South Africa: For an inclusive Women’s Month

South Africa: For an inclusive Women’s Month

Date: September 3, 2013
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Johannesburg, 30 August: Women’s month officially ends tomorrow, yet as I look back on August, I am left lamenting its frivolity and exclusivity. It is always a peculiar time in South Africa, where the significance of August is increasingly commercialised.

An advertising frenzy bombards us with low prices on lacey underwear or special offers at health spas, all in the name of to celebrating ‘superwomen’ across the country. Amidst the schizophrenia that has become women’s day, somehow converted to women’s month, perhaps we have forgotten how this day came to be and why it is been commemorated.

When we remember the thousands of women who marched to the Union Buildings denouncing the pass system, it speaks to the meaning and power of collective action demonstrated by a diverse group of women. They marched in protest, not in honour of how ‘special’ women are, or in celebration of the dominant narrative ‘that women can do it all’. They were women of different races, backgrounds, sexual orientations and abilities, who gathered in solidarity to fight a common enemy.

Chants of “Happy Women’s Month” and “Here’s to the special women in your life” ring hollow to me each year, echoing a growing de-politicisation of the grand statement made by these South African women who demanded recognition and justice from an Apartheid state.

It seems to me that a far more critical reflection of Women’s Month is needed, one which should mobilise us collectively beyond the superficial cheers of “Happy Women’s Day.” Perhaps, we have to ask ourselves, what does it even mean to commemorate women’s month? Is it a time to pay homage to our ancestor’s lives so we may live and exist today?

As the trivialising of Women’s Month continues, so does the exclusion of many women who do not conform to the model of what society expects them to be. This renders their existence either a daily struggle or all together impossible. The question of ‘broadening our thinking’ of Women’s Month to include women who are ordinarily excluded is a political one. What dominant thought are we trying to pry open to allow for more ‘diversity’? Perhaps before we can broaden our thinking we have to name our thinking and critique our thinking to understand why it may be limited.

Commemorating Women’s Month should also go beyond merely paying homage to the people of the past, to imagining a space where we make all people’s existence possible in the present and the future.

To realise the importance of an inclusive Women’s Month, we need not think any further than South Africa where women are regularly raped and murdered on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender, or other neighbouring countries where violations against women often go unreported.

Homophobia, trans-phobia and discrimination against the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Transgender, Queer (LGBTIQ) community extends far beyond the borders of southern Africa. A number of prime examples come to mind; Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill and Turkey’s rampant trans-murders. Although these cases are ongoing across the world, our most recent example is Russia’s new anti-gay laws, coupled with the government’s brutally violent clamp down on any resistance and activism. These multiple layers of violence remind us of the prejudices experienced by women around the world.

For next Women’s Month and the months leading up to it, we should start by reflecting on the lives of all women in the grandest of definitions possible, further than simply including ‘sexual minorities’, and rather to think about the rich, complicated and beautiful existence of all queer and trans women.

If there is a queer African movement, I would like to be part of it. Perhaps it would mean community building and burrowing in search for places for communities to exist in their vibrant and myriad ways. Perhaps it would require political discussions and study-circles to figure out what queerness means, how it evolves, how our lives are a struggle for survival. Women protest against the oppressive forces in their lives every day in many ways, some look like marches, sit-ins, meetings, workshops and conferences. Igniting a political awareness of our everyday existence may be one way of re-politicising Women’s Day and Women’s Month in an inclusive fashion that speaks to recognising who we are.

Mazuba Haanyama (Choongo, Mweene, Chinyama) is a young writer, thinker and activist. She hails from Zambia and other countries in Southern Africa. Katherine Robinson is the Communications Manager and Editor at Gender Links. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service, special series on celebrating Phenomenal Women, bringing you fresh views on everyday news.




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