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Every year Women’s Day, Women’s Month and the 16 Days of Activism roll around and we hear some really great speeches from those in power. Every year, as these events tick by we see NGOs around the country rallying their troops to march, educate, inform and assist. Why? What are these days even about? Do we just want to talk about how bad things are for 16 days solid and then forget? Do we genuinely believe that throughout the rest of the year we are already where we want to be in terms of women’s and children’s rights?

I don’t believe that we do, and it comes down to the definition of what it means to be free.

“There is more than one kind of freedom … Freedom to and freedom from” [1] and the difference between them cannot be underrated.

The “freedom to” enables action, choice, speech and all the values that we hold dear. “Freedom from” entails protection, security, and peace of mind. In the democracy envisioned in the crafting of our Constitution, these two freedoms are mutually dependent.

The reason why we aren’t there yet is simple. It is difficult to have the freedom to choose when you don’t have freedom from systematic disadvantage. It is difficult to have the freedom to act when you don’t have freedom from violence. It is difficult to have the freedom to speak your mind when you don’t have freedom from stigma, shame and social suspicion. So while we have beautifully written rights on perfectly prepared parchment, these are the reasons why women aren’t free.

As Pam Sykes says in her piece “Why every single person on the planet should care about the 16 days” it is easy to imagine having both types of freedom. Unfortunately, when I imagine it, it’s not in the South Africa I live in today.

So what then? Do we throw up our hands in despair? Is our social fabric so over-eroded that none remains as a net to catch those who need the support most significantly? No. What we do is support initiatives that are acting to make change. Change doesn’t happen all at once. It happens gradually.

I hope that the 16 days are the beginning of 365 days of activism to end violence against women and children in South Africa and around the world. This 16 Days I’m going to try and write a post a day about the types of violence that are affecting these groups, so that we can find our goals and mark our targets. By this time next year hopefully we can consider what we have done to change these types of violence and feel proud.

Change happens because those who have the freedom to choose use their choice to provide the freedom from systematic disadvantage for others. Change happens because those who have the freedom to act use their actions to prevent and proscribe violence. Change happens because those who have the freedom to speak use their speech to shatter stigma, shame and social suspicion. In short, change happens because we make it happen.

[1] Margaret Atwood — The Handmaid’s Tale

Author

  • Jennifer is a feminist, activist and advocate for women's rights. She has a Masters in Politics from Rhodes University, and a Masters in Creative Writing from UCT. In 2010 she started a women's writing project called 'My First Time'. It focuses on women's stories of significant first time experiences. Buy the book on the site http://myfirsttimesa.com or via Modjaji Books. Jen's first novel, The Peculiars, came out in February 2016 and is published by Penguin. Get it in good book stores, and on Takealot.com

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Jen Thorpe

Jennifer is a feminist, activist and advocate for women's rights. She has a Masters in Politics from Rhodes University, and a Masters in Creative Writing from UCT. In 2010 she started a women's writing...

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