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Nelson Mandela International Day

What – a blog on the Memorial Day of a man by a women’s organisation? Why, you may ask like me.

I had read Nelson Mandela’s autobiography about his formidable and impressive fight for freedom of oppression, “The Long Walk to Freedom”, 751 pages worth reading, and I turned back to it for clues. No entry in the index pointed to women’s rights, emancipation or feminism. Just a short chapter on the Women’s League and his wife’s involvement. As the book only covered his life before he became the first democratically elected president of South Africa, I turned to the internet to find out more about the men’s interests and viewpoint on women’s matters. I was amazed about the multitude of fora that dealt with the topic.

Nelson Mandela came out as a true champion for women, during his presidency and also later in his life. He believed that women’s rights are an integral part of a free Society, and I quote, “freedom cannot be achieved unless women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression”, speech in Parliament Cape Town 8th of May 1994.

As a President, Nelson Mandela developed the political constitution that protected women from discrimination, rape and domestic violence and ensured South African women’s rights in terms of “bodily and psychological integrity”, the right to “make decisions concerning reproduction”, and “security in and control over their body”.

There are many more occasions where he spoke out for women’s rights. I specifically love the fact that he underlined the importance to involve men in the fight to eradicate violence against women and always drew the analogy to the apartheid system: “In fact, as we know from our country’s history, the misuse of power diminishes both the oppressor and the oppressed, the violator and the victim. In case we forget, the hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation remind us every day. As a nation we finally chose to solve our problems without the use of violence, but rather through negotiation and discussion” and ” as long as we take the view that these are problems for women alone to solve, we cannot expect to reverse the high incidence of rape and child abuse. Domestic violence will not be eradicated. We will not defeat the scourge that effects each and every one of us until we succeed in mobilising the whole of our Society to fight it.” (National Man’s March, Pretoria, South Africa, 22 November 1997). And he demanded that “we need a fundamental change of mindset with regards to the way we speak and behave about sex and sexuality. Boys and men have particularly critical role in this regard, changing the chauvinist and demanding ways sexuality and women were both traditionally dealt with in both our actions and speaking” (Youth Forum on HIV/AID, University of the Witwatersand, Johannesburg, South Africa, 22 September 2003).

My wish for this Memorial Day of Nelson Mandela is that everybody, men and women, understand that feminism serves all of us, men and women. Isn’t that what Soroptimists also wish?

Thea Rees
SI Malta