The problem with national days is that they focus on an important issue, but quite often that is the only time of focus, says the writer. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency (ANA)
Last week I attended a dialogue on racism at the District Six Homecoming Centre. One of the participants was Professor Courtland Lee from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, who raised a range of issues relating to the psychological impact of racism, which can easily be applied to South Africa as to the US.

As someone who has studied and researched racism and written a book on the subject, I am always keen to hear different perspectives on a very complicated topic.

Take the issue of whether black people can be racist. Lee thinks they cannot and I humbly beg to differ. Lee argued that, while black people can be prejudiced, they cannot be racist. The situation in the US is different to South Africa. They have a black minority. Here, we have a black majority which means that at least some black people have the power and the influence to act in a racist manner.

But I don’t want to challenge the professor’s views in this column. The reason I mention it is because he also spoke about attitudes towards Black History Month, which is in February.

Lee said that some people had problems with it because for that month only in schools and universities they put up pictures of dead black people, which they promptly removed at the end of the month.

As my email and social media were flooded with information on events related to National Women’s Day (and month) this week, I wondered whether any of this would make an impact. The problem with national days is that they focus on an important issue, but quite often that is the only time of focus. People move on to other issues immediately afterwards.

Ultimately, it depends on how we use these focused days and months. While it is important to remember the history behind Women’s Day, and to pay tribute appropriately, it is also important to find ways of relating the day and month to the issues faced by women and girls today.

Women’s Day started as a protest by thousands of women who marched to Pretoria against pass laws in 1956, but today it should give us an opportunity to focus on issues such as gender violence and the problems facing the girls, such as proper access to sanitary pads and violence in schools. Those who will never be women, but who identify with their struggle, should use it as an opportunity to interrogate ways in which they can enhance their support.

I have no problem with women who decide to treat themselves in what is supposed to be their special month, but Women’s Month should be about much more than beauty pageants, manicures and shopping specials.

Focused days and months should help to create awareness of important issues, but it should never be left at that. Not all of us can be activists for women’s rights, but we can be aware of the issues and support in whatever way we can. In that way, Women’s Month will take on more significance.

* Fisher is chief executive of Ikusasa Lethu Media. Follow him on Twitter: @rylandfisher

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.