Rural Women’s Assembly South Africa Statement On Human Rights Day


 Human Rights Day in South Africa is historically linked to the Sharpeville events which took place on 21 March 1960. On that day 69 people died and 180 were wounded when police fired on a peaceful crowd that had gathered in protest against the pass laws. This day marked an affirmation by ordinary people, rising in unison to proclaim their rights. It is an iconic date in the history of South Africa and is now commemorated as Human Rights Day as a reminder of the cost paid for our treasured human rights.

Today, we not only honour the lives that were lost in the protest for basic human rights, but we salute activists and coalitions dedicated to righting the wrongs of the past, and making sure the country’s most vulnerable and marginalised people are not left behind. These voices and their advocacy is crucial to building a country that is fair and just, and must be protected and empowered. But women are disproportionately represented amongst the poor, the unemployed, and the hungry. Alarmingly high rates of gender-based violence makes being a woman in South Africa more dangerous than being in some of the world’s war-torn areas. 

Rural women continues to be the face of poverty and the people who shoulder the social burden emanating from high levels of poverty and inequality in this country. The sustained oppression and marginalization of rural women has worsened in South Africa.  Rural women are an exploited labour force who remain marginalised from the formal economy, are paid less than their male counterparts for the same work. 

Inadequate access to essential services such as health care, education, water, and electricity means that rural women spend large amounts of their time attending to this gap in public services. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has had far-reaching effects, particularly for women. Rural women experienced a complete loss or decline in personal income due to the Covid-19 pandemic which deepens the already high rates of poverty in South Africa and further entrenches the gender disparity since women are more likely than men to live in extreme poverty.  

This Women’s Day, the Rural Women’s Assembly (RWA) of South Africa wishes to reaffirm its solidarity with women and  its commitment to the struggle for substantive gender equality, equity  and the attainment of human rights for rural women. We also pay tribute to women, both nationally and internationally, who have devoted and sacrificed their lives to the struggle for substantive equality for all women. 

RWA believes that land is a gateway right for Women. Without land,  efforts to improve the basic rights and well-being of all women will continue to be hampered.  Women’s access to the use of and control over land as well as other productive resources is essential to ensuring their right to an adequate standard of living. 

Much of the debate in South Africa about land has taken place without women’s voices, their agency or their advocacy. Discussions about land must take on a more human rights-based perspective, with a stress on gender equality, and centre women’s right to land and other productive resources. RWA has an ongoing One Woman One Hectare Campaign, which includes the demand for sufficient water.  We believe that access to land and water resources will give women more agency and can liberate women from poverty.

RWA stands in solidarity with the women of Ukraine,  especially those in the forefront of the war. Sadly, war is always associated with distinct forms of violence against women. War makes women even more vulnerable since their human rights are forcefully taken away from them and instead, will face the constant threat  of violence, sexual assault, and rape.  RWA South Africa says No to ALL forms of violence!

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