EDITORIAL | Women’s Day, but little has changed

#TheTotalShutdown 'I said "enough", he killed my child to punish me.'
#TheTotalShutdown 'I said "enough", he killed my child to punish me.'
Image: Corine Ross APSSA

It is deeply distressing that we seem to be losing the fight against gender-based violence.

Only last week The Herald ran a front page report on #TheTotalShutdown march in Nelson Mandela Bay where hundreds of women protested against gender-based violence. Since then, the campuses of both Rhodes and Nelson Mandela universities have erupted in further anger after the suicide of an alleged rape victim in Makhanda (Grahamstown) and the alleged rape of a female student on NMU’s Summerstrand campus. The war of the sexes is not only a metaphor, it is indeed a battle ground where the bodies of women continue to be killing fields.

If nothing else, the marches of the past week have exposed a vast chasm between the views of many men and those of women and members of the LGBTQ community. They have also thrown up appalling double standards. As marchers have found, a man may swear without being criticised, but a woman who holds up a placard with the same strong words, is viewed as rude or provocative.

The impassioned placards show how angry women are and their numbers include bright young students on whose shoulders our leadership hopes for the future are resting.

We should be taking them seriously and it is heartening that both Rhodes and NMU are putting in place gendereducation programmes.

After all, the first Women's March took place on this date 62 years ago in Pretoria, when 20,000 women protested against the apartheid pass laws.

Then, we had apartheid prime minister JG Strijdom leading the country, today we have a democratic state President Cyril Ramaphosa. However, although the political leadership and landscape both have changed irrevocably since August 91956, millions of women are still victims of sexual discrimination and gender-based violence.

Today the focus is away from iniquitous race laws and the spotlight is on gender issues. Babies born to marchers in 1956 are now due for a state pension, yet little may have changed for their mothers, sisters and daughters.

It is now time for citizens – men and women – to hear and act on the message.