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The tragedy of Women’s Day is that it is necessary. The irony is that we have had 19 of them now, including today, and they remain jarring reminders in this annual stock-take of the flawed society we are and how far we really have to go.
Women’s Day was set aside in memory of the brave 20 000 who marched on the Union Buildings in 1956 to protest against the pass laws. It is meant to honour women and inspire reflection on their situation and role in South Africa.
Truth is, the abuse of women in many ways – from the various strains of it in the corporate world to domestic subjugation and virtual slavery – remains rampant.
There have been vast, visible improvements of the woman’s lot in this country – like the gender changes in the government executive. These have provided some hope, but probably remain an abstraction and awfully remote to the woman being beaten by some miscreant she calls a partner.
It is going to take more than Women’s Day to really change the gender imbalance in South Africa. Much more. This public holiday, and December’s 16 Days of Activism, are no more than handy devices to air the issue and stir the nation’s conscience.
It is everyday attitudes that need overhauling. Like lack of police interest in implementing the Domestic Violence Act. The non-compliance with this 12-year-old law strongly suggests police reluctance – probably based on sympathy with the violence or, at the very least, impatience with victims of it.
Gender inequity will continue as long as official ambivalence does. So what is the Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities, Lulu Xingwana, doing about it? Is it enough? Will she raise Cain with her cabinet colleagues, her police counterpart in particular?
Commitment and tone start at the top. Anything less than 365-day activism on her part will be dereliction of her mission.