A monthly column by Vivienne Solomons who is a legal consultant who passionately believes that God wants His people to make a difference right where they are and to stand up for what is true and just. She is also passionate about encouraging young women to walk victoriously with God and she is engaged in a challenging faith journey as a parent of a child with special needs.
This week we celebrate National Women’s Day in South Africa. Importantly, the celebrations are not confined to just one day; numerous activities and events are planned throughout the country during the entire month of August, not only to mark that historic event of more than 60 years ago but also to recognise and celebrate all women from all walks of life, different generations, race and culture groups.
Whatever your perspective on how women are viewed and treated in our country and even what still needs to change, what cannot be denied is the fact that the acknowledgment and celebration of the unique role of women in our society is a significant and important gesture from the highest level of government, and one which in itself has an impact for change in this area.
It was on August 9 1956 that over 20 000 women of all races, led by Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Sophia Williams-De Bruyn and Rahima Moosa, marched through the streets of Pretoria to the Union Buildings in order to deliver a petition to the then Prime Minister, JG Strydom.
The petition was in protest to the extension of the law that required black men to carry reference documents or “passes” (which effectively curtailed their freedom of movement), to women as well.
It must have taken great courage for these women to make such a stand. Certainly, they would have had to count the cost involved to themselves personally.
As if the risk of official reprisals, including arrest, detention and even banning, were not enough, they also risked raising the ire of men — those close to them; those in their communities; and those across the nation.
But they were weary of standing back, powerless to make significant changes to a way of life that discriminated against them primarily because of their race, but also because of their class and their gender.
As a result, they took decisive action. Although it would take another 30 years before the pass laws were eventually repealed, these women are remembered for the risk they took and the stand they made.
Not unlike Queen Esther, who, faced with a difficult choice many years before them, was prompted to action by the words of her cousin Mordecai, who warned her that if she remained completely silent at that time, relief and deliverance would arise for the Jews from another place, and that she herself would perish.
However, he also encouraged her that she had in fact come to the kingdom “for such a time as this”. Esther had a God-given mission but she would need to count the cost in order for it to be realised.
Let us consider for a moment our own personal situations. The South Africa we live in is very different from that of 1956; South Africa and indeed the world have changed to such an extent that they would be barely recognisable to Lilian Ngoyi and her compatriots.
Yet each of us has a God-given mission or task, whether “big” or “small”, to accomplish in our lifetime. The question is, what is being required of us (which is, of course, legal and God-honouring) that perhaps we are not so comfortable or confident doing, for whatever reason?
In other words, what is holding us back from pursuing that dream, speaking out and standing up for change or even taking the necessary steps to create the life that we want?
As we contemplate and celebrate the role of women this month, may we not shrink back from being the women we were created to be, for when we rise to the challenge, the beneficial impact will not be limited to us personally, it will be felt not only in our families but also in our communities and in our nation.