Hard on the heels of Rhodes University’s annual Silent Protest against rape, an exceptional, high-achieving 23-year-old student Khensani Maseko died by suicide on Friday 3 August. Her breaking point? She could no longer bear the burden of being another rape statistic in a country that lets perpetrators roam free. In this case, her rapist is believed to have been her partner at the time.

Khensani’s last Instagram post captioned ‘NO ONE DESERVES TO BE RAPED!!’ is chilling, and it triggered both grief and outrage on social media over the weekend, raising the question, what are we celebrating in August?

See, the thing that has a lot of people who identify as women in this country fed up about Women’s Day campaigns is this: all the ‘celebrate femininity’ fluff and glib empowerment talk does not render the ills and dangers women endure (or actively attempt to dodge daily) absent during August. Women, no matter how empowered and successful, still get harassed, subjected to paternal absenteeism, abused, abducted for sex trafficking, killed or take their own lives because of how rife gender-based violence and violent misogyny are in our country. If not for themselves, every woman knows a friend, sister, cousin, niece or colleague who they speak out for in times like Khensani’s death.

Twitter erupts (with good reason)

Intention versus reality

Yes, women can vote, run for office, be CEOs, buy homes and other assets independent of male companionship, have autonomy over their fertility, and even drive (welcome Saudi Arabia). But focusing solely on the womandla-ism narrative unfortunately creates a discord between women as members of society, and women as human beings. The former acknowledges us for our  economic, political and social contributions in order to check all the equality boxes, while we are yet to be acknowledged as the latter. Women will be acknowledged as human beings when issues affecting us will not only be taken seriously, but vigorously and rigorously disestablished.

In light of this, Marie Claire ran a poll on Twitter on 1 August where we asked what women’s month means in 2018. 58% of respondents believe the purpose of it is to uplift women:

Intentions observed, but these intentions are executed via a rocky road of empty, tone-deaf campaigns, which users are aware of and irked by. 35% of people who took the poll find the feminism rhetoric employed in women’s month campaigns to be misunderstood or very surface level. Perhaps then this is why the marketing around women’s month often appears meaningless, as voted on by 46% poll participants:

Before and after 9 August

The problem is that none of these well-intentioned campaigns, brunches and luncheons that are all the rage every 9 August actually engage with the reality of the women seated in draped auditorium chairs or around confetti-ed tables before and after this national public holiday. We’re not saying we shouldn’t celebrate how far we’ve come, but such an approach to Women’s Day casts a cooling cloud over the sun’s harsh rays which burn us throughout the rest of the year, while no one ever addresses the cancer spreading beneath South Africa’s skin.

So we asked what women wish South Africa would actually address during this month. 44% said the challenges women face, 36 % realistic empowerment, and 20% said equality for women.

Why does the majority want our challenges to be addressed right now? Because the rate of sexual harassment and rape in this country is sickening, and we have university campuses, law enforcement officers and a justice system that’s comfortably cavalier about it.

Last week, women all across South Africa marched against gender-based violence and today Rhodes University and Nelson Mandela University students have shut down their campuses calling for the suspension of Khensani Maseko’s perpetrator, among others, following a rape incident at NMU this weekend. Until women and students no longer have to march annually against violence and rape, only then we will find joy and delight in pretty campaigns intended to uplift us.