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Die Student
How can we empower these women in Women’s Month?
Emily O’Ryan
Emily O’Ryan

On the main campus of the University of the Western Cape there is a statue which depicts “a domestic worker flourishing her broom as she dances with her son in celebrating his graduation”.

This is an eye-opener to the reality that women working domestically often have to exhaust themselves working for the same opportunities that other women in South Africa have access to.

These are legacies we sit with and accept as the norm. Inequality in South Africa is the highest in the world – the inequality we witness in our country is in this sense not “normal” at all. Repercussions of this abnormal inequality are present in the everyday lives of the domestic worker and her children.

As women we are capable of supporting fellow workers and changing the prospects of socio-political and economic equality in South Africa, just as the women of 1956 did.

How shall we acknowledge women?

On 9 August 1956 over 20 000 women stood up for the dignity of their fellow South Africans. National Women’s Day has since become a public holiday commemorating and acknowledging the efforts of the women who impacted South Africa’s socio-political trajectory. In the same way that children learn bounds more from what we do than what we say, we should consider the month of August as an opportunity for us to bring action that contributes to the work started in 1956.

Inequality in South Africa is the highest in the world – the inequality we witness in our country is in this sense not “normal” at all.

On Valentine’s Day, women either wait or go in search of roses and chocolates as gestures of “I love you”. On Father’s Day, daughters buy socks and shaving cream as tokens of appreciation for the men we call “dad”. How much more so, then, would it be meaningful for women to acknowledge and be acknowledged for their service and contributions in 2019?

Chocolates, flowers, clothing, and toiletries themselves are often small, material items which are puny compared to the enormous impact of others in our lives. Yet, it is in the act of showing appreciation that we engage tangibly with what is important to us.

Let us consider the dignity of these women

We may need to consider using the month of August to identify and stand up for the dignity and rights of others, particularly women. Let us consider the dignity and rights of fellow women doing domestic work. The reality of living on (or close to) minimum wage, while supporting children, cannot be easy.

Frustrated and empathetic women can improve the prospects for South Africa.

To travel to an employer’s home requires commuting long distances – one of the many challenges with the insecurity of transport, housing, and food. Perhaps this Women’s Month it is time to put onto the agenda how we can empower the women doing domestic work in South Africa in seemingly simple ways. Ensuring that our women are receiving sufficient pay to live and commute, are treated with dignity and respect in their workplace, and are well informed of their rights.

READ MORE: To all the women I know, I salute you... 

The reality that almost all domestic work employment is of women, threatening to be problematic for perpetuating stereotypical gender roles, is also a discussion to be had.

Frustrated and empathetic women can improve the prospects for South Africa. We’ve done it once, and we can most certainly do it again. It doesn’t just take courage. It takes humanity - the kind of humanity of 1956.


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