoration of a generalised “women’s” day or month is patronising and serves merely to highlight how much still has to be achieved. Most activists will say that it is an opportunity to highlight issues specific to women’s problems and get the public to pay attention.

That’s not good enough. We work at issues day and night and need to keep re-strategising all the time in the same way as men would do.

The campaign to recognise how many girls and young women lose out on schooling because of menstruation has been extraordinary. But now that it has been raised it has gained a traction. And it didn’t happen in Women’s Month.

We are aware not only of the lack of products, but the huge expense. Boys and men have absolutely no idea of how awful it is to bleed for 24 hours per day for an average of 5 days a month for nearly 40 year accompanied by headaches, migraines and tiredness. The Olympic athletes deserve our special congratulations for having to compete on the world stage while suffering this absolutely natural but no less intrusive state just because we are women.

The brave women who marched against the carrying of pass books in 1956 and a range of well-known women are rightly recognised and praised for the astonishing they do, but what is not raised are the women in public life who disgrace and embarrass us.

Glenda Daniels (Whew, Women’s Month is finally over Mail & Guardian Aug 26 to Sept 1 2016) describes the worst aspect of Women’s Month as being bombarded by images of the ANCWL on the broadcast media, speaking “unintelligibly about respect and dignity”. That about captures the essence of the ANC Women’s League.

In a commemorative sitting of parliament to honour the women of the 1956 march, the Honourable Susan Shabangu, who currently occupies the oxymoronic position of Minister in the Presidency responsible for Women, slammed the 10-woman size of the Western Cape Province’s (Democratic Alliance) delegation to a similar commemoration.

In response Zakhele Bhele for the DA asked how it would have helped the cause of women to have a larger delegation.

Such help wouldn’t have been found on the ANC benches. The ANC prides itself on the fact that over 40% of parliamentarians are women: 41% percent of ministers are women and 45% of deputy-ministers are women.

However, if we had any expectations that they would be better than the men we have been proved wrong. Acolytes of Zuma include Tina Joemat-Petersen (Energy), Faith Muthambi (Communications), Susan Shabangu, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane (international relations) and Lindiwe Zulu (small business development). Another loyal devotee is Baleke Mbete, she of the fraudulent driver’s licence fame.

But blatantly absent on women’s issues such as the plight of rural women legally and physically, the handling of the Zuma “rape”case, the crisis of the provision of sanitary towels for school girls, absentee fathers, and a zillion issues besides is the most powerful women’s organisations in the country is the ANCWL.

The ANCWL has been very visibly attending court cases dealing with femicide, most notably, the Pistorius trial and in other matters concerning abuse of and violence against women. Except that is, at the infamous “Zuma rape trial” where they prejudged the outcome of the case in their rush to support Zuma.

In 2012 when the DA complained to the Commission for Gender Equality about the sexism inherent in Zuma’s remarks that it's "not right" for women to be single, and that having children is "extra training for a woman", the ANCWL came to his defence.

It told the Mail & Guardian the comments were taken "grossly" out of context by the media and commentators. "If you look at the statements made by the president in the context of the interview it seems clear to me that he is talking about his aspirations for his own daughters," said league spokesperson Troy Martens. "Like I'm sure most parents, he wants to see his children happily married and have grandchildren.”

Four young women protested silently in remembrance of “Khwezi”, the woman who accused Zuma of rape in 2005. To show that nothing has changed since Zuma became president, league president, the combative Bathabile Dlamini, said she was outraged that the protest could take place and demanded an apology from Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) chairperson, Glen Mashinini.

Like a scene from a Shakespearean tragedy, three furious ministers Nomvula Mokonyane (Water Affairs)‚ Lindiwe Zulu and Bathabile Dlamini were seen by the Sunday Times confronting Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula over what they saw as a serious security breach. Poor Mapisa-Nqakula was essentially verbally slapped by her parliamentary sisters.

The only woman who immediately comes to mind when you say “admirable woman with a profile in public service” is Thuli Madonsela.

The worse thing about the ANCWL is that it lets women and girls down in the most egregious way - it doesn’t stand up to its male colleagues when they abuse women, deprive of their legal rights or stand in the way of them achieving equal status to men.

There are no rules as to how women’s rights should be advanced, but less is certainly not more. The ANCWL could be a really significant force for change for women; it is anything but.

Women are not in a fight to be as good as mediocre men. Women have to be better than that.

Sara is a Policy Fellow at the IRR, a think tank that promotes economic and political liberty. Follow the IRR on Twitter @IRR_SouthAfrica