Have you ever heard the phrases “those who don’t know history are bound to repeat it” or “It’s important to know history so that you learn from it”?
As young women in South Africa, we have a great example of history to learn from. On August 9 1956, in what came to be known as the Women’s March, 10,000 to 20,000 women marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria in protest against carrying of pass books. With them they carried bundles of petitions signed by other women who could not make it to the march. These great women showed determination as they came from many parts of South Africa, even as far as Cape Town. They did not allow anything to stand in their way, neither distance, work nor family—they knew the importance of this day and they showed up in great numbers.
As young women of today, we must possess the same kind of determination in confronting issues many of us face, and there are many lessons to learn from these amazing women.
First, the women of 1956 defied stereotypes. Women at that time were often seen as soft, gentle and obedient home makers and caregivers. While there is nothing wrong with these characteristics, these women proved that they were capable of so much more. As the young women of today, we must also be aware of the stereotypes facing us and break free of the ones that serve to oppress us and keep us stagnant. There are too many rules set for us by society that serve to keep us in small boxes.
Second, the events of that day would also not have been such a groundbreaking success without proper planning, communication and leadership. Planning is an important skill for everyone to have as nothing great can be achieved without it. Planning fits into every area of our lives be it our careers, our personal lives, or even just what we will do tomorrow.
Third, the women of 1956 showed unity, something that is evident when you see the black and white photos from that day. They came together, united around a single cause. In present day, there are many talks about how women don’t support each other and would rather compete with one another—the infamous ‘pull her down syndrome’. As young women we must always support and lift each other up. We must stand firm and united around issues that affect us as young women.
Finally, they saw a problem and set out to solve it. They took decisive action against an injustice. They did not allow anything to stand in their way. It would have been easy for many of them to make excuses and not show up, but they did show up.
As the young women of today, we need to learn that when there is a problem that affects us, it is up to us to act against it. We cannot sit idly while we see things falling apart. We can reach out to the relevant authorities and use social media to get our messages heard—action must always be taken.
These amazing women recognized an injustice, took a stand and made it to the history books. Today, their efforts are celebrated every year on August 9th. Pick a cause and stand for it in unity, because you too might make a difference.