‘Shaping Progress’ – International Women’s Day 2008

By Satyagraha Reporters

This year marks the hundredth anniversary of the march organized by women workers against the gross conditions of work that they faced. Today a hundred years later we look at the numerous celebrations of the courageous demonstration of the women workers, and we ask what has changed?  There are those who believe that access to wealth and wealth creation is the way to change;  there are those who believe that highlighting and raising awareness of the plight of the women is the way to change; and, there are others who believe that we need to come up with socio economic models  which facilitate changes.  Here we look at some of the divergent ways in which women’s day was observed.  We ask you to think about how you can commit yourself to bringing about meaningful changes. 

International Women’s Day (IWD) is held annually on 8 March to inspire women and celebrate their achievements. The day is celebrated globally with various events ranging from political rallies, business conferences, government activities, local and grassroots women's craft markets, theatric performances and fashion parades – connecting women from all around the world.

IWD has been observed by the United Nations on 8 March every year since 1975. The United Nations (UN) theme for 2008 is "A fight against poverty, a partnership for investing in women and girls to eradicate poverty."

Many countries across the African continent celebrated the event with various programmes. In South Africa Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka hosted an International Women's Day dinner at the Presidential Guest House. Among the many dignitaries that attended the event was the Chief Executive Officer of the Businesswomen's Association, Ms Angie Makwetla, Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry, Ms Elizabeth Thabethe and Deputy Minister of Arts and Culture, Ms Ntombazana Botha. In her opening remarks Mlambo-Ngcuka said “It is no secret that South African women have been at the forefront of the struggle for women's emancipation and empowerment. Hundred years ago, women in Manhattan, United States of America, took a stand to fight for the rights of women and against atrocious conditions of women. Here we are today figuring out how we can fight poverty in our society more especially that of women and girls.” The celebrations have an intense focus on financing for gender equality, because in spite of these significant advances in the improvement of the status of women in society, South Africa still faces many challenges in this regard. Many women are still trapped in the cycle poverty and deprivation. In keeping with the UN's theme, the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) developed a concept for the commemoration of the 2008 International Women's Day to resonate with the broader government goals of social and economic development.

As part of the national effort to empower women, the Department of Trade and Industry has announced the establishment of a R100 million development finance fund known as Isivande (a Zulu word for garden). The Isivande Women's Fund is aimed at supporting women-owned enterprises.

Mlambo-Ngcuka said “This day is also a day for boys and men to join us in a collective defence of the dignity of women, thus the dignity of humanity.” Mlambo-Ngcuka congratulated the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) for making this event possible in order to support government's programme of action for 2008.

“Since the dawn of democracy in our country fourteen years ago, we have realised that our progress is dependent upon the active participation, equality and development of women. As such, this day gives us an opportunity as women of the world to join in a ‘partnership for investing in women and girls to eradicate poverty’ without discriminating the boy children” added Mlambo-Ngcuka.

“Gender empowerment is promotion of economic growth. Investing in women and girls is essential for economic development. Investing in women and girls has a multiplier effect on families and the rest of society” said Mlambo-Ngcuka.
Meanwhile in Kenya the Spirit of African Women Awards (SAWA) – Shangilia Fest 2008 was held on the 7th and 8th March in the capital Nairobi, organised by the Event Factory. SAWA was created to celebrate, educate, entertain and inspire women. The aim of the SAWA awards is to make a powerful difference in the lives of Kenyan women, so that they can have an impact on the lives of women and children globally. On March 7th the Kisii Anti Rape Vigil Night was held at the county hall with speeches, testimonies, protest songs and legal counselling and information sharing. The event was held with Kisii Women sharing solidarity with women and girls who were raped during the recent political mayhem in Kenya. 

Sierra Leone, another African country ravaged by civil war and terrorist activities also commemorated IWD with a National Music Tour for Female Artistes. The event was aimed at raising awareness and funds to combat poverty and other major issues affecting women in the country.

Women and children become the principal war victims, often submitted to rape, sexual slavery, forced labour, torture and mutilation. In an Amnesty International report in November 2007, almost a third of the female population in Sierra Leone are stigmatized and suffering the after-effects of the sexual violence that was used as a weapon of war during the 11-year conflict in the country. According to the report, despite the passage of several women's rights bills, violations of women's rights in Sierra Leone continue unabated and efforts to prosecute perpetrators have been largely ineffective. Women in the country do not have equal access to education, economic opportunities, health facilities, or social freedoms as men. In rural areas, women perform much of the subsistence farming and have little opportunity for formal education. The average educational level for women is below that of men with only 6 percent of women being literate.

Shame from the sexual violence, slavery and torture prevent large numbers of the women from returning to their communities after the war. Others live in silence, unable to share their painful memories out of fear that they will be rejected completely.

While thousands of women are still victims of gender-based violence, the new millennium has witnessed a significant change and attitudinal shift in both women's and society's thoughts about women's equality and emancipation. Women have a more visible presence in the boardroom, in politics, greater equality in legislative rights and so forth. Women need to be honoured and celebrated for the achievements which will also inspire and motivate oppressed women to liberate themselves. 

Lets us all commit ourselves to creating a safer environment for women and children and do our bit to ensure that the future for girls is bright, equal, safe and rewarding. Let us celebrate and recognize women’s achievements!