On Women’s Day 2018, the South African Federation of Trade Unions salutes the revolutionary role of women in the liberation struggle, as we remember the historic day on 9 August 1956, when around 20 000 women marched to the Union Buildings to petition against the country’s pass laws which the apartheid regime used to maintain population segregation, control urbanisation, and manage migration.
On 1 August 2018 thousands of South African women echoed one of their main slogans – ‘Wathint Abafazi, Wathint Mbokodo!’ – “strike a woman and you have struck a rock!’ – as they marched to demand an end to violence and abuse against women.
Tragically the need for this protest was brought home just a few days into Women’s Month when Rhodes University student Khensani Maseko took her own life on 3 August. She had been raped at the university in May and in an Instagram message she posted her date of birth, “24.07.1995”, along with that day’s date, and the words “NO ONE DESERVES TO BE RAPED!!”
Then just a few days later a shocking report in the Mail & Guardian, under the headline “Almost half of Khayelitsha primary school learners have experienced sexual violence” showed just how bad the problem of violence against women and girls remains.
It revealed that “children as young 10-years-old reported being slapped or verbally threatened. About 20% of these children were forced to perform humiliating sexual acts or got raped — this included children who reported being forced to have sex after being verbally coerced or threatened with weapons.”
Even the figure of 40% may be an underestimate as the study found that younger children were more at risk of intimate partner violence but were the least likely to report it.
The grim reality for women is that:
All these figures on rape probably underestimate the real numbers, given the number of unreported cases, which some estimates to be as high as seven times those reported.
In 2009, according to the police’s own statistics, the conviction rate for murder in this country was 13% and for rape 11.5%. A study by the National Prosecution Authority (NPA) ‘Rape In Justice’ reported that in 2012 there were 340 guilty verdicts emanating from 3 952 reported rape cases.
This has perpetuated a culture of impunity; too many men feel justified in using violence to enforce their will against women because they think they have little chance of ending up in court or in jail.
An example is the case of NUMSA member and Eskom worker Thembisile Yende, who was murdered in May 2017, yet 16 months later her suspected killer has still not been brought to trial, allegedly for a lack of evidence. Her family, SAFTU and NUMSA will not rest until her murderer is tried and sentenced.
Underlying this surfeit of violence is a society and capitalist economy which is based on the exploitation and oppression of workers in general and women in particular, who face discrimination and exclusion in this, the world’s most unequal society.
Nearly 25 years into democracy, black women face the triple oppression on the basis of their class, race and gender which leaves them the lowest paid and in more vulnerable positions of employment.
The latest and most devastating example of gender inequality is the City Press Wealth Index which revealed on 29 July 2018 that “The top 50 richest people in the inaugural City Press are worth a collective R323 billion”. These 50 wealthiest people comprise 49 men and one woman!
In 2008, there was also one woman in the top 50: mining executive Nonkqubela Mazwai. In 2018, there is still only one woman in the top 50: Sygnia chief executive Magda Wierzycka. Nothing has changed in ten years and the racial balance has got even worse, summed up in the headline: “SA’s corporate elite – whiter than ever”.
The gender pay gap is so great a South African woman would need to work two months more than a man to earn the equivalent salary that a man would earn in a year. Stats SA estimated that in 2015 men earned a median income of R3,500 per month while women earned R2,700. The “median income” is the value where half of people’s income falls above it and the other half falls below. Based on this data, women earned 23% less than men.
Inequality also remains high in senior occupations. The 2018 Employment Equity Commission report shows that the men occupied 77.1% of top management positions and women 22.9%. In the agricultural sector, 83.1% of top managers are men.
At senior management level, men occupied 66.2% of such roles and women 38.8%. Among the professionally qualified positions 52.9% are males 52.9% and 47.1%. Although there is a marginal improvement these figures show how slowly transformation is taking place.
All this is made worse because in many cases women workers also have to do most of the work in their home, and face the massive threat of both physical and sexual violence, at work, on the journey to and from work and in the home itself.
At the historic Working-Class Summit on 21-22 July the commission on the Struggle for an Egalitarian Society proposed, and the summit agreed, to pledge its unreserved solidarity with the #TotalShutdown Campaign against gender-based violence, adopted its programs, campaign and demands and mobilising for the marches on 1 August. It resolved that:
“Women and men must fight together side-by-side against gender-based violence and rape, and for gender equality in every sphere of society on a broad range of working class issues such as access to jobs, housing and land. The working class must identify with the struggles of the LGBTIQ community and other marginalised communities and pledge its solidarity or take up its own campaigns in support.
Among such demands of the campaign must include the campaign for free and unlimited access to sanitary pads for women and girls.
“The struggle for an egalitarian society,” it concluded, “is a struggle for a socialist society, and to overturn capitalism and all its oppressive manifestations. Discrimination on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, nationality or identity emanates from capitalist exploitation in the country and globally. We must intensify the struggle against xenophobic attacks and discrimination against our fellow workers from other parts of the world.”
Finally we remember on this Women’s Day the all too few women trade unionist leaders – Ray Alexander Simons, Emma Mashinini, Rita Ndzanga, Elizabeth Mafikeng, Liz Abrahams, Jane Barrett and many others who formed and led trade unions in their different sectors.
For too long the trade union movement has elected men as General Secretaries and Presidents. SAFTU is therefore pleased that some its affiliates and provincial structures have elected women as senior office-bearers and will strive to ensure that more women follow them.