Those fortunate enough to find employment are confronted with the constant battle of pursuing their career ambitions and family lives. Women excelling in their careers are often perceived as having failed in their family responsibilities (being good mothers and wives). The bread-and-butter issues have become a thorny subject for women who are unemployed or pursuing their careers.
The other challenge is the issue of land restitution and distribution and its role in addressing socioeconomic inequalities and challenges. Though the land restitution and distribution debates advocate equal land distribution among men and women, few women have land ownership. About 13% of SA women have private ownership of farmland.
However, things have not changed for women living in rural areas since the discourse around land reform. Women in rural areas are subjected to the sexist oppression of traditional leaders, who do not recognise the importance of land ownership by women.
In some contexts, it is thought that women do not have any form of rights or privilege to landownership. Social norms do not encourage the recognition of women as landowners — land ownership is often recognised under marriage. If the husband passes on, the land will belong to his family to avoid losing it if a woman remarries. Due to patrilineal inheritance custom, a boy child will often be the one to inherit the land rather than a girl child. Therefore, some traditional norms do not recognise women as entitled to land ownership.
Women are vulnerable to climate change resulting from their poor socioeconomic background. Women in rural areas represent a higher percentage of poor communities and depend for their livelihood on the natural resources threatened by climate change.
Lacking access to natural resources puts women in stressful situations. In most cases, it is the responsibility of women in rural areas to ensure their dependent family members have access to clean drinking water. When there is no access to water, for example, women have to find the means to get it and, in some cases, even travel long distances. Also, they are the ones expected to gather wood to ensure their children are fed.
In most communities, women are not active participants in making decisions. We have internalised the notion that men are more rational leaders than women, so we tend not to acknowledge women’s voices when making decisions.
Commemorating Women’s Month
August 9 celebrates the monumental achievement of the women of 1956 who fought against sexist and racial segregation. Those women understood their enemy and were united in dealing with the enemy. Present-day women are confronted with intersecting challenges. I believe SA should not commemorate Women’s Month, since women still do not have freedom and still experience violations of their human rights. We need active solutions, like the 1959 women, to mitigate our challenges.
There is nothing to celebrate about being a woman in SA, since womanhood faces abuse, violation and exclusion. Without minimising the efforts and contributions of those who came before us, we should mourn the social injustices directed at, and the traumatic experiences of, SA women.
The notion of imbokodo subjected women to systematic dominance, disrespect, violation and exploitation. The lives of SA women are devalued; they continue to experience trauma imposed by patriarchy.
Nontombi Velelo is a PhD student and social science programme director and sociology lecturer at the University of the Free State.