Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Women's Month Should Empower the Poor - Not The Rich

Pearl Nicodemus

I bet most young women don’t know the reason behind the celebration of women’s day on 09 August each year. In case you didn’t know – it is because on the day in 1956 women of different races marched to the union buildings in Pretoria against the apartheid government's insistence that black women carry passes. They wanted pass laws to be abolished. That has led to the current democratically elected government deciding that the day and the entire month of August be dedicated to women.

As we are about to end this great month which celebrates women I have realised that the day is often taken for granted by many women. In my quest to find out whether you South African women today understand the meaning of women’s day I decided to ask a few who live in Soshanguve. I can’t say it was to my amazement, but my suspicions were proven right. The younger generation doesn’t care about the meaning of the day.

So if so many women are clueless about the month that should be celebrating them does this honourary month then serve its purpose or does the meaning get lost somewhere in the generation gap and whose responsibility is it to ensure that gender equality is achieved? Do we blame the government that has been repeatedly accused of being an elitist government, only serving the people who are already at the top of the food chain? Maybe that is too harsh but if that is not the case, is it then women’s responsibility?

These days we see prominent women congregate and invite even more prominent speakers to “empower” them or should I say further empower them while women who are grappling to survive at grass roots level carry on as normal. Yes there are events here and there, noises here and there but I believe it is not sufficient to impact the life of South African women in the true sense of the word.

In South Africa today it seems as though women abuse remains one of the most pressing issues we are dealing with. I remember listening to someone tell me about a story of women asking a man for reasons he doesn’t his girlfriend. The incident took place at a certain Escourt Ultra City in KwaZulu-Natal. When he brushed the question off then he was accused of being too soft.

I have also spoken to five young women who have been abused by their boyfriends defend the incidents. All five say there are valid reasons they have been kicked, punched, slapped and burnt with cigarettes. Hearing these stories makes me cringe. They don’t seem to mind but I somehow get angry when I hear them speak. Maybe it’s the Gauteng city girl in me that thinks all this as these women come from the rural areas of KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga. Maybe such behaviour is normal where they come from.

These women say the men in their lives show their love for them by beating them up. In my confusion I then spoke to a wise woman who told me that women who are defeated in their lives like these women are have nothing. Marriage is sometimes their only way out of poverty and they would do all in their power to keep those marriages and the men who provide their meals. She said to them getting married is a dream they spend their lives fantasising about, it is almost like a career therefore it becomes their only means of survival which means they would endure anything to keep it.

I believe that these defeated mentalities mean that these women would pass that attitude down to their children and the cycle of abuse will just continue.

It is often said that the people rely too much on the government, but it is perhaps their duty to ensure that enough education is passed down to such women so they can achieve true freedom and not pass it down to the next generation. Rather than empowering women who have made their money each year on women’s day, maybe we should empower those who really need the help.

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