Flowers? No thanks

I am concerned that we have lost sight of the symbolic and political significance of Women’s Day. It has become yet another reason for commercialised euphoria — a day on which we are all supposed to jump around celebrating our womanhood and accepting flowers from our men.

Media coverage tends to undermine the importance of the day, focusing on whether MPs bought flowers for their spouses or mothers. We do not need another Mother’s or Valentine’s Day, we need men to stop the violence they perpetrate against women.

As the American feminist Andrea Dworkin so adequately put it: “Men who want to support women in our struggle for freedom and justice should understand that it is not terrifically important to us that they learn to cry; it is important to us that they stop the crimes of violence against us.”

I do realise that the media have dubbed August Women’s Month and have reported and continue to report on rape and other issues affecting women. However, this is not what we need. We do not need a month of frantic reporting followed by silence and the perpetuation of violence against women. We need to step back and consider what exactly we are celebrating on Women’s Day 10 years on.

While I have regard for the need to celebrate our democracy and freedom, this should never be at the expense of fundamentally examining what the decade has meant for women at a grassroots level. We should never forget the reality (and I am afraid we have, with all our 10-year celebratory euphoria) that women continue to be raped, beaten, exploited, sexually harassed and even killed.

Women are starving, poverty-stricken and homeless. Women continue to be marginalised in society. I am not saying freedom and democracy have not been important to women — the equality paradigm continues to be important — but let’s step back and consider the reality for women in South Africa. When we engage with the debate at this level we must realise that the struggle continues and that the road remains treacherous.

Back in 1996, research conducted by the Centre for the Study of Violence Against Women (CSVR) indicated that every six days a woman in Gauteng was killed by her intimate partner. In 2004 the figure has become almost incomprehensible. A new national study by CSVR has found that every six minutes a woman is killed by her partner. We also know that every day women are turned away from domestic violence courts, are unable to access maintenance, are unable to exercise their progressive, liberal constitutional rights because of a lack of resources.

It remains significant that Irene Grootboom, the celebrated woman who is said to have made the socio-economic right to housing a reality —remains homeless. Sex work remains illegal; sex workers are victimised and beaten with no protection afforded to them by the laws of the country or the police.

Our laws continue to victimise women who report rape and discourage women from breaking the silence around rape. We also know that ambassadors are charged with and cleared of sexual harassment, MPs convicted of rape, members of the police and the army accused of rape, torture and domestic violence.

So let’s pause before we celebrate and remember the women who marched many years ago in the name of basic rights. Let’s remember that today we are still fighting for the implementation and realisation of those rights and that the road remains a long one. Let’s remember the words of Lillian Ngoyi and call on all South Africans to: “Remember those women who have been struck and who have survived; May our voices be heard and the silence broken this Women’s Day … “

Nikki Naylor is an attorney at the Women’s Legal Centre in Cape Town

Free to be woman: 365 days a year

I must express my dismay at finding that like trees and takkies, I have become the object of a “‒day”, writes Henriette van Zyl.

Women’s Day. Of course I am not averse to showering upon women the acknowledgement they deserve. What I object to is the one-day-ness of it all.

Do we really have so few great women to celebrate that we can cover them all in a single day? Is it so remarkable an occasion when a woman steps out of the kitchen and stands up for herself or her people that it needs to be celebrated all by itself on a special “‒day”?

I wonder what this day will mean for women in South Africa. Will there be carnations and cake for the ladies who report to rape crisis centres, like at the shops and in church on Mother’s Day? Will anyone dire enough to injure a woman on this day be given an extra six-month suspended sentence in court, if caught?

Will I be allowed to take responsibility for myself and my beliefs on this day and to “be in the world” asI am without being dismissed as hormonal?

Will I be allowed to walk to the library on my own after dark if I need to? Will it be safe for me to give a hitchhiker a lift, or might I even be able to hitch somewhere by myself and camp out for the night?

If so, wouldn’t it be fairer to declare Women’s Day for 182 days of the year? That way just the other half of each year would be open season on women like every day is now, except, presumably, Women’s Day itself. Perhaps the 365th day could be one of reconciliation.

I know I should just shut-up and be grateful for the acknowledgement and accept the presumably benevolent intentions with which this “‒day” was initiated — probably by actual feminists: we’re always given enough rope and we always take it.

What a wonderful opportunity for women to insist on special treatment all day; to be all difficult and needy, demanding affirmation and bubble bath just like everyone knew all along we would do if we ever got ourselves any power.

So I resist and I resent the implication that we can be fobbed off with one “‒day” when the lived conditions for so many sisters change so very little, so very slowly and so grudgingly. So really, please don’t patronise me with a Women’s Day; just let me be the person that I am every day and get over it.

Henriette van Zyl is a junior lecturer in the psychology department at Rhodes University

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