Sowetan Dialogues to tackle women’s rights

sowetan mainNational Women’s Day commemorates the Women’s March, comprising some 20 000 women of all races on the Union Buildings, on this day in 1956, to petition against the pass laws

August is Women’s Month in South Africa and Brand South Africa, along with the Sowetan, is hosting the Sowetan Dialogues to talk about issues affecting women.

This leg of the dialogues will be held on 6 August at Bloemfontein City Hall in the Free State Province. The dialogue will focus on the roles women play in nation-building and in a democratic South Africa. It will also look at whether patriarchy still has a role to play in a democratic society. Patriarchy, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is: “A system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it.”

The dialogue starts at 6pm and includes panellists such as Sisi Mabe, Speaker of the Free State provincial legislature, and Mbuyiselo Botha, media and government relations manager at Sonke Gender Justice Network.

Attendance is free but those wanting to secure their seats can message their names and surnames along with the word “Dialogues” to 48470. The SMS will be charged at R1.50.


National Women’s Day on 9 August is a public holiday in South Africa. The day commemorates the Women’s March, comprising some 20 000 women of all races on the Union Buildings, on this day in 1956, to petition against the pass laws. The laws would have required South Africans defined as black by The Population Registration Act to carry a pass.

The pass was an internal passport for designated urban/metropolitan areas in which the bearer was authorised to live, work and travel. Under the laws, black South Africans were required to carry and produce their pass at all times within such areas. They would be arrested if they could not produce one. The laws would have served to maintain population segregation, control urbanisation, and manage migrant labour during the apartheid era. The pass laws would have severely restricted the movement of black South Africans, and especially affected black women’s ability to earn an income.


Two decades ago the majority of South African women had no rights. They worked in menial jobs and, except for the privileged few, lived their lives in the private sphere. Apartheid and a nationwide patriarchal culture had disenfranchised them.

Then, in 1994, things looked up as everyone became equal, at least in theory; the new Constitution said so, after all, and of course, everyone could vote. But the fight to recognise women as adults and humans in their own right continued.

The 1994 Women’s Charter for Effective Equality began with the words: “As women, citizens of South Africa, we are here to claim our rights.”

The charter raised new hope for women, and today, South Africa’s constitution enshrines women’s rights in the passage that reads: “The state may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.”

But, in 2014, violence and other forms of discrimination against women are still a major concern across the country, as it is across the world, as patriarchy and misogyny still thrive. To counter this discrimination, to further women’s rights, and to recognise their contributions in the public and private spheres, President Jacob Zuma announced the Ministry for Women, Children and People with Disabilities in May 2009.

The ministry aims to “monitor other government departments to ensure the mainstreaming of gender, children’s rights and disability considerations into all programmes of government and other sectors. This will help government to respond to issues of these targeted groups in an integrated and coherent manner.”


The Sowetan Dialogues aim to provide a platform for communities to talk with opinion leaders on issues that affect them, and on issues outlined in the National Development Plan. The dialogues aim to encourage community members to play their parts in driving social, developmental and economic change in their communities through active citizenship.

There have been six dialogues so far this year: in Soweto, Johannesburg, Polokwane, Nelspruit, Durban and Mmabatho.

They have covered topics ranging from the president’s State of The Nation Address; to the school dropout rate; to the role of the African community in ending apartheid in South Africa; and the role of today’s youth in South Africa compared to that of 1976; among others.