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[OPINION] How should we celebrate Women’s Day?

International Women’s Day is on 8 March. It doesn’t belong to a specific group but was staged more than a century ago to encourage gender parity. Politically, economically, culturally and socially, women stood up to a system to demand equality. Breathtakingly, that remains an ongoing struggle in the world, not just in South Africa.

In South Africa, Women’s Day is celebrated on 9 August. This is to commemorate a march which was organised and executed in 1956 by a cross-section of South African women. Their objection was to black people having to carry passes in order to move around the country anywhere outside of their homes. Without any social media, a budget or an event planner, a handful of determined women mobilised 20,000 to march to the Union Buildings and present a petition which held more than 100,000 signatures of support for their cause.

After the 50-year commemoration of this event, a decision was made to have August as Women’s Month. We must not miss this opportunity to remember or be curious about the significance of the holiday, understand how much wisdom there can be in a crowd motivated to achieve attention to an objection and be part of the solution.

I choose to use this month to celebrate that as women, we can choose to empower, mobilise, support ourselves and each other. It’s not an anti-man month for me. We need to look at gender-based violence, rape, domestic abuse and sexual assault every day. I don’t agree with making this Women’s Month about those issues. They are significant enough to be relevant all year around.

Men also need to do something about what is largely a man’s problem.

During this month I think we must celebrate mothers of sons who are raising them to be good men, not big boys, and mothers of girls who are raising them to be stronger and more secure than maybe they themselves were as children. Mothers who hold day jobs and run their households. Mothers who are great parents, wives, partners, sisters and friends.

While we celebrate we can proudly remember the measure, the cost and definition of our freedom in this country. As women, my wish for us is that we set bigger, better and more ambitious goals for ourselves. We have the solutions to equality and freedom in our own hands. With sufficient will and support, we are all able to create a life we love. Where people find this hard or impossible, we need to have those interactions and conversations to work out what we can do with what we have. Why not us?

How is it possible that the last meaningful mass women’s march was in 1956? When we no longer hold passes but we are still dogged by inequality.

Like many of the public holidays, we have been granted to celebrate or acknowledge our struggle from the claws of apartheid, I find myself rolling my eyes a bit when I realise many people do not appreciate the significance or relevance of the public holiday. Women’s Day is no exception.

As South Africans what can we do differently this August? I suggest we be conscious of how we speak to the women in our lives, be aware of our thoughts and judgements of each other - often without any facts, just our own opinions and stereotypes.

We can look and see where there are organisations and causes we can support and make a small difference to someone’s life. Let us notice the number of young women and girls roaming the streets and think carefully about what it took for them to choose the street to a home for living.

It might be my age but I am so aware of the number of women in my life who are stressed, overworked, unacknowledged, unnoticed and exhausted. How I choose to make a difference is to see them, acknowledge them, listen to them and support them. Imagine if we offered each other this care and compassion, even if we don’t know one another. Just give each other the benefit of the doubt, assume something we know nothing about is happening in that woman’s life. We generally have similar or identical issues, struggles. Let us give each other a break. Let us have each other’s back.

Being powerful as a woman is definitely not having it all together. Being powerful is doing your best without losing yourself in the process. We must find a new language to use among ourselves and our daughters and any young women we have influence over and access to.

We need to start acknowledging all the women among us who go over and above, as well as those who have not yet mastered some skills. We are all learners and teachers, eternally.

Lisa Joshua Sonn is a social activist. Follow her on Twitter: @annalisasonn

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