South Africa commemorates Women’s Month in August as a tribute to the more than 20 000 women who marched to the Union Buildings on 9 August 1956 in protest against the extension of Pass Laws to women. The Government of South Africa declared August women’s month and 9 August is celebrated annually as Women’s Day.
Women's Day 2015
Women’s Day (9 August) was hosted in Sasolburg, Free State. The theme for 2015 is Women United in Moving South Africa Forward.
Watch the video of President Jacob Zuma's address at the event:
Women's Month 2015
The 2015 Women’s Month is a build-up towards the 60th Anniversary of the Women’s march and is aimed at:
- educating the nation about the role women played in the emancipation of the continent
- documenting the correct stories of heroines of South Africa
- celebrating women who have made it in all spheres of life in the continent
- honouring and celebrating the girls of 1976 and recognise the role played by young women in the liberation struggle
- uniting South African women
- celebrating the struggles of the women over the decades and a rejuvenation of our commitment to strive for a society that is truly non-racial, non-sexist, united, democratic and free of all forms of discrimination
- remembering the history of Women's struggle in South Africa and to continue writing our history as it has to evolved.
Every week of August 2015will focus on a specific sub-theme:
Week 1: Celebrating Women in Fashion
The week will be dedicated to celebrating profiling women in the fashion industry who contribute to job creation.
Various media platforms will be utilised where we will have a collage of these women and their contribution in dressing the nation. The SABC will partner with the Department of Women in this programme.
Week 2: Celebrating Women in Film
The department in partnership with the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) will have two screenings produced or directed by women or telling stories of women. The screenings will target young people and will take place as follows:
- 10 August 2015: Jabulani
- 14 August 2016: Kwamashu
The screenings will be extended to other provinces as we move towards the 60th Anniversary.
Week 3: The fight against human trafficking and labour exploitation of women
The week will focus on the fight against trafficking of women and children as well as the exploitation of women from our neighbouring countries with specific focus on Lesotho women. South Africa will partner with Lesotho government and the following activities are planned for the week:
- 21 August 2015: Symposium focusing on labour exploitation and related issues.
- 22 August 2015: A symbolic march at the Maseru border gate where both South African and Lesotho women will give their memorandum of demands to authorities representing their countries. The march will call for an end to human trafficking and request more stringent measure of combating trafficking of women and children.
- 22 August 2015: The march will culminate into a rally on a farm where the leadership of both countries will have an opportunity to address women. The rally will be held at Mooderpoort farm, the home of Mantsopa.
Week 4: Economic Empowerment (Financial Inclusion of women)
In line with the African Union themes of the African Women’s Decade and the new mandate of the Department of Women’s socio-economic empowerment, the department will host high level engagements on the mechanisms and modalities for women’s financial inclusion in the economy and all sectors of the country.
- 4-5 September 2015: Trade Fair and Exhibition of Women in South Africa and Zimbabwe to be held in Musina, Limpopo. Women from both countries will showcase and sell their products from clothes to crafts.
- 9 September 2015: Techno-girl roundtable – The department will host The New Age business breakfast focusing on the empowerment of young women in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The business breakfast will culminate into a high level panel discussion on how to strengthen the current Techno-Girl job-shadowing programme
Advances made since 1994
Great strides have been made since 1994 to improve the status of women.
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 how South Africa fares in relation to the rest of the world.
Furthermore, government policies and programmes have improved the living conditions of women. In 1997 the Office on the Status of Women (OSW) was established in the Presidency to steer the national gender programme and championed the development of the National Policy Framework for Women Empowerment and Gender Equality that was approved by Cabinet in 2000. Subsequently, similar structures were established in the Premier’s offices. In May 2009 the President pronounced on the establishment a Ministry of Women, Children and People with Disabilities (DWCPD). In May 2014 the President evolved the structure to a dedicated Ministry for Women in the Presidency as a way of elevating women’s issues and interests to lead, coordinate and oversee the transformation agenda on women’s socio-economic empowerment, rights and equality through mainstreaming, monitoring and evaluation.
