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The 1956 Women's March. Photo: Mail & Guardian, SAPA.

60th Anniversary of Women’s Day: A reflection of things past and present

Today, Women's Day, marks the 60th anniversary of the iconic march that took place on 9 August 1956 where 20,000 women marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to petition Prime Minister JG Strijdom about the restrictive pass laws.

The four leading ladies behind the iconic march in 1956.

The four leading ladies behind the iconic march in 1956.

The march was organised by the Federation of South African Women (FSAW) and was led by four remarkable women: Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa and Sophia Williams De Bruyn. The 4 leading women represented the 4 main race groups of our country, showing racial unity despite the oppressive law of Apartheid. Although the laws were only repealed some 30 years later, this event was one of the key turning points in South Africa's history.

…We are women from every part of South Africa.We are women of every race, we come from the cities and the towns, from the reserves and the villages. We come as women united in our purpose to save the African women from the degradation of passes… In the name of women of South Africa, we say to you, each one of us, African, European, Indian, Coloured, that we are opposed to the pass system. We voters and voteless, call upon your Government not to issue passes to African women. We shall not rest until ALL pass laws and all forms of permits restricting our freedom have been abolished. We shall not rest until we have won for our children their fundamental rights of freedom, justice, and security.- Taken from a Petition presented to the Prime Minister on 9 August 1956.

Sophia Williams De-Bruyn is the only surviving member of the leaders of the iconic march on 9 August 1956. Earlier today she spoke to Cape Talk radio, reminiscing about the planning and fundraising that was required to make the march possible.

Listen here: Cape Talk Radio interview with Sophia Williams De-Bruyn.

Today, before addressing the nation, President Zuma unveiled the Women's Living Heritage Monument at the Lillian Ngoyi Square in Pretoria. This year, the month of August is dedicated to women creating a more conducive environment for equal and full participation in the mainstream economy. The site includes a multi-purpose centre to be used to educate women about political and developmental issues, formal and informal training and support entrepreneurship.

An artists impression of the new centre. Picture: dbm Architects Pretoria

An artists impression of the new centre. Picture: dbm Architects Pretoria

Current statistics that show the development of equality for women in South Africa include representation of over 40% women in South African parliament, the inclusion of a new portfolio Ministry for Women in the Presidency, 28% representation of our national judiciary, women owned businesses and conglomerates in previously male dominated sectors, and 3.6% of CEO positions, 5.5% of chairperson positions, 17.1% of directorships and 21.4% of executive management positions in the corporate world. Whilst huge strides have been made, Sophia  remarked about the various social issues including trafficking, abuse and the poverty trap of women that our country needs to focus on.

About Hayley Reichert

Passionate South African in London with a 'glass half full' approach to life.
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