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I wish we did not celebrate Women’s Day

The celebration of Women’s Day hides a deeper perpetual wrong that is committed against half the population. Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya suggests that a change in the name of the holiday could achieve more for women than the celebration of Women's Day does currently.

I will skip the preliminaries and jump right ahead. I wish we did not celebrate Women’s Day.

The holiday celebrated in South Africa on 9 August diverts society from a deeper problem, which is the suppression of women and violence and discrimination against them.

Instead of ‘commemorating’, it ‘celebrates’ a day, which, if done differently, could have a greater and more meaningful effect on women and society in general.

You cannot solve that which you celebrate. That you deem it a day for celebrating, suggests that you believe that all is well.

Women in South Africa and Southern Africa live with far too many of the effects of patriarchy – from incidents of everyday sexism to femicide – for us to see Women’s Day as an event worthy of celebration.

To be fair, South Africa has made great strides in recent years. The World Economic Forum, in its Global Gender Gap Report 2017 (GGGR) ranks the country 19 out of 144 countries in terms of gender equality. This is not something to scoff at.

That, however. must not mask another reality.

Being a woman in South Africa is still to live with the very real fear that you will fall victim to all kinds of violence, including sexual assault. It also means living with exclusion from significant economic opportunities. This too is part of the cycle of women’s oppression.

Stats SA’s Crime Statistics Series Volume V. Crime against Women in South Africa. An in-depth analysis of the Victims of Crime Survey data 2018 makes for grim reading.

“Rape, targeting women and girls, is a serious problem in South Africa. The 2016/17 Victims of Crime statistical release reported that 250 out of every 100 000 women were victims of sexual offences compared to 120 out of every 100 000 men.

Using the 2016/17 South African Police Service statistics, in which 80% of the reported sexual offences were rape, together with Statistics South Africa, estimate that 68,5% of the sexual offences victims were women, we obtain a crude estimate of the number of women raped per 100 000 as 138. This figure is among the highest in the world. For this reason, some have labelled South Africa as the “rape capital of the world,”” reports the survey.

With the high rate of crime in South Africa, women carry the added burden of having to adjust their lives, too often to their detriment, just so that they can escape being victims.

The fear of crime “has consequences for women and girls and their ability to achieve their potential in every sphere of social and productive life. Gender-based violence in all its forms denies women and girls the opportunity to achieve equality and freedoms enshrined in the Constitution.”

Other than the violence, the southern African neighbourhood is not a better environment for women.

The GGGR says that with an average remaining gender gap of 32%, the Sub-Saharan Africa region still scores in the lower middle range of the index.

“It displays a wider range of gender gap outcomes than practically any other region. Rwanda ranks in the top 10 globally.

“Two countries, Namibia and South Africa, score in the top 20 and have closed 78% to 76% of their gender gaps; and the region features many of the lowest-ranked countries in the index, such as Mali and Chad, which have not yet closed 60% of their overall gender gap. This high variance can be explained by high diversity on the Educational Attainment sub-index—much higher than for any other region—as well as uneven Health and Survival outcomes.

No country from the region has fully closed both its Educational Attainment and Health and Survival gender gaps. Botswana and Lesotho have fully closed their Educational Attainment gender gaps and seven others—Namibia, Swaziland, South Africa, Mauritius, Rwanda, Kenya and Burundi—have fully closed their Health and Survival gender gaps.

Globally, Sub-Saharan Africa continues to rank last on the Educational Attainment sub-index. Whereas 15 countries from the region have fully closed their gender gap for primary education, 14 have closed it for secondary education and only seven for tertiary education.”

According to the report, four of the 10 lowest-ranked countries on the literacy rate indicator are from Southern Africa.

There is only one category where the region seems to score positively: female labour force participation.

So what can be done?

Imagine if we called 09 August, Gender Justice Day? The difference between Women’s Day, as we presently have it now, and a more conducive name, as I suggest, is that the current label makes men mere spectators of a game of which they should play an integral part.

It asks nothing of men, other than that they say a few kind words, get a gift and fake a smile. Put differently, it becomes a Mother’s day for all women regardless of whether or not they have an offspring.

It sails just too close to being paternalistic, to think that a bunch of roses and some chocolates can address and redress a fundamental wrong against half of the population.

Gender Justice Day, on the other hand, would force all organisations, be they secular, non-governmental, corporate or even religious, to reflect on what they are doing to address gender injustice in their own spheres.

This would, of course, be a higher and more difficult path than the feel-good “Women’s Day”. However, who said any social justice struggle would be easy?

Images: Sonke Gender Justice

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.