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.
The election of Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in July 2012 as the first women in Africa to chair the African Union Commission; the appointment of Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, former Deputy President of the country, as the Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women; and the positioning of other South African women such as Ms Geraldine Frazer-Moleketi, Special Gender Envoy to the African Development Bank; Ms Rashida Manjoo, Special Rapporteur on Violence against women, its causes and consequences; and Judge Navi Pillay as the High Commissioner for Human Rights and formerly as a judge in the International Criminal Court (ICC) is an indication of the impact that women in decision-making have in winning the trust and confidence of citizens in South Africa, on the continent and internationally.
Currently, women are heading portfolios such as the Commissioner of Police; the Public Protector; CEO of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange; the Independent Electoral Commission; Governor of the Reserve Bank, the South African Law Reform Commission, and the first female Deputy Auditor-General, among others.
Prior to 1994, South Africa had only one woman Judge, whilst today women judges make up almost 28% of the Judiciary. Women are making inroads into business leadership and heading up global giants in the country such as the head of the ABSA bank. Women own conglomerates in the country with some business women being millionaires. Women also can be found as chairpersons of corporate boards in the country, while others are entering and leading in previously male dominated territories, for example, the head of the Palaeontology Department in the University of Cape Town is a woman, and the South African Airways (SAA) now has women pilots, some flying international bound flights. Women are in the defence force, navy and air force in South Africa. In fact women make up almost 40% of the Senior Management Service in the public service and overall women comprise more than 50% of employees in the Public Service.
Women have even entered previously male dominated areas in the corporate world, and currently constitute 3.6% of CEO positions, 5.5% of chairperson positions, 17.1% of directorships and 21.4% of executive management positions.
Origin of Women's Month and Day
The historic march in 1956 was a turning point in the role of women in the struggle for freedom and society at large. Since that eventful day, women from all walks of life became equal partners in the struggle for a non-racial and non-sexist South Africa.
The march was coordinated by the Federation of South African Women (Fedsaw) led by four women: Lillian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa and Sophia Williams De Bruyn. These leaders delivered petitions to the then Prime Minister JG Strijdom’s office in the Union Buildings. Women throughout the country had put their names to these petitions indicating their anger and frustration at having their freedom of movement restricted by the hated official passes.
Women’s month is a tribute not only to the thousands of women who marched on that day in 1956, but also a tribute to the pioneers of the women’s movement in this country, dating back to 1913, when women like Charlotte Maxeke led the way in establishing the ANC Women’s League and encouraging women to engage in the struggle for freedom. Pioneers include Cissy, Jaynab and Amina Gool who were amongst the leaders of the National Liberation League and the Non-European United Front of the 1930s. The names of Ray Alexander Simons, Elizabeth Mafekeng and Elizabeth Abrahams will always be associated with the struggles of women.
In the 1940s Amina Pahad and Gadijah Christopher, who were amongst the first volunteers to occupy the site of the 1946 Passive Resistance Campaign on Umbilo Road in Durban cannot go unnoticed. Women’s month also service to recall and recognise the work of Dora Tamana, Winifred Siqwana, Ida Mntwana, Bertha Gxowa, Florence Matomela and other stalwarts of the 1950s, who led militant women’s formation for the rights of workers and the rights of women.
There were also the women who formed the Black Sashand who were the first to protest against the disenfranchisement of the Coloured voters during the 1950s. The Coloured voters played an important role in the united front of anti-apartheid forces that developed in the last three decades of apartheid.
Government has made significant progress in empowering women in the political, public and educational spheres, but the marginalisation of poor women severely compromises progress.
Speeches, statements and advisories on Women's Month
- Attracting women and girls to careers in physics, 6 August 2015
- Let’s Talk Justice Episode Five: Women’s Month Special Edition: Legal Advice for Women, 6 August 2015 at 18:05 – 19:05
- Attracting women and girls to careers in physics
- Women in Water and Sanitation Awards, 23 August 2015
- Women's Month 2015 calendar of events