South Africa is a country that was under apartheid rule from 1948 until 1994 when the country experienced her first democratic elections and the ruling power in the country was for the first time in the hands of black dominated government. During the apartheid era, women, more especially rural women were amongst the marginalized and the vulnerable. Rural areas globally are characterized by high illiteracy rates, high levels of unemployment leading to the majority of the households dependent on subsistence agriculture, and which does not produce enough to guarantee food security. Most rural areas lack basic infrastructure such as roads, clean water, electricity, sanitation, etc. As much as Poverty is the people’s daily bread and enemy in these areas, but rural women have remained standing for themselves and the welfare of their families.
The Status of Women: Global Perspectives
Globally, rural women are celebrated every year on the 15th October, a day observed and labelled as the World Rural Women’s Day, which is aimed at reflecting, appreciating and reminding governments and society how much they owe to rural women and to give value and credit to their work as well as highlighting trials, tribulations and struggles they go through in bringing about the social fabric of the family unit (Chronicle, 07 November 2015). The idea of honouring rural women with a special day was conceived at the fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, in 1995 and the main objective was to highlight the rural women’s role in food production and security for the family and the nation at large (National Today, 2021). According to the South African Government (2021), the first International Day of Rural Women was observed on 15 October 2008, a day which recognizes the critical role and contribution of rural women in strengthening agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty, and which befits the theme of this year’s International Rural Women’s Day, which is “Rural Women Cultivating Good Food for All”
The Status of Women: National Perspectives
In South Africa, women during the apartheid era played an important role towards liberating the country from the apartheid rule. On the 9th August 1956, about 20 000 South African women, led by Lillian Ngoyi and Helen Joseph, marched to the Unions Buildings in Pretoria, against the carrying of passes (South African Government, 2000). For decades to follow, this brave initiative was not acknowledged until the democratic government came into power in 1994 and decided to include this brave historical event in the National Legacy Project, a project that was coordinated by the office of the first Black President, Nelson Mandela in collaboration with the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology (DACST) to acknowledge the heritage of the previously disadvantaged communities and population groups, women being one of these groups. The Government of National Unity and DACST responded by building a Women’s Monument in Pretoria and declaring the 9th August a public holiday, to commemorate and celebrate the brave action of the South African women when they risked their lives to free not only themselves but also black men who were also imprisoned if found without these documents. As much as women are celebrated every year in South Africa and every year internationally but the question is, what impact do these celebrations have on improving their lives and sustaining their livelihoods especially those women that are illiterate and reside in the rural areas.
This year’s celebrations came at a time when most rural women especially in remote areas of South Africa, Zimbabwe and other developing nations are finding it hard to make ends meet due to food shortages. Concerns have been raised by many stakeholders in most developing countries over the lack of government support to empower rural women. The rural women of South Africa are not immune to the challenges experienced by rural women in other parts of the world, more especially those in developing nations. For decades, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), civil society and political parties have been commemorating and celebrating International Women’s Day and World Rural Women’s Day, but after all these celebrations, nothing much has been done to improve the daily struggles of, and empower rural women in remote areas to sustain their and their families’ livelihoods. The commemorations and celebrations have always been supported by sweet sounding themes like ‘Empowering Rural Women’, ‘End Hunger and Poverty’, ‘Promoting Women Empowerment and Gender Equality’ and the 2021 theme ‘Rural Women Cultivating Good Food for all”, but as promising as they sound, but they have achieved nothing towards changing the plight of the struggling rural women. In developing countries such as South Africa, Zimbabwe and others, only a few urban women celebrate these events and can claim to have benefitted from women empowerment programs and initiatives whereas the majority is not even aware of these celebrated women’s days, since they have nothing to celebrate.
The International Day of Rural Women Theme 2021 “Rural Women Cultivating Good Food for All”
According to the United Nations (2021), women make up to 40 percent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries, yet they face discrimination in the issues of land and livestock ownership, equal pay, participation in decision-making structures, access to financial resources and markets to help their farms to flourish. Due to this, they remain poor and subjected to poverty. The role of rural women as contributors to food production and food security, and the significant contribution they make to their families, their communities and the country’s economic growth cannot be underestimated, but sadly their contribution often goes unnoticed, without any recognition or support from the government despite their contribution to economic development and growth of their countries. In the International Day of Rural Women, UN Women (2021) is calling for governments, Non-Governmental Organisations, the Civil Society, the private sector and other stakeholders to come up with an integrated plan to support rural women and girls, also capacitate them to respond to climate change through agricultural production, food security and encourage active involvement in natural resource management as well as creating equal opportunities for all in order to achieve the theme attached to the International Day of Rural Women 2021.
Department of Cultural and Heritage Tourism
University of KwaZulu-Natal
College of Humanities
Durban, South Africa
Email: [email protected]