On August 9, 2020 we get to celebrate National Women’s Day. This South African holiday is celebrated every year on a weekday. Women have had a long history of oppression, but every fight gets us one step closer to freedom and equality.
History of National Women's Day
On August 9, 1956, there was a staged march on the Union Buildings of Pretoria. Over 20,000 women of all races attended the march in order to protest against the Urban Areas Act of 1950 amendments. This law required all South Africans defined as “black” to carry an internal passport that served to maintain segregation, control urbanization, and manage migrant labor during the apartheid.
The protest was led by Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa, and Sophia Williams. The women left 14,000 petitions at the office doors of the prime minister. 100,000 signatures were left outside the prime minister’s door as well as a thirty-minute silent protest. After the silent protest, songs were sung to honor the event, to make sure their voices were heard. The song they sang was composed specifically for the event, titled “Wathint’Abafazi Wathint’imbokodo” which translates to “Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock.”
It was a peaceful protest but it made a difference, because of it we have National Women’s Day. The day wasn’t actually made a holiday until 1995. The day brings attention to the issues African women faced then and still face today, including domestic violence, workplace sexual harassment, unequal pay, girls not being allowed to go to school, and no-help parenting. In 1994, women had very low representation within Parliament, with just nearly 2.7%. Women within the national assembly were at 27.7%. After the creation of this public holiday, the numbers nearly doubled, with women now having 48% representation all throughout the country’s government.
National Women's Day timeline
The 50th Anniversary of the original protest. A march reenactment is held.
On one of the many celebrated National Women’s Day occasions, the Malibongwe Embokodweni statue is erected to honor the event in 1956.
The holiday was written as a national holiday and it was celebrated for the very first time commemorating it.
More than 20,000 women had a peaceful protest on the Union Buildings to protest the Urban Areas Act of 1950.
National Women's Day FAQs
What's the Difference Between National Women’s Day and International Women’s Day?
The goal is the same, empowering women! But while National Women’s Day is more about the liberation and empowerment of South African women, International Women’s Day is more about all women from any region.
How do I celebrate if I'm not in South Africa?
There are reenactments that are televised and you can hold a viewing party and try and do your own respectful reenactment.
Can I celebrate if I’m not South African?
Of course, this holiday is about South African women and celebrating with them the greatness they have achieved. Celebrating is about honoring the past and keeping the spirit of the holiday alive.
National Women's Day Activities
Attend an Awareness Event
There are plenty of events and protests to attend that help raise awareness and empower women.
Host A Viewing Party
Every year the event is televised and reenactments are held. Hosting a viewing party is the perfect way to celebrate if you can't be there in person.
Attend a Reenactment
In 2006 the first reenactment of the original protest was held and every year there is another reenactment held. Spectating or signing up to participate is a great way to honor the history behind the day.
5 Facts About Women’s Rights
The fight for rights
Women were still held as subordinate to men in 1902 — society held them in a position of inferiority.
The right to vote
White women were the only ones that had actually gained the right to vote in 1930 and it took twenty years to get that passed.
Women Organized Their Own Council
The Alexandra Women's Council in the 1940s became active in squatting related issues and established the Women of the Crossroads.
Thursdays Were Holy Holidays
Women from different ethnicities and social backgrounds used to meet every Thursday.
All Women Earn the Right to Vote
In 1965 women of color in the U.S. finally earned the right to vote.
Why We Love National Women's Day
It Empowers Women
Having a day to commemorate the history and the fights that women have fought is a great way to remember and ensure progress in the future.
It Raises Awareness
Women have had a lot of obstacles to go through and having days like these helps to raise awareness on just how far women have come.
It's Full of History
Women have had a long forged path of fighting for freedom and this day honors all the sacrifices women have made throughout South African history.
National Women's Day dates