This Struggle is from far: International Women’s Day
By Precious Banda
The 2016 theme for International Women’s Day is “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality”. The United Nations observance on 8 March will reflect on how to accelerate the 2030 Agenda, building momentum for the effective implementation of the new Sustainable Development Goals. It will equally focus on new commitments under UN Women’s Step It Up initiative, and other existing commitments on gender equality, women’s empowerment and women’s human rights. The theme and the programme of planet 50-50 by 2030 by UN Women is very powerful because it asks governments to make national commitments to address the challenges that are holding women and girls back from reaching their full potential. Governments should pass laws or strengthening existing ones as part of step it up. Other actions might include creating programmes to eradicate violence against women and girls, encouraging women’s participation in decision making, investing in national action plans or policies for gender equality, creating public education campaigns to promote gender equality and many more.
We will therefore wait in anticipation if Nations especially war torn Countries which use women as weapons of war will heed this important call. What the UN must worry itself with is the monitoring and implementation of this call by member states. It is notable that women emancipation and gender equality by many Countries is mostly in policy and documents but very little is done to confront patriarchy and advance the plight of women of the world. In 2016, we must take stock of the many programmes by the UN and Countries of the World on gender equality and yet there is little gender transformation in real terms. Therefore, our biggest problem today is how to convert the policy frameworks and progressive goals set in to real transformation for gender equality and women empowerment.
This offering is a tribute to women of the world on International Women’s day. On this important day, we take time to acknowledge the strides that have been made in advancing women empowerment and gender equality, the battles that have been fought and also the work that lies ahead. Women of many generations before in particular Women of South Africa have fought fearlessly for the emancipation of Women, from warrior Queens, rain Queens, Women academics, ANC Women League leaders, student activists, female soldiers and freedom fighters, mothers, sisters, Women workers and unionists, religious leaders, politicians etc. We are made to realise that the struggle for Women emancipation and empowerment is from far and as the present, we need to continue until more victories are won for women. It is this understanding that persuaded us to pay tribute to all women this international women’s day.
Engels wrote that the family is a product of the social system and that it always reflects the culture of that system, and also that the family progresses with society and changes with society. Just as the cell is the basic unit of an organism, so the family is the basic unit of the society. As the basic unit, the family has great importance in determining the nature of the structure of society. The evolution of the family has been marked by a constant decrease in the size of the conjugal community between sexes, leading to the individual sexual union of the monogamous system. Institutions such as family should be seen in terms of the predominant productive relations of each historical era.
The family starts when two people usually of different sexes decide to live together (same sex marriages are common too). In Africa traditionally, Lobola is paid for the woman. The origins of Lobola are not very clear. Lobola is negotiated between the two families and an amount is decided. Conscious of the labour power of women and the children they produce, men are guaranteed of free labour, which neither rebels nor complains against exploitation. This is why a woman's fertility is still decisive for a marriage to last, the husband having the power to repudiate the woman for being barren. Male supremacy is instilled in people's minds and passively accepted by women themselves through the practice of Lobola. This is how marriage and family has continued to oppress women. While it is argued that Lobola is a token of appreciation to the family of the bride, the same Lobola has reduced women to be objectified and subjugated. Lobola has also given men a serious sense of ownership of the woman.
In trying to radically push for woman emancipation, Lobola must be abolished by law. Marriage therefore should be a relationship of two absolute equal people. Equal rights for women are a fundamental requirement for a socialist society. The argument that Lobola is culture cannot hold because culture must evolve with time. The abolition of Lobola will confront power relations between husband and wife and will give a voice to the ordinary of our women who are voiceless and oppressed because a man paid Lobola. As part of Planet 50-50 by 2030, step it up for gender equality, the theme for this year’s IWD, a discussion on the outlawing of Lobola must begin as Lobola is used to entrench and reproduce patriarchy.
