OPINION: Women of SA, 'Get your capes on!'

Juliana Claassens

"Get your cape on..." So starts the theme song of the new story on DC Superhero girls that I watched with my daughter the other day. Supergirl, Wonder Woman, Batgirl and an array of other comic strip characters together in one story fighting crime, helping humans. Ordinary women doing extraordinary things.

The theme song actually expresses the experience of many women in a man's world:

Sometimes we're stuck,
Told to be ordinary.
Afraid to jump,
Held down by the fear of flying.

So we hide inside
And we lock it up
We lose ourselves
Think we're not enough

However, by unleashing the power within, these Superhero girls get their capes on, and "step into the light," flying, soaring, and doing what is good and right. 

I thought of this song when considering the significance of Women's Day that we are celebrating once more on August 9. On this day in 1956, 20 000 ordinary women marched up to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, coming together, standing up against what was so wrong. During this march, they handed over a petition signed by 100 000 women to the then prime minister JG Strijdom, so protesting the unfair pass laws that were tearing their families apart and took away people's civil liberties to freely move and live and work where they so choose. 

This courageous act so many years ago stands as a beacon of women of all colours and creeds, from all walks of life, who can march together, say "no" together, in one voice saying that they want a different future for themselves and their children in South Africa. Ordinary women doing something truly extraordinary.

Fast forward to 2018 and we see that there is still much to be done. Collective and individual wounds in this fragile democracy of ours run deep. All around us, an alarming number of women and children are being raped on a daily basis. Men, women and children are killed from farms to suburbs to informal settlements. People live in subhuman conditions in shacks and on the streets.

In light of this overwhelming assault on people's dignity and rights to live in safety and security, it is difficult to know what to do and where to begin.

In her book Resurrecting Wounds, theologian Shelly Rambo talks about the importance of uncovering the wounds of the past. Wounds of injustice, of inequality, of violence, of bullying and harassment. But beyond honestly facing the wounds of the past that will come back to haunt us if we do not attend to them, Rambo also speaks of the necessity of gently touching and cleaning painful wounds, of applying healing ointment that stops infections from spreading. 

All of these actions – uncovering and tending to wounds – have the sole purpose of ensuring that painful, life-threatening wounds ultimately may heal and turn into scars. Scars that signal that what has happened had marked us, but making it possible for us to live fruitful and productive lives once more.

Women know something about tending to wounds. And about caring for children, for parents, for partners, for students, for colleagues. This year's Women's Day urges the women of South Africa to wherever we find ourselves – in places of work, in places of worship, in schools – wherever our communities gather, find ways to care. To attend to the wounds of victims but also of the perpetrators. And to not neglect to ask the difficult questions of why there are wounds in the first place. 

This call to care is deeply rooted in a deep sense of love that according to Catharine Keller can be described as a communal effort that arises "across and between boundaries – of nations, faiths, groups, genders"; a love that understands that "all bodies matter." But as she rightly points out, such a "vision requires an almost inhuman surplus of care." 

It is this superheroic commitment to love and life that finds expression in the inhuman or, I would say superhuman, ability to care. And it is this love that is the driving force for us to strive for that which is just and right and good – that which "desires our fullest becoming – our genesis – as individuals, peoples, religions, nations".

So, on this Women's Day, my message to the women of South Africa is this: driven by love and a commitment to care, "get your capes on!"

- Prof Juliana Claassens is Head of the Departement of Old and New Testament and Gender Unit in the Faculty of Theology at Stellenbosch University.

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