Once more we are celebrating International Women’s Day. The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is, “Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures”. The Left, to which we belong has over the years pushed for progressive change and influenced the celebration of this day. This was through the activities of labour movements at the beginning of the twentieth Century in North America and Europe.
The Socialist Party of America set aside this day in honour of the 1908 garment workers’ strike in New York, where women protested against working conditions. As a result, the first National Women’s Day was observed in the United States on February 28th 1909.
In 1910, though no date was set, the Socialist International, of which the Botswana National Front (BNF) is a member, at its meeting in Copenhagen, established a Women’s Day to honour the movement for women’s rights and to build support for achieving human rights for women. It was Clara Zetkin, head of the women’s desk at the German Social Democratic Party who tabled the idea of an International Women’s Day to be celebrated by every country every year, precisely for women to press their demands. The meeting was attended by over 100 women from 17 countries. Among them were the first three women elected to the Finnish Parliament.
This initiative led to the first celebration of International Women’s Day on March 19th in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, and Denmark. There were massive rallies which were attended by more than one million people. At these rallies, pressure was mounted for the right of women to the following; hold public office, work, vocational training and an end to discrimination on the job.
International Women’s Day has since then taken a new global dimension. The fight for women’s rights has since been strengthened by four global United Nations Women’s conferences. These have helped make the commemoration a rallying point to build support for Women’s rights and participation in the political and economic arenas.
International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the struggle.
The United Nations and Gender Equality Charter of the United Nations signed in 1945 was the first international agreement to affirm the principle of equality between women and men. In 1975 during International Women’s Year, the United Nations began celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8th.
Like other progressive forces throughout the world, the Botswana National Front has over the years pushed for policies that bestow human rights on women. Women are now able to get full pay while on maternity leave in Botswana because of the motions we tabled in parliament. We do admit that quotas have their limitations, but they can assist to affirm women if used together with other means. It is for this reason that we are the first party to introduce 30% quota in terms of party positions for women. To us Women’s rights are a Human rights issue and we take them seriously.
We also hold the view that there is need to change our electoral system. The current first past the post system works against women in their efforts to be part of the political leadership. As long as the electoral system remains unchanged, women will continue to be under-represented in these law making bodies. We should not pretend that our society has stopped being paternalistic and hostile to women. Introduction of a mixed electoral system, as suggested by our party, will help address this problem.
Our society should not act like Women have gained true equality. They are still under-represented in senior positions, government, big business and other areas. There is still a lot to be done to ensure that they access education, wealth, health etc like men. It is for this reason that our Member of Parliament for Kanye South, Cde Abram Kesupile asked a question pushing for the provision of free sanitary pads for poor Women. Violence against Women is still prevalent and not getting better.
To us this is not just a day for delivering speeches. We should use this day to gauge our progress in the fight for Women’s rights and ensure that we remove all the obstacles in the fight for equality of both sexes. If we fail then this day will lose meaning and will come to pass yearly just like any other day. We will have failed to shape a better future for the next generation. Poverty mainly resides in rural female headed households. Firstly, because the rural areas have been neglected by the ruling Botswana Development Party (BDP). Secondly, because women are by far the most exploited sex. What this means therefore is that children who are born out of these families stand a higher chance of being poor. The “rural” girl child therefore receives the most economic battering because of skewed development, capitalism and the paternalistic society. It is not surprising that most of the people who work under the exploitative Ipelegeng Scheme are Women. This scheme does not provide a long term solution and it only provides employment for just one month in a year. The payment of P 400 per month is equal to slavery.
To address this problem we need to do away with the neo-liberal trickle down policies of the BDP by removing it from power. There is need to empower the women but with a deliberate bias towards those in the rural areas. In that way we will be “connecting girls, Inspiring the futures” as this year’s theme suggests. Otherwise this will remain a Day for the elite to deliver speeches and go back to their comfort areas while the girls continue live in conditions of squalor and deprivation.
*Mohwasa is BNF Information and Publicity Secretary