Women on being women

From violence and abuse and a lack of representation, to just getting to work every day, South African women face a variety of challenges. Women’s Month is supposed to address these, but does it? An all-women team of #Trending writers spoke to SA women from across the spectrum, and asked what they really thought about Women's Day

Lauren Beukes

If Pokémon can evolve, so can men

Lauren Beukes, novelist

The most pressing issue affecting women is men. We need to step up, to raise our boys better and challenge men to be better, to take accountability for their actions, to not be defined by tired and destructive ideas of manliness, to be brave enough to feel, to be more compassionate and engaged with themselves and society, to call out sexism and racism and bullying, to adapt to how much women have changed and the idea that we don’t need providers or protectors. What we need are partners and allies who are not afraid. If Pokémon can evolve, so can men. And no, the empty consumer guilt-fest of Women’s Day does not come close to addressing this issue, nor even in celebrating the women of 1956. How about, instead of Women’s Day conferences and fancy dinners with speakers, companies rather spend that money on pay equity between male and female employees doing the same job? How about, instead of political grandstanding, the government makes childcare a tax-deductible expense for working moms or provides free sanitary pads and tampons as well as condoms in schools? How about we recognise that part of the problem with teenage pregnancy is the adult ‘blessers’ who are preying on them? How about, for every goddamn spa voucher or pink gift pack, we donate to an organisation like Rape Crisis as well?” – Ndileka Lujabe

Toya Delazy

I’m hungry to see more women in the industry

Toya Delazy, musician, producer and label owner

I think the most pressing issue for me is about women being undermined. Because it’s all about equality, right? It always comes down to gender equality because I feel as though women still have ‘allocated’ spaces in the hierarchy. We have all of this power and talent and ability, but so many of us are afraid or unable to do the things we can and want to do because we are told that’s not our allocated spot. And I think that if women realised the full scope of their power and ability, we would see some different moves. I’m hungry to see women producers, women record owners, women anything, because there is talent. And the fact that we have Women’s Day is a bit like Black Lives Matter. It tells us that there are obviously women that haven’t been empowered or affirmed yet, that there is still a lot to be done, and sometimes you need that voice to say to you that you can make it, to affirm you and empower you and that’s what this Women’s Day and Women’s Month should be about.” – Gugulethu Mhlungu

Sphokazi Spambo

I spend four hours a day on transport

Sphokazi Spambo, domestic worker

The biggest problem facing men and women today is that we can’t find jobs. I’ve been a domestic worker since 2008. It’s not what I dreamt of for myself, but I couldn’t find any other work. My biggest issue is transport. I live in Rondebult in Germiston and it takes me two hours to work and two hours home every day. I wake up at 5am to get my daughter and granddaughter to crèche and school. I leave the taxi rank at about 7am and catch two taxis to get to work at 9am. Women in this country have too much to do. We work and have to take care of kids, clean the house, and if there’s nothing to eat, it comes down to us to make a plan. I have two daughters and a granddaughter and I want them to have a good education. Without an education, you can’t do anything. I would love for my oldest daughter to be a nurse. My youngest wants to become a doctor. My dream is to own my own house one day and just live peacefully and be happy.” – Grethe Kemp

Maryka Holtzhausen

There’s a huge gap between women and men in sport

Maryka Holtzhausen, South African netball captain

The most pressing issue that I and other South African sportswomen are currently faced with is that, although the gap between women’s sport and men’s sport has been made smaller, it has not yet been bridged. This issue is addressed quite frequently, but I believe a lot more can be done in order to bridge the gap quicker. During Women’s Month, this issue is on the lips of everyone around us, but as soon as August’s last day ends it is as if it gets shifted to the background. I believe we need to address this issue during all 12 months of the year to have a beneficial impact in the long term.” – Sisipho Zamxaka

Buhlebezwe Siwani

There is violence on the female body every day

Buhlebezwe Siwani, artist

I have such mixed feelings about Women’s Day. Why is it just one day? Women should be celebrated every day. People who have enacted violence on women’s bodies will hold some kind of campaign on Women’s Day and then suddenly they’re absolved of all the misogyny and the violent thoughts they perpetuated. Every single time I walk outside my door there is an act of violence on a female body, and that doesn’t stop on Women’s Day.

I am doing a residency in Switzerland and when I took the tram I had a young child stare and point at me because I’m a black woman. Being an artist is hard, but being a black woman is the hardest thing to be in the art world. I feel like the art world will focus on three women every 10 years or so – and that’s it.

Black women need to find a space outside of the formal gallery space – because it’s still dominated by white men.

