‘You strike a woman, you strike a rock’ – The history behind Women’s Day

POLOKWANE – As South Africans, we need to remember and tell the positive and inspiring stories of women who take it upon themselves to make positive contributions within society.

On 9 August 1956, 20 000 South African women from all walks of life marched to the Union Buildings to protest against the proposed amendments to the Urban Areas Act of 1950, commonly referred to as the “pass laws”, that required black people to carry a ‘pass’.

The ‘pass’ was an identification document which restricted black South Africans freedom of movement under apartheid, allowing them to enter ‘white’ areas. The purpose was to maintain segregation and control migrant labour, all part of the government policy of the time.

The women left petitions containing more than 100,000 signatures at the then Prime Minister, J.G. Strijdom’s office door and stood silently outside his door for 30 minutes.

Women of all ethnic groups were outraged and indignant about these travel restrictions as well as about apartheid in general. Leaders of the movement included: Lilian Ngoyi, Sophia Williams, Rahima Moosa, and Helen Joseph.

The women then sang a protest song that was composed in honour of the occasion: Wathint’Abafazi Wathint’imbokodo! (You strike a woman, you strike a rock).

In the years since, the phrase has come to represent women’s courage and strength in South Africa.

In 1994, after democratic government came to South Africa, National Women’s Day was first celebrated.

Nowadays, speeches on National Women’s Day particularly note the progress of women in all walks of life in South Africa. In 1994, women constituted less than three percent of the South African parliament while today, they make up over 40 percent.

The whole month of August is used to celebrate South African women and their accomplishments and events are not strictly limited to 9 August.

International Women’s Day (8 March) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.

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  AUTHOR
Nelie Erasmus
JOURNALIST

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