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International Women's Day this year hardly made the news

Written by Ntombi Mbadlanyana
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Ntombi Mbadlanyana discusses the failure of media, government, civil society and women themselves.

The 8th of March is International Women's Day, a day that celebrates the economic, social political achievements of women globally. We also use this day as a time to reflect on the many but sometimes fragile gains made by ordinary women. This day is also used as a time to reflect on gains made by ordinary women. But the day came and went, with hardly a mention in the South African media.
The day is often commemorated with themes designated by the United Nations. The theme for this year was "Empowering Women - Empowering Humanity: Picture It! Make it Happen" with a dedicated hashtag used within social media to commemorate the day. The theme this year envisages a world where women and girls could be free to make their own choices, about their rights, access to education, resources and ensuring that communities are also are safe for women. And that there would be no gender based violence or any forms of laws, or discriminatory practices against women. Governments, gender activists, human rights groups and civil society organisations around the world would also commemorate the 20th anniversary year of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, this declaration remains a pivotal milestone creating the agenda for the fulfilment of women's rights.
However, in South Africa this was not the case. The 8th of March was hardly celebrated, nor was there much mention in the media. There were no noticeable events or even commemorative celebrations. The Sunday newspapers continued to run with their normal headlines, the day was hardly noticed at all in most media spaces and social circles. And this got me thinking, about why we place little emphasis on such an important day, and yet South African women in their daily lives are intrinsically intertwined, with issues that often challenge women's daily existence.
Showcasing events that celebrated International Women's Day would have been the perfect, opportunity for the media to depict women their everyday lives, this was also a chance to demonstrate and drawing attention to the daily hardships of women. It was also the perfect opportunity to demonstrate our progressive strides, which have been achieved since the dawn of our democracy. Further, we could have used the day to celebrate the achievements women in South Africa have made. We could have also highlighted the lived and shared experiences of women.
South Africa is also a signatory to the ground breaking Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development, which was signed in Johannesburg 2008. This document stated that governments which are signatories to the protocol should endeavour to ensure gender equality by implementing targets set to be reached by 2015. International Women's Day was the perfect platform to showcase some of the milestones achieved, or not achieved, for example - women being appointed in strategic key decision making positions, economic and political gains as well, and of course, where they could have been appointed and have failed to make relevant appointments.
So what happened? Why was there was little or no coverage and hardly any reference made to commemorate this day? Perhaps this was an indication of what is not considered as "newsworthy" and what is not seen as relevant. Democracy in this country is 21 years old but men continue to dominate the media sector; this is clear in terms of what stories are published.
During the apartheid era women were visible at the helm of the liberation struggle, advocating for change in their lifetime. This momentum continued in the 1990s with women continuing to advocate for gender equality and making their voices heard, especially during the formation of the Women's National Coalition, which was formed through an alliance of different women's organisations. So what happened to the women's movement for liberation, since then? Why have we as women gone silent and not demanding our voices to be heard? Why are we no longer visibly claiming the public space and forging alliances and an agenda for equality?
There appears to be no co-ordinated momentum to put gender equality on the agenda and there is great disjuncture between civil society, government and the private sector efforts. People in the various sectors are all working in silos with no integrated approach to dealing with issues of gender equality, gender violence, sexism and patriarchy. Women in South Africa are also not visibly taking up the space to create a specific agenda for women, especially within political spaces where men continue to dominate the spaces. A noticeable remark aligning to this notion was the statement from the ANC Women's League, a few years ago, when it declared that South Africa was not ready for a woman president. This was a visible slap in the face to the many efforts fought for liberation for women in South Africa.
The media is also guilty of not canvassing or showing positive stories of women, and the example of the lack of coverage for International Women's Day would be a case in point. The media has a key role to play in changing mind-sets and promoting gender equality. Citizens must be more critical of the media and check that it fulfils its watchdog responsibility to help advance gender equality. The lack of media coverage during the 8 March celebrations also demonstrated the non-existence of public participation, from various stakeholders but mostly from our communities. There was a failure of action from civil society, media, government and women themselves.
Looking to the future, let us focus on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).This post 2015 agenda advocates for the advancement of gender equality to ensure that the gains and progress made is maintained and further implemented. One of the key points that we need to also remember is that gender equality requires women's active participation and involvement in decision-making at all levels, starting at home and extending to the highest levels of government.
While women may not all be the same, they have certain shared experiences. By and large, they appear to be left out of public policy and decision-making. As citizens, in civil society, and in the media, we need to ensure that the government and other stakeholders fulfil their commitments to gender equality. Women's empowerment as well as women's visibility needs to be closely monitored, to ensure women are encouraged to take their rightful place in society.
Ntombi Mbadlanyana is deputy governance manager: Gender Links, Johannesburg

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