Being a woman in the art world is really ‘hot right now’, but we should look at why. Make sure the gallery works for you, and not you for the gallery.” Grethe Kemp

Boity Thulo

Stop telling us how to dress and behave

Boity Thulo, actress and TV presenter

The most pressing issue for me, and what I would like to see gone, is the idea that men and society can still tell us how to dress and how to behave sexually. I think that should be a thing of the past. The whole ‘No, don’t wear a short skirt’, ‘Don’t wear pants’, ‘No, that thing is too tight’ must end. It’s ignorance, it’s stupid and it’s a violation of women’s rights. And women also have to step up their game and fight the idea that men can tell us what to wear and do. Many of us may think otherwise, but women do run the world – whether it’s in the background or behind closed doors in homes, at offices, we really do run the world because we are the backbone of this earth. And I would like to see Women’s Day and Month mean a celebration of ‘girl power’ and see women taking a spiritual, mental and physical decision to support one another. And I don’t think it’s our fault that we are against one another sometimes, it’s because of how the world treats us ...

But I would like to see us as women standing together and it genuinely being a real movement, not just a tweet ... because it doesn’t make any sense that we fight one another when we also have the world to fight. I think it’s vital that we learn that we are the same, fighting the same battle and that battle is not one another.” – Gugulethu Mhlungu

Grizelda Grootboom

Reach out and ask sex workers about their experiences

Grizelda Grootboom, author and activist for rights of sex workers

Women’s Day/Month doesn’t mean anything to me because it has never affected me; however; it may have affected other women. It represents women being acknowledged as women. I would like to see men walk in heels the whole day in the office, I would like to see the high-class, high-profile women go out of their comfort zones and find out from girls in brothels what their challenges, dreams and aspirations are, especially at night. All women are survivors because every day there is something one needs to overcome, be it in terms of health, safety, or money. Women’s Day/Month should encourage woman to unite and fight for each other instead of competing and trying to outdo one another. I would love to see all women become friends during this day/month and stand together! Sexual harassment in places of work and on the street is a very pressing issue, and when a woman brings it to light she isn’t taken seriously. Women’s Day doesn’t address this because it’s become more about giving awards.” – Gugulethu Mhlungu

Pheladi Mokoena

There is major abuse of the elderly

Pheladi Mokoena, grandmother

The biggest problem we have today is the abuse of women and children. But my biggest issue is the abuse of the elderly. Old people who are used by their kids to get a piece of, if not the whole of, the pension money. As a former nurse, the stories I hear from old people are heartbreaking. Not much is done to address this, be it Women’s Month or not. I wish to see a serious drive where social health workers who visit the elderly patients highlight some of the abuse they see. What I would like to see is a real change in the way old people are treated. Our kasis need old-age homes that are really serious about looking after them. I am tired of seeing old ladies looking after six grandchildren and the children’s parents could not be bothered! This also needs to be addressed.” – Mohau Mokoena

Yenani Madikwa

Casting directors will sexually harass you

Yenani Madikwa, model

Women’s Month is always disappointing. Every year it’s about pink, fluffy teddy bears and chocolate and things people think women like – but no one wants to deal with the actual issues. They want to focus on women’s strengths, but not on the things that force us to be strong – and that is the patriarchy and misogyny. Brands want to take advantage of the day to sell their products, but have no idea how to tackle the problems raised by Women’s Day. I come across patronising attitudes and sexism often – especially from women. Women will always make jokes about my being a model, and will say things like, ‘Oh, did you go to touch up your lipstick?’. But I feel the biggest problem models face in the industry is unwanted attention from casting directors. I’ve had a director tell me that if I went on a date with him, I’d get the job. You get ridiculed if you don’t get booked, and when you do, people will say, ‘Oh, she probably slept with the director’. It’s like always being between a rock and a hard place. – Grethe Kemp

Simamkele Dlakavu

The face of poverty is a black woman

Simamkele Dlakavu, master’s student, fallist and writer

The most pressing issue that women face is economic inequality. Black women in this country are the faces of poverty, they are landless, it is difficult to find employment, the face of domestic work is the black woman. This further exposes women to exploitation. To address economic inequality, we need economic empowerment. And for Women’s Day, I would like to see a black feminist agenda that understands that women in this country face intersecting oppressions of race, class, obviously gender and sexuality, as well as ability and disability. I think that the Women’s Day celebrations that we have seen in this country are apolitical and are for PR and feel-good campaigns, while black women are still poor, still landless. I want to see an agenda that’s politicised and understands that we need to tackle all forms of inequality and discrimination. The ANC Women’s League, we have given up on them. They are the same women who opposed the 1 in 9 Campaign when it supported Khwezi, the woman who said she was raped by President Jacob Zuma, and support other women who have experienced sexual violence.” – Ndileka Lujabe


All your favourite publications in one place.
Read now
Voting Booth
Will the move to alert level 1 change the way you approach your personal and professional life?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
No, already living the ‘new normal’
45% - 38 votes
Yes, I can finally emigrate
20% - 17 votes
Yes, my business can finally thrive
5% - 4 votes
I just wanna do the Jerusalem challenge
8% - 7 votes
No, I am still scared
22% - 19 votes