Wathint’ abafazi, wathint’ imbokodo’ – You Strike a Woman, You Strike a Rock. This slogan has come to define the struggle of women against oppression in South Africa. The rallying cry originates in a 1956 march led by women against the apartheid regime’s odious pass laws, which controlled the movement of people of color within the country.
Despite the gains made in South Africa in the intervening years, women continue to face deep inequalities and oppression. The country has one of the highest rates of rape in the world, for example. For this reason, the tradition of women fighting back fearlessly against apartheid is an important one to remember during Women’s History Month.
Of course, South Africa is not the only country where women face enduring struggles against patriarchy. This weekend, women from around the world gathered here in New York at the United Nations for the 57th session of the UN Commission on Women. At a side event to the conference, a group of activists emerging from civil society networks that mobilized for last summer’s Rio+20 conference spoke out about the challenges posed to women around the world by unsustainable development.
Indigenous women from Guatemala talked, for example, about having to walk for 2-4 hours per day in order to retrieve water for domestic use since extractive mining operations in their communities are consuming the lion’s share of public water supplies. An activist from Colombia talked about the often-violent displacement of women by the “green grabbing” activities of large-scale agrofuel production companies. Linking violence against women’s bodies with structural economic forms of violence, a woman from Fiji underlined the necessity of thinking (and mobilizing) across different scales.
An excellent report on the conference can be found here. And here’s a link to the Women’s Major Group, the organization founded following the Rio+20 conference to militate for a just and sustainable future.