#TotalShutDown A Case for Action
Here we find ourselves once again, on the eve of women’s month. A month where various events are hosted by government to honour women and their role in society. Awards are handed out by an imminent South African in an Armani suit while speeches are made to praise our strength and ability to overcome.
Above all else, we commemorate the bravery of South African women who marched to the Union Buildings on August 9, 1956 to demand that Prime Minister JG Stiijdom abolish the use of passes for African women. Led by the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW), a broad based women’s organisation, approximately 20 000 South African women marched against pass laws which treated African women as minors and second class citizens by policing and infringing their right to movement. Twenty four years after the dawn of democracy, has anything really changed?
The days of carrying passes are over, and according to the Bill of Rights, we, as South Africans are afforded the right to freedom of movement. However, this right has not been extended to South African women, as we continue to have our movements restricted due to fear. Fear of rape. Fear of assault. Fear of murder. All forms of gender based violence (GBV) ultimately deny South African women and girls the opportunity to achieve the equality and freedoms enshrined in the Constitution and affect their ability to reach their full potential in every sphere of social and productive life.
The women’s month celebrations are a patronising cover up of the daily atrocities South African women face. Without questioning how the system continues to reproduce the inequity faced by women or how systemic change in the discourses shaping government can be facilitated, it remains unclear how planned activities seek to disturb and dislodge patriarchal systems and challenge the status quo. Ultimately, women’s month is a celebration of women that achieves nothing at all.
Given the alarming rate of femicide and intimate partner violence (IPV), what is the point of women’s month? According to the World Bank, the rate of femicide in South Africa is 5 times the global average. The latest SAPS annual report (2016/2017) records that 93.2% of perpetrators who have been identified and arrested in relation to murdering women are male. In the same vein, a longitudinal study on intimate partner violence in South Africa found that in cases where perpetrators could be identified when women were murdered, more than half (57.1%) were committed by an intimate partner.
Yet, like clockwork every year, we celebrate women’s month. But we are no closer to justice for women. Our leaders say that empowering and improving the lives of South African women are regarded as a priority, but they offer only tepid condemnation of gender based violence. Indicative of this culture of indifference towards women, many of our leaders are perpetrators of gender based violence themselves who have not been held to account, because, you know – “you strike a woman, you strike a deal”.
It is within this lacklustre attitude towards gender based violence that the #Totalshutdown campaign finds its relevance. This campaign, spearheaded by gender activists is calling for a #Totalshutdown and Intersectional Women’s March against gender based violence on the 1 August, 2018. The campaign calls on all women, non-gender conforming people and the LGBTQIA+ community to stay away from work on the 1 August and join the protests around the country. It further discourages the attendance of men to the marches. Three of the major cities will be participating in marches on the day- those in Pretoria will be marching to the Union Buildings, the Cape Town participants will be marching to Parliament and in Bloemfontein the march will make its way to the Supreme Court of Appeals. In Kwazulu Natal three marches will be held in Newcastle, Pietermaritzburg and Durban.
The significance of this march is that it potentially represents one of the most significant moments in social mobilisation in South Africa since the inception of democracy. It has been fuelled with the same fervency of the 1956 women’s March. The campaign is set to hand over a memorandum to government, outlining changes that should be actioned by all branches of government, the judiciary and legislature. Against the backdrop of escalating GBV, women have grown tired and frustrated with having their grievances met with indifference and inaction and demand the attention of government and leaders by disturbing the economy for one day.
Mobilisation by the Federation of South African women culminated in the drafting of the Women’s Charter, which would later be incorporated into the Freedom Charter. The uncompromising character of this march seems to have been reignited in the #Totalshutdown march, where South African women are banding together to have their issues placed firmly on the agenda. The march is a form of claiming agency and citizenship.
As most movements are characterised by a wave of ebb and flow, arising around certain issues and dying down straight after, the #Totalshutdown leaders have ensured the livelihood of the movement beyond the march. After the 1 August 2018, the steering committee has committed to continue to work and eventually register the organisation as a non-profit organisation.
If in the event you are interested in joining the march, for more information contact the #Totalshutdown march via email at email@example.com or on Twitter @WomenProtestSA. Alternatively, you can also join the closed facebook group called Totalshutdown.