“A Centenary of Working Together towards Sustainable Women Empowerment and Gender Equality”

All around the world, tributes to the more than 20 000 women, led by four remarkable leaders of the march Sophie de Bruyn, Rahima Moosa, Lillian Ngoyi and Helen Joseph, who marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria,
South Africa on 9 August 1956 in protest against the extension of Pass Laws to women, have been made.

President Jacob Zuma delivered his 2013 Women’s Day speech at Thulamahashe Stadium, Bushbuckridge, Limpopo, on Friday, August 9, 2013.

“The year 2013 is special as we are marking 100 years of women’s struggles for liberation from all forms of oppression in this country, under the theme; “A Centenary of Working Together towards Sustainable Women Empowerment and Gender Equality” .

Today we recall the struggles of generations of women towards the achievement of a free, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous South Africa,” he said.

This years celebration takes on special meaning as we celebrate 100 years since the march by women led by Charlotte Maxeke in Bloemfontein in 1913, protesting against pass laws.
The objectives of the 2013 Women’s Month are the following:
·         To promote women’s socio-economic freedom.
·         To promote the prevention of violence against women and girls.
·         To enhance the uptake of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics by girls in tertiary institutions.
·         To promote the access of land ownership by women.
·         To create platforms for young women’s movement aimed at building self-confidence and leadership opportunities and,
·         To promote social cohesion and nation building.
Women have engaged in various struggles for decades since the first march led by Charlotte Maxeke in the Free State in 1913.
The second episode was in 1930 in Potchefstroom against lodgers’ permits. In February 1954 as well, a crowd of 700 marched to the administration building in the New Brighton township of Port Elizabeth, demanding that the manager of Native affairs take back all the residence permits he had issued.
In October 1955, 1 000 women were protesting in front of the Native administration building in Durban. In Cape Town, hundreds of women marched through the streets in protest of the permit regulations. We also recall the 1957 anti-pass revolt by women in Zeerust and the struggles by women against beerhalls in areas such as Cato Manor in Durban.
The major campaign was masterminded in Johannesburg from 1954-1956, culminating in the march in 1956 of nearly 20 000 women on the Union Buildings in Pretoria.
This historic march, the date of which became National Women’s Day in the calendar of a free South Africa, was coordinated by the Federation of South African Women, and was led by four women; Lillian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa and Sophia Williams-De Bruyn who is with us today. These leaders delivered petitions to the then Prime Minister JG Strydom’s office in the Union Buildings, indicating the anger of women at having their freedom of movement restricted by the hated official passes.
The August 1956 Pretoria march was supported by smaller on-going protests, for example, in Cradock, 300 women assembled in front of the magistrate’s office while a deputation presented the magistrate with a memorandum.
Women’s month is thus a tribute not only to the thousands of women who marched on that day in 1956, but also a tribute to the pioneers of the women’s movement in this country, dating back to 1913.

Petition presented to the Prime Minister, Pretoria, 9 August 1956
We, the women of South Africa, have come here today. We represent and we speak on behalf of hundreds of thousands of women who could not be with us. But all over the country, at this moment, women are watching and thinking of us. Their hearts are with us.
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.
For hundreds of years the African people have suffered under the most bitter law of all – the pass law which has brought untold suffering to every African family.
Raids, arrests, loss of pay, long hours at the pass office, weeks in the cells awaiting trial, forced farm labour – this is what the pass laws have brought to African men. Punishment and misery – not for a crime, but for the lack of a pass.
We African women know too well the effect of this law upon our homes, our children. We, who are not African women, know how our sisters suffer.
Your Government proclaims aloud at home and abroad that the pass laws have been abolished, but we women know this is not true, for our husbands, our brothers? our sons are still being arrested, thousands every day, under these very pass laws. It is only the name that has changed. The “reference book” and the pass are one.
In March 1952, your Minister of Native Affairs denied in Parliament that a law would be introduced which would force African women to carry passes. But in 1956 your Government is attempting to force passes upon the African women, and we are here today to protest against this insult to all women. For to us an insult to African women is an insult to all women.
We want to tell you what the pass would mean to an African woman, and we want you to know that whether you call it a reference book, an identity book, or by any other disguising name, to us it is a PASS . And it means just this:-

That homes will be broken up when women are arrested underpass laws
That children will be left uncared for, helpless, and mothers will be torn from their babies for failure to produce a pass
That women and young girls will be exposed to humiliation and degradation at the hands of pass-searching policemen
That women will lose their right to move freely from one place to another.

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.

In 1955 the then Minister of Native Affairs stated “African women will be issued with passes as from January 1956″. The law had been amended in 1950 to enable the government to introduce passes for women. Up until then only African men had been obliged to carry passes. A women`s anti-pass movement immediately began to grow. The first big protest against the pass laws took place in October 1955. Protests grew all over the country and culminated in a mass demonstration at the Union Buildings, Pretoria, on 9 August 1956 – the day that has since be designated as “Women`s Day” in South Africa. Hundreds of thousands of signatures on petition forms such as the above were deposited at the office of the Prime Minister who, of course, was not available to receive them.

Petition presented to the Prime Minister on 9 August 1956.

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