IWD: The struggle for women’s empowerment continues

Date: March 7, 2012
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Mbabane, 7 March: Women form the backbone of all societies, developed and otherwise. It is only fitting that every year we celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD) on 8 March to acknowledge the role of women in development.

IWD is commemorated across many nations and women get an opportunity to share problems, discuss opportunities and generally feel good about the achievements they have made over the years. This year, the event is being celebrated under the theme, “Empower Rural Women – End Hunger and Poverty.”

IWD is a subject close to my heart because it is non-discriminatory. Hear me out – we have Mother’s Day that caters for all women with children. However, not every female is a mother but undoubtedly, every female is a woman. This day caters for all women – young and old, poor and rich, literate and illiterate. This is one thing we can get straight as we start the new century of IWD.

During a celebration of this day in 1975, Joyce Stevens made the following observation in her song titled Because we are women; “Because a woman’s work is never done and is underpaid or unpaid or boring or repetitious and we are the first to get fired and what we look like is more important that what we do and if we get raped it’s our fault and if we get beaten we must have provoked it and if we raise our voices we’re nagging bitches and if we enjoy sex we’re nymphos and if we don’t then we’re frigid and if we love women it’s because we couldn’t get a real man and if we ask the doctor too many questions we’re neurotic and/or pushy and if we expect childcare we are selfish and if we stand up for our rights we’re aggressive and ‘unfeminine’ and if we don’t we’re typical weak females and if we want to get married we’re out to trap a man and if we don’t we’re unnatural and because we still can’t get an adequate safe contraceptive but men can walk on the moon and if we can’t cope or don’t want a pregnancy we’re made to feel guilty about abortion and for lots and lots of other reasons, I am a part of the women’s liberation movement.”

Thirty seven years later, her words still ring true. A lot may have changed but every woman can still identify with what she said!

My one concern is that there are women who are still fighting to get their share of political power. They seem to have the greatest challenge and it is disheartening that despite the majority of voters being women, more men still make it to parliament. Women are just as capable of making their mark as this has been evident over the years although the number of women who actually get any meaningful positions is still pathetic. Women certainly have what it takes – they just need support.

Before anyone thinks I am promoting tokenism, I would like to point out that just as it is not any man who can be elected into parliament; it is also not any woman who can make an impact in politics. The qualities that are needed for one to make a meaningful contribution have been widely discussed over the years but the electorate seems to be blind to that fact. More often than not, we have the wrong candidates landing seats in parliament.

One of the major mistakes we often make is listening to someone with the loudest voice and deepest pocket. People are less likely to vote for a poor woman and that is just the sad truth. They are more likely to vote for a charismatic person who speaks until he foams on the mouth than someone who is a good listener. Perhaps this is due to lack of information as civic education on the electoral process is something that is yet to be taken seriously in Africa, let alone in rural areas.

Despite some progressive constitutions and national gender action plans in different African countries, men still enjoy certain privileges that are not afforded to women. Women are still treated as minors, particularly at community level where they are mostly relegated to traditional roles.

Over a century ago, American civil rights leader, Susan B. Anthony, said, “The day will come when men will recognise woman as his peer, not only at the fireside, but in councils of the nation. Only then, and not until then, will there be the perfect comradeship, the ideal union between the sexes that shall result in the highest development of the race.” Unfortunately, in the 21st century this day has not come yet.
IWD is the perfect platform to start working towards this dream. It provides us with an opportunity to take stock of what has been done in advancing women’s rights to ensure that there are no advantages enjoyed by men over women. We should not forget the many rural women who are still marginalised but each voting period go to the polling station to make their mark.

As we commemorate IWD, let us not forget to celebrate the achievements of women in all fronts, even in the family where they have the most challenging role of nurturing and grooming tomorrow’s leaders. In rural areas, they often do this with the least resources.

Bongiwe Zwane is a writer and public relations practitioner based in Swaziland. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service, bringing you fresh views on everyday views.


0 thoughts on “IWD: The struggle for women’s empowerment continues”

Bothatha says:

absolutely true! this is the case all over Africa – we need more women who are strong, dynamic, well educated and assertive to take their place in society. Parliament seats are full of men who can hardly make sense. Viva women viva!

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