There is not much to celebrate this Women’s Day because women are bearing the brunt of responsibility under lockdown, and their safety and security remains threatened, physically, emotionally and economically.
Instead, Women’s Day this year should focus on their health, especially their mental wellbeing.
Women are not okay.
They are holding so much in their heads, hands and hearts: running a household, working, parenting, homeschooling, looking after extended family and so much more.
The level of safety within some households is also cause for concern. The number of women who are being physically, sexually and emotionally abused globally under lockdown has risen. Lockdown has also robbed them of traditional support structures such as friends and family who give them strength and succour.
The notion is that once a family is under lockdown, everyone is together and the father or husband is there to assist with family responsibilities. But with everyone confined together 24/7, the frustrations, job losses, stress and abuse become amplified. People have nowhere to go to deal with their frustrations, escape the pressure or to seek shelter. Underlying tensions are allowed to explode — often with traumatic consequences.
The increase in violent acts against women could have been predicted. We are a violent society and as such we don’t have the coping mechanisms to deal with conflict in other ways.
The threat against the physical and mental security of women is alarming in South Africa as the statistics continually point out. And economically women are losing the most number of jobs. This is financially and emotionally very taxing because if one woman loses a job, there are generally several others in her support structure who suffer too.
The message that needs to go out to women on August 9 is one about self-worth. If women are not confident or do not feel valued enough, how do they cope in an abusive relationship or with all their responsibilities?
Women need to speak out against abuse and disrespect. In many cultures, however, we hide the abuse for shame; we don’t like to speak about mental health issues either.
We need to break the stigma of mental illness and reach out for help when it is needed.
Yet, mostly we speak about reaching out in a middle-class way; what about women in informal settlements who do not have the same access to health resources and support?
The environment on the outside may have changed, but very little within that environment has changed to support all the women in it.
The message, however, also needs to go out to the men in our society. What are we telling them? What kind of men are we raising who would treat women this way?
To create real change for women in South Africa, we need more women leaders rising to the occasion. Women’s leadership has a different tone and we need a more of it, a more compassionate, service-led leadership.
When the Covid-19 pandemic ends, the work doesn’t. In fact, the need will be more desperate post-coronavirus. We need to keep going until our economy recovers over the next five to seven years.
It will mean holding our country together. It will mean women taking up their rightful roles and men supporting them to do so.