Girls are taught from early childhood to play the same role their mothers play. From the very start, girls are brought up differently from boys and made to feel inferior. They are viewed by society to be empty-headed, ignorant, opinion-less type of woman with no power to decision making. When an empowered woman expresses herself, society views her as uncultured and too modern. These notions have made our struggle difficult. Relations at family level do not permit girls to acquire a correct concept of their relationship with society. Instead of families playing an educative role in a girl's life to empower her and give her confidence, families continuously safeguard the patriarchal stereotypes that are reproduced from one generation to the next. Though we acknowledge that there is life orientation being taught as a subject in basic education, we propose that the government introduce compulsory gender studies from pre-school and primary school. Gender studies at an early age must assist in making learners gender conscious and also teach them and instil values of gender equality.
Progressive organisations must play a role of teaching families to confront gender stereotypes which are part of their day to day living. We must not take this call lightly because it was in 2016 in our Country where girls were offered a scholarship for keeping their virginity. In 2016, South African girls are still subjected to virginity testing while the boys’ virginity is not in question. So culturally, a girl must preserve her virginity to be broken and enjoyed by a man whose virginity has never been a subject of interrogation, these are among the cultures that must be abolished and declared illegal and such stereotyping unlearned in gender studies at a very young age at school.
The struggle for women empowerment and gender equality will benefit highly from the implementation of free quality education. Free quality education will benefit the poor women and their children more who are in the periphery and cannot currently afford to go to quality institutions and attain education. It is children of these women of the periphery who mostly go to previously black Universities which still need transformation. Free quality education must be able to address the question of quality and a single coordinated education system which address all systematic issues that prevent the poorest of the poor from enrolling at Universities such as Wits, UCT and others as easy as it can be to enrol in UniVen or Turflorp. I take time to remember young women deep in the villages that have never had a chance to go to school, to dream and acquire a career, their only way out is to get married. These young women were taught to be economically dependent on men, hence reproducing the current gender relations. It is to these women we commit this struggle for gender equality and free quality education.
Women who work in the home only are called housewives. The activity of the house wife is confined to the family circle. A house wife has no wages, no set working hours and no holiday or leave. Lenin says "notwithstanding all the liberating laws that have been passed, woman continues to be a domestic slave, because petty house work crushes, strangles, stultifies and degrades her, chains her to the kitchen and to the nursery and wastes her labour on barbarously unproductive, petty, nerve wracking stultifying and crushing drudgery". Throughout the history of class societies, the fundamental role of women has been to produce labour power, making them responsible for the continuation of the species. A house wife does not sell her labour power or what she produces. Marriage means the confiscation of her labour power and receiving of an obligation to provide care to the family. Domestic work is laborious and tedious and it does not advance women in any way. Women themselves boast for doing house work, those who are good at doing the work are considered real women, those whose softness of hands has died out because of house work and their palms are as hard as a piece of hood are considered to be real women, tried and tested and survived, The Wife has an obligation to provide labour not only for her home but also to her in-laws and the extended family of the husband.
To emancipate women means to make them economically independent and to free them from the slavery of housework which brutalises and depresses them, such should be a process that frees women from producing invisible labour and becoming producers of socially useful labour that constitutes the essence of their emancipation. While advancing this question, it is important also to educate both boys and girls without discrimination to carry out domestic tasks on equal footing. A time must arrive when women do the house labour not because of the compelling cultural conditions but because of her sheer willingness with men also playing the same role in the home and family.
