During women’s month, I was thinking a lot about what it means, and how it is linked to feminism.  Every year we celebrate women’s month and even the people who publicly criticise feminism join in on women’s month celebrations.

And everyone thanks women for our contributions to the society as mothers, wives, caregivers, guardians, entrepreneurs, CEOs, creative directors, activists etc. We all talk about how important it is that women of today are paying homage to the women who marched to the Union Buildings on 9 August 1956 in protest against the Pass Laws that were oppressive to women of that era.

We write articles, create adverts, hold empowerment-themed conferences and commemorative events (some organised by the government) across the country. Women are given platforms to talk about what this month means to them and to women overall.

This is all beautiful until you realise how disconnected this practice is to feminism. Or how fake feminism is used to push agendas that are not at all tied to women empowerment and freedom. For example, brands will create ads that celebrate women, they will talk about how intelligent and skilled women are, what value they add. But then, you look at the brand and find only one woman – or none – in positions of power.

During women’s month, we praise women for their achievements and victories, but we don’t want to give them opportunities that will advance their chances to succeed even further in the avenues we praise them for. How does that make sense?

Remember that old saying “practice what you preach”? It’s a myth when it comes to societal and organisational cultures.

Truth is, many people dismiss feminism, seeing it as an “anti-men agenda”. I am yet to understand why people – men in particular – think pro-feminism equals to anti-men. In Africa, feminism is also often dismissed as an ‘unAfrican’ notion. But in all cultures, for centuries, men enjoyed the subjugation of women, all in the name of culture and tradition. The idea of women’s equality is linked to our modern understandings of human rights.

The simple definition of feminism is that it is the advocacy for equality. It’s asking society to give women the same opportunities as men, the same pay as men and the same respect as men. It’s also asking men and society to take women’s issues seriously, and implement structures that protect and serve women.

And then, how can we praise women during women’s month, and in the same breath vilify them when reporting abuse, rape or any sexual violence? How can we praise women during women’s month and in the same breath ignore the femicide that’s currently plaguing the country?

How are we for feminism and against it at the same time, by perpetuating and feeding into ideologies that oppose everything that feminism stands for?

Women’s month and feminism are connected in that they are both concepts used to fight systems that oppress and alienate women. Systems that have kept – and still keep – women away from occupying spaces they have every right to occupy. Systems that operate on patriarchal and misogynistic policies.

Both men and women have the responsibility to fight these systems. It’s not enough for men to just acknowledge that women are treated unfairly. They need to be on the frontlines and use their voices to help ensure that the celebrations that we have during women’s month (and beyond) are not in vain.

It’s as musician, Beyoncé said about feminism: “I don’t understand the negative connotation of the word, or why it should exclude the opposite sex. If you’re a man who believes your daughter should have the same opportunities and rights as your son, then you’re a feminist. We need men and women to understand the double standards that still exist in this world, and we need to have a real conversation so we can begin to make changes.”

Serious change won’t happen if we don’t start having these real conversations, as uncomfortable as they are.

Sweden compiled and implemented a “feminist foreign policy” in 2014. Its role is to promote gender equality and place women’s issues and rights at the centre of its diplomatic agenda. What’s stopping South Africa from adopting its own policy in 2019?

As much as I know that we’re far from where we were all those years ago when the women of 1956 marched to the Union Buildings, I do believe that we can do better. We need to do better. Our celebrations for women’s month should not be futile. Now is not the time to hesitate to take action. It’s time for any and everyone with influence to join in the battle, and be the voice that channels change for a better country and society.

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Tell us: what can we do to actively support women’s rights?

This blog also forms part of our Rights 2.0 – Bridging Divides project. Find out more here.