Each year, on the 9th of August, South Africans pay tribute to the thousands of women who marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria on this same date in 1956 to protest the extension of Pass Laws to women. This day, celebrated each year as National Women’s Day in South Africa since 1995, serves as a reminder of the crucial role women have played and continue to play – not only in our country, but in our society as a whole. 

We recently released our annual Human Rights Report Card, which reviews human rights practices and trends in South Africa. Notably, according to the Global Gender Gap Report of 2021, South Africa occupied 18th place in the world in terms of gender equality. South African women were in 14th place when it came to political empowerment – but only in 92nd place concerning economic participation and opportunity. The lived reality of many South African women – particularly those who must still contend with traditional gender hierarchies and unacceptable levels of rape and gender-based violence (GBV) – is inequality. 

GBV remains a critical issue for South African women, with the Krugersdorp gang rape only the most recent and widely covered casualty. In 2021, The South African Police Service reported 40 702 rapes. In the first three months of 2022, a shockingly high number of 10 800 were reported, although it is generally acknowledged that only a small proportion of rapes are ever reported to the police. Even so, according to the World Population Review, South Africa’s rape rate is 72,1/100K – the fourth highest in the world (with the global average at 12,27/100K). 

Parliament has taken a strong stance against GBV, budgeting R1,3 billion for its GBV and Sexual Offences Action Plan and enacting key legislation around domestic violence, bail, and the sentencing of offenders, as well as broadening the scope of sexual offences and other matters. Whether this will be enough to curb the scourge of GBV experienced in South Africa, only time will tell. It is also up to civil society – the NPOs, faith-based organisations, and individuals in our communities – not only to place pressure on Parliament to implement its action plan effectively, but also to bring awareness to GBV, to reject sexism and intolerance in all its forms, and to educate communities on the dangers of apathy or silence. We must be determined in our resolve to build a South Africa in which women will enjoy all the rights, freedoms, and liberties that our Constitution guarantees.

This Women’s Day, we pay tribute to the courage and contribution of the women before us, and celebrate the new generation who will shape our future. We commit ourselves to defending and promoting women’s rights, and we call upon our fellow South Africans to do the same.