FIKILE-NTSIKELELO MOYA: The unintended consequences of Women’s Month


I am happy that we are almost at the end of Women’s Month. Before you crucify me, please hear me out.

South Africa needs a day and a month to reflect on women, celebrate their achievements and reflect on their challenges in a patriarchal society. I am not sure if the current way of commemorating the day and the month achieves that goal.

Instead of a sharp focus on how gender injustices, violence on the streets and at home, sexism and unfair discrimination holds women back, Women’s Day and Month become a long and glorified Mother’s Day.

Speaking for myself, I do not sense I have had to revisit my own inherited male privilege and sexism just because we have had Women’s Month.

Women’s Day, Youth Day and Heritage Day next month have the unintended consequences of making us stay in the past when there is so much of the present and the future that we should be spending our energies on.

I say ‘unintended’ out of being charitable because it is possible that there really was no intended consequence for such days.

It should stand to reason that there is value in learning about the past. That, however, should not be the goal in itself. It should be about creating systems that ensure a better future.

For example, Women’s Day does not properly reflect on how we can improve gender justice and empower women in ways that they – and men – are conscious of how patriarchy arrests women’s development.

In other words, Women’s Day and Women’s Month should be about the role and place of women today and into the future. Not in 1956.

The simple point is that we cannot continue doing what we have been doing for the past 25 years and hope that we will have different results.

We must dare to re-imagine how these holidays can be used as a stepping stone for a South Africa of the future. It helps nobody to continue to retell the story of how women marched on the Union Buildings back in the day if we are saying nothing about programmes to empower young women in the clutches of poverty and ignorance and thus making them sitting ducks for sex pests and human traffickers today.

What good does it do if for one day in the month, we will all dress up in colourful outfits, try new culinary experiences and then return to our everyday lives without any change to how we relate to others? Heritage Day should rather be about us getting together to discuss the type of heritage our descendants will enjoy rather than the usual nostalgic look into the past.

The same applies to Youth Day. If the day does not make us actively think of how we have failed young people in the past and what we can do for and with them in the future, we might as well not have the holiday.

Women’s Day and Month, like any other season based on observing previous human rights violations, should help us want to become better individuals and society. If they do not, we must accept that calling all these holidays ‘Braai Day’ is far more honest than we prefer to accept.

Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya is an independent journalist and former editor of The Mercury and The Witness.