THE BLOG
27/04/2018 08:47 SAST | Updated 27/04/2018 08:48 SAST

Freedom Day? For Women And Girls In SA, Not So Much

The democratic gains of 1994 have not translated into the fundamental freedoms of dignity, safety and security, especially for women and girls.

Emmanuel Kwitema/ Reuters

As we reflect on Freedom day, the message contained in Letta Mbuli's song "Not Yet Uhuru" remains true. A lot still needs to be done for women and girls to experience the true meaning of freedom.

Every year, on April 27, South Africa commemorates Freedom Day to mark the liberation of our country and its people from a long period of colonialism and white minority domination. This year, it is important to reflect on women's daily lives and realities.

Do women's lives reflect the freedom espoused in the country's Constitution?

Are South African women's lives better than they were in 1994?

On paper, women in South Africa ought to enjoy the highest status globally. The country boasts a progressive Constitution and a national legislative framework founded on human rights and gender equality.

In practical terms, freedom must mean emancipation from poverty, unemployment, racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination. Yet more than two decades into our democracy, many of these issues are still rife in the country. We are still a long way away from solving many of the legacies of apartheid. In many ways, the democratic gains of 1994 have not translated into the fundamental freedoms of dignity, safety and security, especially for women and girls.

Women remain holding the short end of the stick. The majority of the South African population who live under the poverty line are black and female. The face of poverty, unemployment and HIV/Aids is that of black women and girls.

According to reports by People Opposing Women Abuse, a woman is sexually or physically abused in South Africa every four minutes. This means that there are at least 360 women abused every day under-reported.

South Africa's 2016 Gender Equality report revealed that women are more negatively disadvantaged than men. They are less likely to have a tertiary education, and they experience far higher levels of unemployment. They are also still less likely to be able to read and write.

And these are only the reported cases. As much as 40 percent to 50 percent of women in the country have suffered intimate partner violence, with the Medical Research Council estimates that three women are killed by an intimate partner every single day.

Sexual violence remains, as the statistics attest, and violence against women also continues to be an everyday reality. South Africa's violence against women ranks as one of the worst in the world. According to reports by People Opposing Women Abuse, a woman is sexually or physically abused in South Africa every four minutes. This means that there are at least 360 women abused every day under-reported.

Women are particularly vulnerable because of their lower socioeconomic status. They have fewer options and resources to escape domestic violence and seek justice.

In light of all these stark realities and challenges experienced by women, the sentiment that it is indeed "not yet uhuru" for women in South Africa holds true.

It is "not yet uhuru" because the freedom we talk about and seek to commemorate has been overshadowed by the many challenges that still remain for women and girls in the country.

For how can we speak of freedom, when women are not free, in either the private or the public space? The chilling statistics around violence against women point to a society at war with its women and girls.

Political freedom and having the right to vote can never be enough if at least half of the population remains oppressed. Political freedom ought to be coupled with economic and social freedom.

Many women are frustrated. Some have expressed their feelings of hopelessness around violence on social media, tagging posts with #MeToo #MenAreTrash #EndVAWNow #EverydayPerpetrators #ThePeoplevsHer. These are examples of women finding solidarity in their victimisation through telling their stories of sexual violence. These stories must be told and heard, because they show how vast the problem is and how women are not safe anywhere.

In light of the above, there is need to continuously reflect on the ways in which we define freedom.

Political freedom and having the right to vote can never be enough if at least half of the population remains oppressed. Political freedom ought to be coupled with economic and social freedom.

According to a 2017 study by the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR), women's voices and experiences need to be taken into account when developing and implementing national policy initiatives. This cannot be further from the current reality. Policy recommendations must reflect women's lived realities, rather than the ideological perspectives that politicians and researchers think are accurate.

Similarly, women's experiences and voices ought to inform the narrative around what freedom means and should be.

Until then, it is difficult to speak of a "free" South Africa.

A true state of uhuru must come with gender equality.

Nonhlanhla Sibanda Moyo is a gender specialist at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation.