International Women’s Day: Women continue to face challenges

There are calls to give more protection to women. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane / Independent Newspapers

There are calls to give more protection to women. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane / Independent Newspapers

Published Mar 8, 2024


Brenda Madumise-Pajibo

The struggle for women’s rights is not a new phenomenon nor is it ever won without a fight spearheaded by women. In 400 BC Agnodice faced the death penalty for being a woman and practising as a gynaecologist in Greece. She escaped the death penalty because her patients came to her defence and the powers that be allowed her to continue to practise.

In 1691 Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz defended women’s rights to education in Mexico. In 1893 Kate Sheppard of New Zealand fought for women’s voting rights and won. In 1951 Egyptian women stormed the parliament and demanded full political rights, pay equity and reforms to personal status laws. They were granted the right to vote in 1956.

In South Africa, the 1956 Women’s March was a turning point for women and their power to organise and confront a violent and repressive apartheid regime at a time when it was not thought possible that women could do such a thing with fierce ferocity and gallant intensity.

On March 8, 1909 the socialist women and textile workers in New York marched, demanding the right to vote, better pay, and shorter working hours. This event was pivotal in the struggle of women for equality. Ever since then, it has been celebrated and observed in many countries and was recognised by the United Nations (UN) in 1975.

I highlight some of these events in history to demonstrate the length of time it has taken the world to recognise women as full human beings with full rights and agency.

We live in a world that has pushed back and continues to push back on the many gains women made in advancing women’s rights. The world cannot fathom and are reckoning with the fact that women, who constitute more than half of the world’s population, hold half of the world‘s potential. Yet they have been pummelled and their potential is undermined and threatened with sexual violence, domestic violence, intimate partner violence, sex trafficking, sexual harassment, perpetual and systemic discrimination, pervasive bias, inequality and gender wage gap.

It is a fact that gender equality and equity in law still does not always translate into reality - the lived experience of the majority of women globally, in that within their respective countries, they are not guaranteed gender equality in their institutions. Women continue to face massive inequalities, directly and indirectly, through laws, policies, stereotypes and social practises.

For as long as we see ‘humanity as male’ and man as the subject, while the woman is the ‘other’, such thinking persists and is embedded, and men are obsessed with power and the control of women, the struggle for women’s rights and emancipation will continue.

Women cannot be content with laws that are passed, but not enforced, gendered policies developed, but not actualised, conferences and summits convened to address the status of women, but not followed up by member states, international conventions signed, advocating the end of discrimination against women, but discrimination persists. We women will not rest, we will not tire, we will continue to fight for equality and equity. That is our call, our commitment and our lives. We will win, we know we will win. We have won before and we will again.

*Advovate Madumise-Pajibo is Director for Wise4Afrika, a feminist organisation

**The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of Independent Media or IOL