Wathint’abafazi, wathint’imbokodo! (Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock.) This phrase has come to represent women’s courage and strength. Women’s Day is commemorated in South Africa on August 9 in memory of the women who marched in 1956 to protest against apartheid and has become a symbol of women’s resistance to the ills of society.

However, things still need to improve in South Africa and elsewhere in Africa. There is still a long way to go in the struggle to liberate women, especially from the shackles of traditions, biases and customs.

Women are still economically disadvantaged, making up a disproportionate section of the unemployed and often tend to occupy more of the lower-paid jobs as domestic and farm labourers. South African women in particular face extremely high rates of rape and domestic violence.

What follows are two unrelated stories that many may know about but are worth looking at again.

“I’m ready to be whipped not 40 but 40 000 times,” said Lubna Ahmed al-Hussein, a Sudanese woman who was arrested for wearing trousers. “If I’m sentenced to be whipped or to anything else, I will appeal. I will see it through to the end, to the constitutional court if necessary,” she said.

She decided to speak out because flogging is a practice many women endure in silence. “Let the people see for themselves. It is not only my issue. This is retribution to thousands of girls who are facing flogging for the last 20 years because of wearing trousers,” she said and describes the law under which she was put on trial as vague and unconstitutional. “I am determined to take this to court, not to prove my innocence but because it is unconstitutional.”

She wants to get rid of the law which decrees up to 40 lashes for anyone “who commits an indecent act which violates public morality or wears indecent clothing”. She said the article “is both against the constitution and Sharia (Islamic law)” and that nothing in the Qur’an says that women should be flogged over what they wear.

“If some people refer to the Sharia to justify flagellating women because of what they wear, then let them show me which Qur’anic verses or Hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) say so. I haven’t found them,” she said.

Muslims around the world, men and women, face strict rules based on interpretations of the religious prescriptions contained in the Qur’an and Hadith. While injunctions, prohibitions and recommendations may indeed be absolute and immutable in themselves, their concrete implementation necessarily takes different and changing forms according to the environment, explained Islamic Studies Professor Tariq Ramadan.

Closer to home, three men are still facing charges of attacking a woman for wearing trousers two years ago. They were accused of ripping off Zandile Mpanza’s trousers in public and parading her around the street half naked because she violated a “pants ban”. Mpanza subsequently obtained a court order instructing that a ban on women wearing trousers in that area be removed and prohibited from being practised. “I’m happy because the ban is going to stop and it’s such a relief to me,” she said.

Women and men need to work together against the ills of society.



Bilal Randeree

Bilal is a South African journalist with Al Jazeera English in Doha, Qatar.

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