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Every year on 9 August, South Africa celebrates Women’s Day, a public holiday that pays homage to the women of the nation; – the mothers, the wives, the sisters and the daughters who fought tirelessly against the tyranny of the Apartheid government.
In South Africa, the historic march in 1956 was a turning point
in the role of women in the struggle for freedom and society at large.
On 9 August 1956, more than 20,000 women marched on Union Buildings with a petition to end pass laws
– led by Rahima Moosa, Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph and Sophia Williams.
To rise up against the legislation that required black South Africans to carry the “pass” (special identification documents which infringed on their freedom of movement during the Apartheid era), approximately 20 000 women from all over the country took to the streets of Pretoria – to stage a peaceful march to the Union Buildings.
After dropping off bundles of petitions containing more than 100 000 signatures at Prime Minister J.G Strijdom’s offices, they stood in silence for thirty minutes. A song was composed in honor of this momentous occasion:
“Wathint’ Abafazi Wathint’ imbokodo!”
If you strike a woman, you strike a rock
An inspiring display of political strength, female solidarity and inner fortitude, the march on August 9 1956 is both a reminder of the great women who helped mold South Africa and the trailblazing women who continue to lead the country forward.
Since the advent of democracy and freedom South Africa has seen a number of women taking up leadership positions in areas previously dominated by men. One of the success stories of our democracy is that of the representation of women in political and decision-making positions. Involving women in governance processes constitutes one of South Africa’s globally acclaimed success stories.
- Prior to 1994, the South African Parliament had a mere 2,7% representation of women, and following the first democratic elections, women representation in the National Assembly stood at 27,7%. In 1999 that figure increased to 30% and then to 32.7% in 2004.
- After the 2009 national elections women representation reached 42%. Currently women ministers comprise 41% of the Cabinet, women deputy ministers make up 47% of the total number of deputy ministers and there is a 41% representation of women in the National Assembly.
- The Women in Politics 2015 Map launched by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and UN Women shows South Africa is #11 in relation to the rest of the world, while the U.S. is #29 for number of women in ministerial positions.
4GGL thanks Department of Women, Republic of South Africa for this information.