Month-long Women’s Day

2013-08-14 00:00

WE are halfway through what South Africa calls Women’s Month. I will be upfront here: the whole concept of Women’s Month leaves me cold.

I can understand why, in a country where sexism, like racism, was institutionalised, there would be a movement towards restoring women’s dignity and acknowledging the important role that women play in society.

Unfortunately, that noble intention is not supported by serious thought about what the month is aimed at achieving. In the end, it is a month-long mother’s day. I doubt that this is what those who declared August 9 a public holiday had in mind. One of my misgivings with Women’s Day and Month is that the commemoration of the day is often divorced from the human-rights culture that led to the day being what it is (or should be) on our calendar.

A lot is said — correctly so — about how women endure sexual violence, low glass ceilings in the workplace and general marginalisation in society. But these issues should not be isolated from the deeper evil of some people assuming themselves to be superior than others because they were born with certain body parts, or their skin is of a certain shade, or because of who they fall in love with, or even who and how they choose to worship their deities.

As well as celebrating women, Women’s Day should be aimed at inculcating in men and women a consciousness that makes them stand up against all forms of sexism and bigotry, wherever they appear.

I honestly cannot see how a pampering session at a beauty salon, or other gifts corporates give to women in their employ, go towards raising awareness in those who may not consider that men and women are created equally.

Nature may have provided men and women with physical differences to enable them to perform certain functions, but on the whole, they are cut from the same cloth.

I can imagine if I, as a black South African, have become bored with reports of a person being the first black person to do this or the first black person to do that, that women, too, are likely to be unimpressed about first woman achiever stories.

I see why such stories would be inspirational for some people. But they also have the unintended consequence of making some people believe that they are exceptional or making an oddity of what should be a normal human endeavour. However, it is not all lost. Women’s Day and Month can be rescued.

In fact, it could be made redundant. One way is to treat every individual with equal dignity, regardless of what they look like or on what side of the street they may come from.

In case there is still any misunderstanding about where I stand, I am fully aware that we are still a deeply sexist and patriarchal society, and all interventions to reverse this are to be welcomed. Women’s Day is one such intervention.

But it takes more than just marking a day on a calendar with a different coloured ink.

It requires everyday practice and for it to be normal to tell a man to have a “happy Women’s Day”.

• Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya is a freelance journalist and former editor of The Witness.

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