In a country where the most common way of forming a family is through a marriage, we must pay tribute this IWD to single mothers. The capitalist society penalises single mothers to a certain level of social exclusion. Most single mothers are women who divorced because they could not bear the hardship of marriage and others are women who have never been married but have children. Single mothers include girls and women who had kids at a very young age, their situation is always as a result of the immaturity of a girl and her partner who gets involved in a relationship without having adequate sexual knowledge. Without understanding of her own body, and without any established plans for the future, the young woman falls pregnant. There is therefore an urgent need for sex education to young people of both sexes. Sex should be a discussion dealt with quite naturally, fighting the taboos and stereotypes which limit young people from discussing sex. There are also girls who have casual relationships with men and fall pregnant; this is symptomatic of a serious lack of responsibility. The growing numbers of unwanted babies threaten the quality of life because the first requirement for the harmonious development of a child is to be loved and wanted. Many girls and boys, more especially boys shun the responsibility of bringing up a child. Babies are abandoned in public places, left at dumping sites, the better ones are left with their grandmothers. This is the painful reality we are confronted with today. We take time this international women's day to pay tribute to those mothers that don't throw their kids away, those mothers who all by themselves struggles to give their children a better tomorrow. To all these women this IWD, the struggle continues.
Engels explains prostitution in the world as a feature of monogamy. The cause of prostitution is women's economic dependence on men. As an offshoot of a capitalist society, it affects particularly the class that does not own the means of production. Prostitution is fueled by those who hold power, by their imperialist monopolies which inevitably create conditions for its growth. In capitalist countries, prostitution assumes vast proportions involving huge numbers of young women and even children who are exploited in special places for this purpose. As Lenin said "These twofold victims of bourgeois society are worthy of compassion. In the first place they are victims of the curse of the system of ownership that governs the society and apart from that, they are victims of moral hypocrisy". The phenomenon of prostitution needs to be faced with greater realism. As part of the already existing conditions that fuel prostitution, authorities such as policemen still abuse these women and take sex from them without paying and also steal from them. The question I would ask adding to the debate whether to legalise prostitution or not is, will legalising prostitution going to transform the oppressive environment in which prostitutes operate in? This IWD, we remember the prostitutes of the world and call for more opportunities that give them alternatives from prostitution such as cooperatives, giving of land to women so that they own land and farm and providing of financing with relaxed conditions that don’t stop them from accessing funding and financing.
In underdeveloped countries, children represent half of the total population. The most vulnerable of child population are infants. Generally speaking, the health services for such children are insufficient and poorly equipped leading to high infant mortality rates. Despite them being fragile, children have enormous potential. The social environment on which they are entirely dependent should be able to meet their basic needs, food, hygiene, health, and affection and education stimulus. It is usually the mother who looks after the child's health. There is a close biological link between them and they are mutually affected by each other's problems. That is why woman issues cannot be divorced from child issues. That is why the call for stopping woman and child abuse must never be misunderstood. We call for harsher punishment on women and child abusers such as castration for those who rape children and life imprisonment for those who kill Women and children. We remember the women who are battered to death by their partners leaving behind orphaned children. Such men who kill their partners must also be expelled from the ANC. The Man in the Free State who is killed his wife and mother of two children must be expelled from the ANC together with the Gauteng comrade who killed his girlfriend and had the confidence to request bail because he wanted to do ANC work. These two and many others must be expelled from the ANC, not in our name because the ANC is a leader of society and the people’s movement, the ANC cannot be seen to be harbouring wife and women barterers and killers in its rank and file. The ANC must lead by example and expel these murders from its membership.
This woman's day, Women's struggle for emancipation and equality must be seen as part of the more general struggle against capitalism to build socialism and never as an isolated struggle directed against men. A correct understanding of this principle is important. Women oppressed by capitalist society and family traditions must work for their own liberation. All women are called to join arms. Let's vouch for gender equality in our lifetime. Let's advance this struggle arm in arm. It is women themselves that must struggle for their emancipation. If women do not speak on their issues no one else will do so. Hence we must never be exhausted or discouraged by name calling and the humiliation we are subjected to for advancing issues of women.
