This day commemorates 9 August 1956 when some 20,000 women marched to the Union [government] Buildings in Pretoria to protest against the pass laws (legislation that required African persons to carry a document on them to ‘prove’ that they were allowed to enter a ‘white area’).
The march was led by Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa and Sophia Williams-De Bruyn. They left bundles of petitions containing more than 100,000 signatures at prime minister J.G. Strijdom’s office doors. Outside they stood silently for 30 minutes, many with their children on their backs. Those who were working for whites as nannies were carrying their white charges with them.
[When] you strike the women,
you strike a rock,
you will be crushed!
As part of the 50th anniversary celebrations for the 1956 Women’s March in 2006, the South African government decided to rename Strijdom Square, where the Union Buildings in Pretoria are, as Lillian Ngoyi Square – to honor of all those who took part in the historic event.
The phrase wathint’ abafazi, wathint’ imbokodo has come to represent women’s courage and strength in South Africa.
This day is celebrated as a reminder of the contribution made by women to society, the achievements that have been made for women’s rights, and to acknowledge the difficulties and prejudices many women still face.