Women’s Day│ Women are still marching

In 1956 South African women had marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest against the apartheid pass laws for black women. More than 60 years on women are still marching to have their voices heard.
In 1956 South African women had marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest against the apartheid pass laws for black women. More than 60 years on women are still marching to have their voices heard.
Image: ZIANA JENNEKER

More than half a century after South African women marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria women still have to march to have their voices heard,  writes Naziziphiwo Buso and Athena O’Reilly.

Provocative, rude, unladylike – those are some of the cries gender activists hear when they march with posters that express their anger at rape and abuse.

But, they ask, why are some people more rattled by provocative language than they are about abuse?

Gender activist Awethu Fatyela, 32, says that “respectability politics” are used to keep women silent – with language used to inhibit resistance.

She says that the use of strong language or profanity by a woman will always be seen as a greater offence, by some, than the continued abuse of women because language, culture and religion are used to ensure the survival of a patriarchal society.

Fatyela was speaking ahead of National Women’s Day on Thursday.

As a country we have regressed because, right now in 2018, we are saying that we are marching for the right to live.
#TotalShutdown organiser Nolitha January

As Fatyela and other activists spoke out about the abuse of women and children, harrowing testimony about the multiple injuries a woman suffered – allegedly at the hands of her husband – were detailed in the Port Elizabeth High Court.

When 38-year-old Humansdorp mother Marilyn Stebuys’s body was found, she had a broken jaw, fractures to the skull and neck and excessive internal and external bleeding.

Many of the activists pointed to the murder of women by their partners as a reason to march – saying it was a life-ordeath situation.

Fatyela said: “Sayings like ‘boys will be boys’ or [talking about] the clothing of a woman [after she has been] raped are mechanisms to put women in their place – they are designed to keep women behaving, speaking and dressing a certain way.”

Lesley Ncube, 27, national spokesperson of the anti-gender-violence #TheTotalShutdown campaign, said these double standards meant men did not have to be held accountable for their behaviour.

Ncube said the media also played a role in perpetuating stereotypes.

“The way in which they [write] headlines about women, the way they talk about Dr Nkosazana-Dlamini Zuma, referring to her as [former president Jacob] Zuma’s ex-wife – forgetting that she [was] the chairperson of the African Union, forgetting the various roles she has under her hat – [perpetuates a patriarchal society],” she said.

Some women who had “internalised misogyny” also formed part of the problem.

“Unfortunately, there are women who would rather hold the woman accountable than the man,” Ncube said.

“That is why these double standards continue to breed and live in our societies.”

Ncube said she would not tolerate any policing of women’s anger by men and would not allow them to decide what was ladylike and how women should voice their anger.

Others said that more than half a century after South African women had marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest against the apartheid pass laws for black women, women still had to march to have their voices heard.

Reeva Rebecca Steenkamp Foundation trustee Tania Koen said women were marching because gender violence needed to be addressed.

“A lot of men and women are in denial about the statistics that we are faced with.

“I think women who have taken the initiative [to march] are showing solidarity beyond our backgrounds, race and culture. We want to make a difference,” Koen said.

“The cycle can absolutely be broken – with all the marches and movements, the lid has just been lifted, the need for secrecy is no longer there and victims are speaking out, which is a great thing.”

Koen said while she believed the voices and messages were being heard, education was one of the biggest tools to ensuring that this “rape culture” was eradicated.

#TotalShutdown organiser Nolitha January said women were still marching, especially with regard to gender-based violence because it had become an issue of life and death.

“As a country we have regressed because, right now in 2018, we are saying that we are marching for the right to live.

“Women in this country are oppressed and censored.

“We want to eliminate fear in women and we will exhaust our last possibilities in our pursuit of that – because marching is used as a last resort.”

She said she felt the responsibility of ensuring that rape and abuse were not normalised in society.

“Patriarchy contributes to rape culture – that sense of entitlement has to be a topic we hear of every day so that our kids do not fight for what we are fighting for, so that their lives can be easier than ours.”

#TotalShutdown national spokesperson Lucy Nomhle Bowles said: “These marches have us at the tipping point and allows for a branding of womanhood – women are speaking out more and more now and are deviating from the mould, recreating their own agency, reclaiming their liberation and it is particularly noticeable with the women of colour.”

Bowles said if women did not take back their power, more and more mothers, sisters and friends would die.

Commission for Gender Equality commissioner Dr Nondumiso Maphazi said the message from the marches was clear, especially for the government.

“Women must stand together to fight the issues of gender-based violence in our country,” she said.

“The government must also take this seriously and deal with it because gender-based violence is also a human rights issue and, in this metro, there has been an increase of women being killed by their partners.”


Misconceptions about rape Activists from across the globe have warned that many misconceptions surround rape. Here are the most common:

  • You cannot rape your husband, girlfriend or partner;
  • All sexual assault is physical;
  • Women cannot be rapists;
  • Sexual assault is provoked by the victim’s actions, behaviour, or by the way they dress;
  • Sexual assault is often the result of miscommunication;
  • It is only rape if the victim puts up a fight and resists;
  • When women say no, they really mean yes;
  • If a person is aroused and is assaulted, then it is not really sexual assault;
  • It is not sexual assault if it follows drinking or drugs.
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