Are women really free?

Since the Women’s March of 1956 when thousands of women from all walks of life fought for the rights of women, a lot has changed. However, each time a woman is kidnapped, raped, killed, assaulted, racially insulted or denied a powerful position at her workplace, it brings up the question of whether perceived women’s rights are nothing more than a front to cover the oppression that women still endure. Statistics South Africa reports that about one in five women has experienced physical violence in this country, with those in the poorest households being mostly affected.


Kwezilomso Mbandazayo, Women’s Rights and Gender Justice Programme Manager at Oxfam, an organisation that addresses social issues, feels that the wellbeing of women must be prioritised. “Women’s interests are not represented enough within governance, politics and society still holds harmful social norms that normalise women’s status in society as less than other people,” she says. “Dealing with violence against women requires a plan, with resources that should be binding to all institutions such as the state, all faith organisations, social development and political parties.” Mbuyiselo Botha, a commissioner of the Commission for Gender Equality, says even though women enjoy more protection than previously, the progress is slow and inadequate. “Society is not intolerant enough. We need to stop tolerating the killings and torture of women. Our history has proven that we need more than laws to create a society that is equal for all – it will take community involvement,” he says. Kwezilomso adds, “For all genders to be equal, we need accountability. It cannot remain that institutions and people can violate women with no consequences.”


Mbuyiselo says it is not only in the home that women suffer, they are uncomfortable and illtreated in the workplace too. “Women who happen to have high positions are not supported enough to perform their jobs adequately,” he says. “Companies who are reluctant to transform must be punished and they should also be named and shamed because even financial punitive measures are not enough.”


Mbuyiselo concedes that the spirit of transformation is not always embraced by all. He emphasises the role all people can play to protect the rights of women. He believes men should understand that the empowerment of women does not necessarily mean the disempowerment of men. “We need to engage men on these issues on a regular basis – we cannot afford to only talk about women empowerment in Women’s Month,” he says.