When International Women’s Day was established 106 years ago at a meeting of 100 women delegates from 17 countries, the purpose was not just to highlight the cause of “women as housewives and mothers”, but also to support the abolition of “all privileges deriving from birth or wealth”. (Terry Bell, 6 March 2016). Then, as now, women were on the bottom rungs of a ladder of exploitation. At that conference, a Russian delegate had noted: “It is a matter of indifference who is the ‘master’, a man or a woman”.
Black women in South Africa suffered the oppression of being both female and black. In Khulumani workshops, women name the oppressions from which they suffered under apartheid.
Maria Mnyane, a former farmworker from KwaNdebele tells the devastating story of being an exploited and abused farmworker while Pauline speaks of the terrible impacts of the SASOL 1987 strike and the role that women tried to play in sustaining their families.
This suffering has not ceased today as evidence emerges of who remain the lowest paid employees amongst the support staff at tertiary institutions in South Africa in 2016 in the struggle against “outsourcing.” In this situation, “the majority of the low paid workers are women, many taking home less than R2 500 a month.” Bell writes, “Full-time domestic workers are currently supposed to receive a minimum wage of R11.44 or R2 230.80 a month, but there is no recognition of (the impact on these incomes) on steadily rising food inflation.”
The struggle for gender equality in South Africa must prioritise the realities of low-paid women workers and women who reproduce the work force through their unpaid care-giving activities. It is their lives that must begin to change while redress is secured for the gross violations of apartheid that had the most deleterious effects on the lives of women.