Every August South Africa enters Women’s Month. It has almost become tradition. Every political leader ensures that women get a mention in their speech. And those men who dare lay a hand on a woman during this month get soundly rebuked – “How dare you, don’t you know it’s Women’s Month?”
Lots of promises are made to women. The government promises to create a safe country that will take care of its women, even making it easier for them to report cases of abuse without fear of further victimisation.
And then August passes, and things return to normal. The question is, how long will this ineffective way of dealing with issues that affect women continue?
At the end of the ANC’s elective conference in December, everyone was lamenting how it could be that only one woman made it into the ruling party’s top six positions.
The shortage of female candidates for the rest of the positions had been overshadowed by the fact that, for the first time since 1912, a female candidate in Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma stood a realistic chance of becoming the organisation’s first female president and, by default, the country’s first.
And then the axe fell, and it became clear that all the talk about women’s issues receiving special attention was just that – talk.
The recent elective congresses of the ruling party in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng saw only three women in total elected to the provincial executive positions in both provinces.
The significance of all this? The ANC is the ruling party and if any meaningful change to the position of women in SA is to happen, they will have to be the leaders of that change.
This situation might just be about to change. The proposed national shutdown that is taking place tomorrow represents the first time that women in this country have spearheaded an activity that is not at the behest of men and does not require men to actively take part.
Under the #TotalShutDown movement, women will be assembling at Lillian Ngoyi Street in Tshwane and taking their grievances to the Union Buildings in a march that is reminiscent of the historical 1955 women’s march during the anti-apartheid struggle.
Whenever women have left men in charge addressing issues that affect them, especially physical abuse and representation on national structures of leadership, the result has always been the same. Things have not changed.
Across the political landscape, only the Democratic Alliance can lay claim to having given women meaningful positions of leadership, especially in the Western Cape where they’ve had a chance to govern.
But, even then, it wasn’t without controversy if one recalls the all-male provincial cabinet that leader Helen Zille once assembled. More recently, the treatment of one of their high-profile female leaders leaves one with a bad taste in the mouth.
The least said about the red berets the better. They have very vocal female leaders in parliament and in Hlengiwe Hlophe Maxon, but they cannot deny that theirs is a four-man show involving Julius Malema, Floyd Shivambu, Dali Mpofu and Godrich Gardee.
The national shutdown tomorrow might be just what the doctor ordered to get everyone to focus on women’s issues all day, every day. It should never be that one half of humanity only matters one month out of 12.