South Africa commemorates Women’s Month in August as a tribute to the thousands of women who marched to the Union Buildings on 9 August 1956 in protest against the extension of Pass Laws to women.
This historic march was a turning point in the role of women in the struggle for freedom and society at large. Since that eventful day, women from all walks of life became equal partners in the struggle for a non-racial and non-sexist South Africa.
The march was coordinated by the Federation of South African Women (Fedsaw) led by four women: Lillian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa and Sophia Williams De Bruyn. These leaders delivered petitions to the then Prime Minister JG Strijdom’s office at the Union Buildings. Women throughout the country had put their names to these petitions, indicating their anger and frustration at having their freedom of movement restricted by the hated official passes.
The Government of South Africa declared August Women’s Month and 9 August is celebrated annually as Women’s Day.
Women’s Month is a tribute not only to the thousands of women who marched on that day in 1956, but also a tribute to the pioneers of the women’s movement in this country, dating back to 1913, when women like Charlotte Maxeke led the way in establishing the ANC Women’s League and encouraging women to engage in the struggle for freedom. Pioneers include Cissy, Jaynab and Amina Gool, who were amongst the leaders of the National Liberation League and the Non-European United Front of the 1930s.
The names of Ray Alexander Simons, Elizabeth Mafikeng and Elizabeth Abrahams will always be associated with the struggles of women. In the 1940s Amina Pahad and Gadijah Christopher, who were amongst the first volunteers to occupy the site of the 1946 Passive Resistance Campaign on Umbilo Road in Durban cannot go unnoticed.
Women’s Month also serves to recall and recognise the work of Dora Tamana, Winifred Siqwana, Ida Mntwana, Bertha Gxowa, Florence Matomela and other stalwarts of the 1950s, who led militant women’s formation for the rights of workers and the rights of women.
There were also the women who formed the Black Sash and who were the first to protest against the disenfranchisement of the Coloured voters during the 1950s. Coloured voters played an important role in the united front of anti-apartheid forces that developed in the last three decades of apartheid.
Government has made significant progress in empowering women in the political, public and educational spheres, but the marginalisation of poor women severely compromises progress.
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