AUGUST 9. WOMEN’S DAY SA. “Racism and sexism are both serious issues in our day that affect both women and men but also often underlie the violence against women.” Angela referred the group to a discussion Fr Thabo had held with catechists on discrimination. They were quite a culturally mixed parish so it was interesting to hear their opinions. “Deep down inside ourselves how do we look at men and women of different races and cultures? Do we respect a German woman differently from a Nigerian woman? Do we take a Chinese man or a Zulu more seriously? What is our attitude towards people but also towards them as “gendered” people? I think that in the last twenty years we have been becoming more accepting and tolerant of one another. Jesus lived in a racist society too, where Canaanites were not acceptable to the Jews and for a Canaanite woman to approach him for her sick daughter might even have been a shock.
Reflect, share, act. Scripture Jesus said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” The Canaanite woman replied, “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table. Then Jesus answered her, “O woman great is your faith! Let it be done as you desire.” Read Matt 15:21-28. The equal dignity of men and women makes us rejoice to see old forms of discrimination disappear. AL 54
The groups had decided to hold an interfaith church service to commemorate Women’s Day. “We don’t want to forget the importance of God in our lives. We thank God for his role in all our liberation, as women and men but right now in our country we pray for an end to violence in particular against women and children. We pray for victims but also for perpetrators that they may recognise the evil they have committed and experience a conversion of heart. We pray for healing for every family that has been effected.”

Almighty God,
You are father and mother to us, your children.
We thank you for the particular and special gifts you have given to women,
the gift of nurturing life, of sustaining and supporting life,
the qualities of compassion, commitment, generosity and a willingness to share.
As they progress towards their rightful place in society we request your blessing on all women
that they may continue also to hold their rightful place in the family.
that women and men together may build a society
which will bring about the Kingdom You have promised us.

We call on Mary, the Mother of Jesus, who nurtured and cared for her son and now reigns with Him in heaven
to inspire the women of South Africa,
to pray with them in their joys and in their struggles,
and to intercede for them with her Son.
Mary, Queen assumed into heaven, patroness of South Africa, pray for us.


On 9 August 1956 20 000 women of all races in South Africa marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria in a highly significant peaceful protest march.  They petitioned against the amendment to the country’s pass laws to include black women, while black men had long been required to carry a pass. This highly restrictive system of carrying an identification document that limited one’s access to certain places enforced racial segregation of the population and control over work and residential rights. Due to ongoing pressure the pass laws were repealed in 1986.  Because of the particular political significance 9 August has been commemorated since 1995 as Women’s Day.  Two aspects that have not featured too greatly in remembering the day do strike me as relevant.  1956 was a multiracial event and women were the ones taking the initiative. Yet today there is so much talk of gender-based violence and the need for women’s empowerment.

All these thoughts led me to think about the women in my life and the various roles they have played and still do. Readers might do the same exercise. My mother must have been a brave young woman emigrating as a widow with three young daughters to a foreign country to make a new life after the devastation of World War II. And she did make a good life.  My aunt and godmother had already come to South Africa as a nurse/social worker.  Probably many of my life choices in the social sphere have been influenced by her. My sisters were, and the one remaining sister is, among my nearest, dearest and closest.  

School teachers do have lasting impact, and my music teacher no doubt did, as music, church and secular,  has featured in many ways right from my convent days until today, as I am still singing a a symphony choir. .  

Marriage brought in-laws, mother- and sisters-in law with new types of relationships and different backgrounds to accommodate. I think it is honest to say that my daughters are closer – or possibly more intimately relatable – than my sons or daughters-in-law or even my grand-daughters.

Woman friends, in my case, have tended to come and go.  I don’t have 60 year long relationships with school friends as some women do, but I do have wives and widows in my circle of friends with whom I have many things in common.  I tend to see the women most often in their family context, wives, mothers, grandmothers, but also often as one half of a couple.       

On a work and ministry level, I’ve probably related in a similar fashion to women and men overall, as possibly I have worked with and become good friends with priests and also as couples.  Marriage and family ministry has brought a special type of closeness to relationships while some women alone, including some widowed friends, have become good companions and colleagues.  

There are woman family friends, or just friends or colleagues, some of whom I admire particularly. One very old lady, now in poor health, with her late husband adopted and brought up her orphaned granddaughters with great love and devotion.  Another equally old lady spent very many years in voluntary church work with children.  Woman achievers, teachers and other professionals have been intellectually stimulating, which is where my interests lie, as I’m no great sports fan.

Have all the women in my life been good friends? Not necessarily.   There have been breakdowns in communication, no physical fights as such, except maybe me and my older sister pulling each other’s hair as kids.  Woman to woman, I believe family relationships are natural and one accepts one another as we are. Friends, neighbours, co-workers for me may be wonderful companions but have somehow not been quite the same or as permanent. All these women have contributed to me and to my life and I’m deeply grateful for their presence.

One of my favourite documents for reflection on this topic is the LETTER OF POPE JOHN PAUL II TO WOMEN in 1995.  He addresses every woman of the time and their essential dignity and rights in the light of God’s word.  He writes and thanks them; women who are mothers, women who are wives, woven who are daughters and sisters, women who work, consecrated women imitating the example of the greatest of women, the Mother of Christ.  He writes, “thank you every woman, for the simple fact of being a women.   Through the insight of your womanhood you enrich the world’s understanding and help to make human relations more honest and authentic.    With St John Paul II, the Pope of the Family I also thank all the women who have been my family and made up my world.