Women’s Month – A Reflection

rights women Stereotypes
Wednesday, 31 August, 2011 - 09:38

This article reflects on the activities that marked Women’s Month in 2011, highlighting challenges that women’s rights organisations face and the long journey that South Africa has to travel in order to eliminate all forms of injustices against women

August women’s month has come and gone, yet many thoughts continue to reel through my mind. This is a dedicated time devoted to celebrating women in South Africa and our milestone achievements. As always, the month indeed proved to be the busiest time for me, working within the women rights sector. 

This is the month when we get more than 20 media calls per day to comment on women’s rights or rape stories, our opinion on the Sowetan newspaper video story of the police officer and correctional services officer duped ‘sex scandal’ or, whether Julius Malema had finally paid the R50 000 fine he was ordered to pay through the Equality Court judgment.  Then there is the endless list of requests for workshops, awareness campaigns, motivational talks, invites to gala dinners and various presentations. It is this women’s gathering here and that commemoration event there, no one wants to be left out. The hype is all over, it is amazing!

You would think we are a nation collectively concerned and much appreciative of the relentless roles women and girls in this county. How delusional! I have been in this sector long enough to begin to wonder if all of us are as genuine and sincere as we want to appear during this time. Could it be that the passion and zeal often paraded during Women’s Month is all but a show to ‘look good’ and appear ‘relevant’ to the times’? I wonder.

I am confused and disappointed about the public discourse and happenings in this special August month for women. Much as I had looked forward to working tirelessly as has always been the norm in my organisation over the previous years, nothing ever prepares me enough for the same disappointment I continually face during this time. Let us start with the media. I strongly believe that the media plays a critical role in shaping and influencing public opinion, a role that cannot be taken lightly, yet the media continues to disappoint us. Consider the ‘Sowetan ‘Sex Scandal’ video story. True to all our amazement, the ‘alleged’ sexual video was recorded in June this year, yet the ‘juicy’ story was only left to hit the headlines right at the beginning of August – Women’s Month.

What a coincidence!  Could it be that the ‘scoop’ was conveniently stored away to await the ‘right time’ or was it just pure coincidence?  In my opinion, there was nothing newsworthy about that story. Not to mention the glaring stereotypical lack of gender analysis in the story. The hypocrisy of our media!

And then there is the issue of Julius Malema and the R50 000. An Equality Court judgment stemming out of an accusation of hate speech ordered Malema to pay the said amount to a women rights organisation, People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA).  A day before the money was to be paid, POWA was bombarded by numerous calls from the media, not so much about the meaning and implications of the court judgment per se, but rather questions ranged from whether Malema had finally paid the money and how we were planning to use the money. As I recall one journalist asking, “Now that you have the money, is women abuse going to stop in South Africa?” Surely there was much more to be learnt from the court judgment as a whole, yet that was probably not ‘newsworthy’ enough to make for a credible story to our media partners, how sad.

Equally puzzling is the reluctance displayed by most corporate organisations to build on, or continue partnerships with women rights organisations beyond Women’s Month. We are only as relevant to them in as far as August month and 16 Days of Activism are concerned. We continue to face a passive response to our requests for much needed funding to continue the work that we do throughout the year - right from trying to request for support to cover costs of a staff member whom they have requested to do a presentation or to make a simple donation to one of our shelters. This always seems like too much to ask.

Moreover, very few of these organisations are ever willing to initiate in-house gender-related programmes that seek to advance women’s rights from within.

One then begins to question the sincerity in all this? Is this all about just attempting to fulfill what seems to be an obligation during Women’s Month? Or do we as women’s rights organisations still have so much work to do in terms of raising awareness on the need for all of us to play our part in the fight towards the true achievement of women’s rights?

I remain with questions: Is the media and corporate sector merely cashing in on the hype of Women’s Month to make huge profits or are they sincerely driven by the desire to transform and change societal perceptions for the better? And then again, are we as civil society organisations taking the responsibility to pro-actively influence what goes on in the media, and what information we share during the presentations we are called on to do? We know they need us, and will call on us during such times, but then how do we ensure that our input and comments influence towards the positive and progressive society that we seek?

I believe only then, can we as a nation come to a point where we truly celebrate Women’s Month for its intended noble purpose. That is to celebrate and honour women, our good deeds, humility, success and the great lives we lead. Perhaps next year’s August month will tell a different story. May I live to see that day.

- Nonhlanhla Sibanda is projects coordinator at People Opposing Women Abuse.
- Picture courtesy of Women’sNet.

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