I am late in the twenty-fifth year of my life, soon entering the twenty-sixth. I am a woman, I’m white, I was raised in the working class. I have been able to vote in two democratic elections since I came of age, and I am immensely proud of that. A basic awareness of the existence of Women’s Day has been with me for as long as I can remember, and yet only recently has it come to mean something intensely personal. For many women of my generation – women much like me in very many ways – Women’s Day means that this is the one day of the year when they get breakfast in bed. If they have the luxury, it’ll be the day they treat themselves (or are treated) to a day at the spa. It’s a day off from the daily expectations of being a woman in a conservative society. If you ask them, most of them would express the belief that men and women should be equal, or that they indeed are equal, but they would deny that they are feminists. This was me until not so long ago.
It’s a step in the right direction, but it remains a problematic attitude towards women’s issues. It has become somewhat customary when a day like Women’s Day rolls past to note that only historically disadvantaged minorities are given “days”. It has also become customary to unofficially extend these days into months. August is thus now increasingly referred to as Women’s Month, with various groups focusing on women’s issues throughout. You might say that there are problems with this sort of approach: that women’s issues shouldn’t be more visible, more audible, for one month of the year, and yes, perhaps you may be right. However, the fact remains that for many people women’s issues aren’t an issue at all, and so having a day or a month dedicated to this conversation has become deeply necessary if there is to be any movement forward in the social sphere.
Women’s Day first and foremost is about looking to our collective past, and remembering the women who fought for freedom and democracy. It is imperative to remember that they were there from the very beginning, and they will be there until the very end. It’s easy to look past what has been achieved through our collective willpower and see only the injustices that still prevail. I myself am often guilty of this fallacy. But women have always been there to advance the cause of human equality, and they are still there, raising their voices at every turn.
The ANC has been criticised for the regress in its attitude towards women in the past few years, and they will be criticised again. However, amid the furor there glimmers a ray of hope. Earlier this year President Jacob Zuma said that South Africa is ready for a female president. I like to think that it is no coincidence that the ANC Women’s League has announced at the start of Women’s Month that they will be advancing a female candidate for the presidency in 2019. Similarly, I would love to convince myself that the naming of Edna Molewa as acting president on 2 August was no cosmic concurrence of events. Our ruling party seems well aware of the value of advocating female political leaders.
South Africa is finally reaching a point where our collective voice is making itself heard every time some new scandal, injustice or ridiculous gender stereotype is trotted out. It’s no longer just the activists but increasingly also the educated Everyman that pipes up and puts the offender back in their place. Women’s issues may be most visible and audible during the month of August, but they have never been more part of our collective conscious than they are today. The realisation that I am – that I always already was – a feminist has had a profound impact on my person and my life. I find myself more and more invested in the outcome of various conversations that are going on in our country today. I see other women of my age going through the same cycle and I am overjoyed.
South Africa right now is ready for a female president. South Africa in 2019 may be clamoring for one.