Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Do we still need a Women's Day in 2010?

Why do women have a special day? This is the disgruntled question I’ve heard through the years.The usual retort is that men have 364 days – why not have one day for women?

But, I wonder if we still need a Women’s Day in 2010? Do women’s issues then conveniently get set aside because we’ve already celebrated and discussed women’s issues, so let’s now move on?

My women’s month started when I read poetry with a group of other women at the Jozi Book Fair on August 9.Women of all persuasions stepped upto the forum to declaim on a range of issues – from being single to hymns to grandmothers. I then found myself as part of the celebrations for the launch of a book by women writers only. Asked why there was a need for women-only publishers, I suggested that if men felt the need, why not put together a book of stories by men on the same topic?

But the point remains that men are perhaps starting to feel excluded.We may argue that women have just one day a year, but men’s issues – and they too deserve serious consideration – aren’t often on the agenda either. At the writers’symposium hosted by the Department of Arts and Culture, I was on a panel with the novelist Adaobi Nwaubani. She brought upthe point that women novelists were experiencing aflowering and being published, but was there not a danger of excluding men, or of men feeling excluded?Such a comment might provoke howls of outrage from women – and some men. But are we shooting ourselves in the foot with Women’s Day? Surely weshould place women’s issues firmly on the agenda,whatever the month, whatever the day?

I write, and live, from a position of relative privilege– although the finances of a single mother precluded me from private school, I still attended a government school that was highly regarded. I’vemoved through my working life without encountering a barage of sexism, although I’ve certainly brushedagainst sexist practices.

I’m lucky in that I entered the workforce in 1994,the year of democracy and change.When I started my first job as a community reporter, the editor was male, smoking was allowed and it was only the women reporters who wrote on the Womens League.When I left a few years later the editor was female, smoking had been relegated to the balconyand we all attended Womens’League meetings.

I have always felt myself to be valued by everyone with whom I have worked. Perhaps the tide has turned and we are now blessed to be working with men who have been enlightened by the fires feminism ignited.And my feeling is that we need to recognise this within men themselves. Although I welcome the attention afforded women during thismonth, I also lament that since we have a month to ourselves, so to speak, we don’t yet have the year.

(Published in The Sunday Independent, August 29)

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