Women in the work place and those who have been co-opted in the echelons of power operate in a very difficult environment. Men who work with them sometimes attempt to solicit sexual favours like they are doing the women a favour by working with them in decision making positions. These women always have to explain their rise to positions of influence only because society finds them undeserving. They also have to work twice as hard as their male counter parts to prove themselves because a question of capacity is always raised on women and not men. While these women in positions of influence and decision making represent the strides that have been made and they are at the core of women issues, more attention is given to them rather than the women in the periphery still struggling for the little things that the women at the core have attained. This polarisation divides women and there is an argued contestation between women at the core and women of the periphery. The women of the core want to maintain and protect the limited space patriarchy has given women by continuing to occupy the space while women of the periphery fight to unseat the women of the core. Patriarchy continues to divide women this way and it is the struggle for women emancipation and gender equality that must continue to unite women where women will be appreciated just like men and not only a select few that are placed against other women systematically.
This year of Local government elections, much emphasis must be put on calling farm owners who are mostly white racists to release their employees to go and register to vote and also to vote. Majority of these farm workers working in racist farms to fend for their children are women. In the past, a significant number of farm owners have not released their workers to go and exercise their right to vote. The movement needs to do extensive voter campaigns in the farm areas and expose and report those who refuse to release their workers. The conditions of farm workers and their work environment is very much appalling. We call for transformation in the farming industry and laws which protect the farm workers who are mostly women. We remember these women this IWD and to say this struggle for women empowerment is also their struggle. Service delivery of basic services must be fast tracked because casualties are mostly women in its absence.
We remember the women who work up very early including in winter to fetch water from distant places and fetch firewood in the hinterland, the women whose heads have become hard as a rock because of heavy buckets of water that they carry on their heads. The women who work as domestic workers, they leave their own kids behind to go and care for those of another woman, so that they earn peanuts and provide for their families, the women who wake up at dawn to go and sell fruits, vegetables, Magwinya, cigarettes and sweets on the streets and taxi ranks under harsh conditions, those that take up under paying hard labour jobs so that they can support their children and families. We are a product of the struggles and challenges these women mentioned above continue to go through and the struggle for gender equality is theirs.
We take this time to appreciate those that came before us and to emphasize that international women's day should not be a mere calendar commemoration but a day we assess how far have we come in our struggle and what needs to be done going forward. We remember the African women in war ton countries like the Nigerian girls captured and subjected to inhuman conditions, in refugee camps and in countries with hostile traditions and cultures that still treat woman like waste. We also remember the women who are persecuted in the name of religion, stoned to death for committing adultery and yet the man left to enjoy living. Laws that oppress women like the banning of miniskirts are passed in African Countries and the African community does not condemn such, the struggle continues. In Africa, the biggest challenge is the continuous definition of African women by patriarchal logic. African Women even bleach their beautiful melanin skins to be appealing and to reach the patriarchal standards that defines a beautiful woman as the one with less melanin. Women emancipation in the African context must include education that teaches women to define and assert themselves and not wait for patriarchal logic, stereotypes and markets to do. African Women must rise to the occasion and affirm themselves.
We write this in memory of great women and men, who throughout history have given their lives to fight for gender equality and woman emancipation, men and women who against cultures, traditions and religions stand their ground and demand equality and woman emancipation. These are mostly women who inspired me, in whose honour we write today, these are unsung heroes and mothers and daughters who bravely carried and still carry the yoke of oppression. The women in the villages, in the deep country side, whose voice is never heard, these are the women in whose honour I write this piece. We pay tribute to every mother in the dusty streets of townships, in informal settlements, others homeless but still can give love to their children and the world every day. The women who face harsh poverty conditions, raped, brutalised, whose dignity taken away, but can still smile every day, these are the women in whose honour we write. we pay tribute to our heroines Dora Tamana, Ruth first, Charlotte Maxexe and many more who history has never taken time to acknowledge. This is their struggle then before us and we pursue it unapologetically, only because we know that this struggle is really from far. And when we speak firmly about woman emancipation, we do so because we know and understand the struggles of women and we agree that thee struggle must continue. We owe it to them and our mothers and sisters in the villages, in the townships, in the streets and everywhere to continue to be vocal on issues of women. Happy International Women’s Day!
Bibliography: UN website and COSATU Labour Pains
YCL Political Commission And National Committee Member
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