Women's Month

South Africa commemorates Women’s Month in August as a tribute to the more than 20 000 women who marched to the Union Buildings on 9 August 1956 in protest against the extension of Pass Laws to women. The Government of South Africa declared August women’s month and 9 August is celebrated annually as Women’s Day.

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2014 Women's Month events

Women's Day 2014 will be celebrated in the King Zwelithini Stadium un Umlazi, eThekwini (Durban) where President Jacob Zuma will deliver the keynote address.

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Advances made since 1994

Great strides have been made since 1994 to improve the status of women.

Prior to 1994, the South African Parliament had a mere 2,7% representation of women, and following the first democratic elections, women representation in the National Assembly stood at 27,7%. In 1999 that figure increased to 30% and then to 32.7% in 2004. After the 2009 national elections women representation reached 42%. Post the May 2014 elections women ministers comprise 43% of the Cabinet, women deputy ministers make up 46% of the total number of deputy ministers and there is a 41% representation of women in the National Assembly.

Furthermore, government policies and programmes have improved the living conditions of women. In 1997 the Office on the Status of Women (OSW) was established in the Presidency to steer the national gender programme and championed the development of the National Policy Framework for Women Empowerment and Gender Equality that was approved by Cabinet in 2000. Subsequently, similar structures were established in the Premier’s offices. In May 2009 the President pronounced on the establishment a Ministry of Women, Children and People with Disabilities (DWCPD). In May 2014 the President evolved the structure to a dedicated Ministry for Women in the Presidency as a way of elevating women’s issues and interests to lead, coordinate and oversee the transformation agenda on women’s socio-economic empowerment, rights and equality through mainstreaming, monitoring and evaluation.

Since the advent of democracy and freedom South Africa has seen a number of women taking up leadership positions in areas previously dominated by men. One of the success stories of our democracy is that of the representation of women in political and decision-making positions. Involving women in governance processes constitutes one of South Africa’s globally acclaimed success stories.

The election of Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in July 2012 as the first women in Africa to chair the African Union Commission; the appointment of Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, former Deputy President of the country, as the Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women; and the positioning of other South African women such as Ms Geraldine Frazer-Moleketi, Special Gender Envoy to the African Development Bank; Ms Rashida Manjoo, Special Rapporteur on Violence against women, its causes and consequences; and Judge Navi Pillay as the High Commissioner for Human Rights and formerly as a judge in the International Criminal Court (ICC) is an indication of the impact that women in decision-making have in winning the trust and confidence of citizens in South Africa, on the continent and internationally.

Currently, women are heading portfolios such as the Commissioner of Police; the Public Protector; CEO of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange; the Independent Electoral Commission; Governor of the Reserve Bank, the South African Law Reform Commission, and the first female Deputy Auditor-General, among others.

Prior to 1994, South Africa had only one woman Judge, whilst today women judges make up almost 28% of the Judiciary. Women are making inroads into business leadership and heading up global giants in the country such as the head of the ABSA bank. Women own conglomerates in the country with some business women being millionaires. Women also can be found as chairpersons of corporate boards in the country, while others are entering and leading in previously male dominated territories, for example, the head of the Palaeontology Department in the University of Cape Town is a woman, and the South African Airways (SAA) now has women pilots, some flying international bound flights. Women are in the defence force, navy and air force in South Africa. In fact women make up almost 40% of the Senior Management Service in the public service and overall women comprise more than 50% of employees in the Public Service.

Women have even entered previously male dominated areas in the corporate world, and currently constitute 3.6% of CEO positions, 5.5% of chairperson positions, 17.1% of directorships and 21.4% of executive management positions.

20 best moments for women in our 20 Years of Freedom

The following are some of the key milestones since the attainment of democracy, which serves to acknowledge women’s involvement, successes, institutional and/or structural transformation:

Origin of Women's Month and Day

The historic march in 1956 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 in 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.

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 Mafekeng 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 service 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 Sashand who were the first to protest against the disenfranchisement of the Coloured voters during the 1950s. The 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.

You can read more about women who shaped out history in 85 Women.

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