In South Africa, we celebrate Women’s Day on August 9. We have done since 1994, the same year we had our first free and fair elections.
Yay us. Finally.
Why not commemorate Women’s Day along with the rest of the world on March 8? Because we’re too busy celebrating my birthday.
One thing at a time, I always say.
Birthdays aside, the real reason we mark Women’s Day on August 9 is because it was on that day in 1956 that some 20 000 bold and audacious women marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria.
Protesting pass laws —which required South Africans defined as “black” under The Population Registration Act to carry an internal passport— they handed over petitions containing more than 100 000 signatures to our then Prime Minister J.G. Strijdom’s offices.
After standing in silence for 30 minutes, the women sang freedom songs. Composed in honour of the historic event, Wathint’ Abafazi Wathint’ imbokodo! (Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock) spawned the well-known phrase: You strike a woman, you strike a rock.
Why Celebrate Women’s Day?
Two reasons. First, these women were courage and strength personified. They deserve to be honoured. Second, women today —particularly women of colour— still face significant challenges in all areas of their lives.
On a daily basis, they have to deal with everything from deadbeat dads and sexual harassment in the workplace to domestic violence and lack of education, to mention a few.
While all these issues need to be addressed, it begins with education. Education is how societies change. Without it, ignorance will prevail. As will all the other social ills facing women today.
Girls’ Education Matters More Than Ever
According to UN Women, more than two-thirds of the world’s 796 million illiterate people are female. Rural girls are also less likely to attend secondary school than their male counterparts.
Research has shown that children with educated mothers have a higher chance of survival, are more nourished and enjoy better health overall.
When women are educated they tend to marry later, have fewer children and be less prone to domestic violence.
The gender gap is closing. But when you consider that inequality is something women in first world countries are still grappling with, it’s hard to imagine anything at all has changed for those in rural areas.
You’d think that by now we’d be done fighting for equal rights. It’s 2019, after all. We’re on the verge of sending a human to Mars, yet gender equality continues to elude us.
Raar, maar waar.
For now, the best solution is to tackle the problem ourselves. We need to stand by the people who are working tirelessly to educate women and girls.
How to Support Girls’ Education
For those of us with access to the Internet, figuring out how to support girls’ education is easy peasy. A quick search on Google yields a lengthy list of organisations that could use your help to keep doing what they’re doing.
You could share their mission on social media, support their cause with a once-off or monthly donation or host a fundraiser on their behalf.
If you have the time, you could volunteer at an underprivileged school. Often, all they need are adults to help mentor their kids with things like homework and life skills.
Classrooms are packed beyond capacity, making it almost impossible for children to thrive and grow. Unless they’re particularly gifted, these youngsters will invariably fall through the cracks.
Why it Matters
As Unicef points out, education is one of the most critical areas of empowerment for women. It is a lifeline to development. Everyone, no matter their ages, gender or social status, deserves a good education.
When women are educated they have the power to make informed decisions. Rather than being handed a future they don’t want, they get to choose the kind of life they want to live.
It’s up to us to help make that happen. If you have an education, you must do everything in your power to see that all women are similarly empowered.
By all means, enjoy your day off this Women’s Day. But before you head out for a long, lazy brunch with your mates, make sure you first to something to ease the plight of those girls struggling to get an education of their own.