Guest Column

OPINION: Like the women of 1956, we are breaking our silence

2019-08-19 11:17
Women's March of 1956. Picture: Supplied/UCT

Women's March of 1956. Picture: Supplied/UCT

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Tedious seminars and workshops by government and announcements of how the country plans to empower women moving forward is not enough. Action is needed, writes Nomafrench Mbombo.

Each year, South Africa rightly commemorates the courage of those brave 20 000 women who dared to march for better treatment on August 9, 1956. These women did the unimaginable – they confronted a brutal, oppressive and misogynistic system head-on.

On that day, women from all walks of life came together to reclaim their dignity and demand equality.

Their efforts were indeed not in vain, because by having the courage to break their silence, they fought for justice. 63 years later, we still draw inspiration from them.

Sadly, many women are still left wanting when it comes to the quality of life we are afforded in South Africa. Statistics indicate that 31.3% of women are unemployed, and 58.6% are living in poverty, both far higher than the equivalent for men. Given these percentages, it is no surprise that in our pursuit of economic and social empowerment, women continue to be subjected to vile acts of gender-based violence and sexual manipulation.

Numerous cases have been reported of women and young girls being forced to sleep with men, in return for jobs, school marks and even RDP houses. Many of these horrific stories have been in the public domain for years while countless others suffer in silence.

Yet, despite the outcry and public outrage, South African women still yearn for justice to be served for the violations committed against them.

The perpetrators in these cases walk free and continue to subject more vulnerable women to these illegal acts, leaving women to ask themselves, "What have we done? Where is our justice?"

After 25 years of the new democratic dispensation, how is it that justice and equality are still gender-dependent?

Why is it that women are still scared to report sexual violations? It is because in many cases of sexual exploitation at the workplace or school – women have a lot to lose if they speak up.

Men in positions of authority often request sexual favours as a condition of employment. While at schools and higher education institutions, young women are manipulated by their lecturers in return for favourable marks.

These cases happen far too often, undetected behind closed doors, with many innocent women facing the sad reality of choosing between a life of poverty and one that involves being sexually abused in return for a livelihood.

Just as the 1956 generation rose up to fight for justice, we also owe it to the next generation to stand up and be heard. We can no longer remain silent; we must put an end to this abuse and violation of women's rights.

Women must now break their silence.

It must be known that these violations of women's rights continue to happen today, across government departments and entities, institutions of learning and private organisations. It is no secret that women continue to be subjected to sexual transgressions daily in their places of work and learning and that men in power use their positions to satisfy their sexual desires, by rendering women as mere sex objects.

Tedious seminars and workshops by government and announcements of how the country plans to empower women moving forward is not enough. Action is needed. National government, and more specifically, the Department of Women, has continuously failed us. Their deafening silence on matters involving women and children speaks volume to their lack of dedication to seeking justice for women.

We are now taking our fight to the Commission for Gender Equality and the South African Human Rights Commission. Women of South Africa deserve to be treated; equally, they deserve justice.

Enough is enough. It is time to break our silence.

- Nomafrench Mbombo is the Democratic Alliance Women's Network leader.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. 

Read more on:    women's month


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