by Pearl Mashabane
On the 8th of March 2013 commemorated as International Women’s Day, the UN Women for Peace held its 1st annual March to end violence against women. The march took place on a day the sky was pouring down a mix of rain and snow, a day that beckoned all to stay indoors with a warm cup of tea unless they had a really good reason to go out. And so hundreds of women in the New York area reckoned they have the kind of reason to brave the chilling weather to join the march. Lives of countless women and girls around the world are held at ransom by violence in their homes, workplaces and public spaces, a gross violation of human rights.
Being part of this inaugural march reminded me of 9th August 2006 where I had the privilege of joining hundreds of South African women as they commemorated the 50th anniversary of the 1956 Women’s March to the Union Buildings demanding an end to the pass laws that restricted their freedom of movement.
Back in 1956, the women of South Africa came out in full knowledge of the gravity of danger they were putting themselves in. Imprisonment or untold torture. They braved on. Something had to give or nothing would change. They had endured enough of the oppression and injustices that kept piling up against them because of their race, class and gender.
As the women surmounted the hill to the seat of power in Pretoria, they chanted: “Wa thintha abafazi, wa thintha imbokodo, uza kufa! – “ You strike a woman, you strike a rock, you will be crushed”. Mesmerized by their numbers and determined resolved, the forces of power were paralyzed. The prime minister refused to go out and meet them. The apartheid system eventually crumbled and women gained their freedom.
Similar stories of women’s victory against oppression can be told from all parts of the world. Yet decades later one thing persists, Violence against women and Girls. With all the gains made to improve the quality of women’s lives, some men are still using with increasing force the only way they know how to keep women down – through the power of their fists or guns. The statistics provided by the UN state that around the world 7 out of 10 women face some form of violence in their lives.
It is disheartening to bear testimony to the reality of these numbers as captured in daily newspaper headlines and narrated too often with shock by communities in cities and villages alike. They are statistics and stories that speak of friends, neighbors, celebrities and ourselves. Therefore a March on March from the UN to Dag Hammarskjold plaza may seem pointless. A Billion Rising on Valentine’s Day may look like a joke and giving speeches and signing declarations may look like empty talk-shop.
However, what we need to understand is that women can be very peaceful and patient even in the midst of peril and injustice. That is why we sing, dance, write and march instead of automatically drawing out weapons as a first line of defense. That is why we seek peace and reconciliation instead of vengeance. Perpetrators of abuse and violence often mistake this for a fatal flaw and cowardice. They perceive this as proof of their inherent right to exercise physical power to control and rule over the ‘weaker’ sex with impunity.
But those who are wise know that a day will always dawn like it did in 1956 when unexpectedly women will rise up with a peaceful -militance and demand justice on the spot. The days of unmitigated violence against the innocent are numbered.
Every month and every year using all the languages spoken, young and old women from all corners of the world will continue to issue a warning: “you strike a woman, you strike a rock! We aught not wait to find out what kind of crushing rocks they chant about.
With special tribute to all survivors of violence. You are all formidabble and uncrusheable rocks.