National Women’s Day – Public Holiday – 9 August

Every year on August 9th, South Africa comes together to celebrate the many incredible aspects and accomplishments of women while paying tribute to the historic actions of the National Women’s March of 1956. Various events and celebrations are known to take place on women’s day including keynote speeches by the president and ministers, female-focused discussion groups and a heavier emphasis by many media services on the societal issues currently faced by women. National Women’s Day – Public Holiday – 9 August.

Women’s day is a recognised public holiday on August 9th throughout the country and frequently sees much travel to and from vacation areas. While the day is largely similar to the International Women’s Day on March 8th, it differs both in its origins and in its scope as the former is only recognised as a South African holiday rather than a global one.

National Women’s Day - Public Holiday
National Women’s Day – Public Holiday

Dates – National Women’s Day – Public Holiday

The 9th of August is not the only time in South Africa during which the nation’s women are honoured. The Government of South Africa has also recognised August as Women’s Month which serves as a period of reflection on the progress accomplished so far as well as on the work that still needs to be done. 

The holiday was first celebrated in 1995 and has been observed ever since. During certain years, however, the 9th of August may take place on a Sunday. In such a scenario, the public holiday will instead be observed on the following Monday.


Early on in South Africa’s history, an internal passport system was implemented which forced black citizens (mainly focusing on black men) to carry passbooks that were designed to regulate their movements and help control matters such as segregation. These policies evolved throughout the Apartheid era and spurred multiple political campaigns and protests.

In 1955, the government announced that it would begin issuing passbooks to women at the start of the following year. In 1956, a massive women’s march occurred during which around 20 000 women of various races and cultures marched on the Union Buildings in Pretoria. They left petitions containing around 100 000 signatures at the Prime Minister’s door (who was not there to receive them) before standing in silence for 30 minutes. Towards the end of the march, the women sang various songs as well as the words, ‘Wathint’ abafazi, wathint’ imbokodo’ (You Strike a Women, You Strike a Rock), a phrase which has since become a symbol of the march and the movement more broadly.

National Women’s Day - Public Holiday
National Women’s Day – Public Holiday

Although women’s day was originally meant to memorialize this incredible moment in South Africa’s history, in recent years, the holiday has come to represent the strength and endurance of women in a more general sense. That said, in 2006, a 50th anniversary reenactment march took place to commemorate the event and was attended by many of the original 1956 marchers.

Statistics – National Women’s Day – Public Holiday

While it cannot be denied that the country has come a long way since the Apartheid era, many groups point out that there are still various barriers facing women in modern day South Africa which need to be addressed. With this in mind, many of these groups capitalise on the concept of Women’s month and use the period as a segway to highlight certain societal injustices and stimulate change.

Perhaps the most notable topic within the public discourse during this month is that of Gender Based Violence (GBV) and the policies surrounding it. Many activists allege that the protections afforded to women on this front are subpar and call for harsher punishments for perpetrators.

Others note the worrying statistics coming out of the country with regards to the treatment and living conditions of women with some sources claiming that South Africa has the highest rates of GBV in the world. Other, regularly cited statistics proceed as follows –

  • Black Women have the highest rate of unemployment at 36.5%.
  • 43.1% of children live with their mothers only, compared with 3.3% living with their fathers only (33.8% live with both).
  • 21% of partnered women have experienced physical violence by a partner.
  • 6% of partnered women have experienced sexual violence by a partner

Obviously, these numbers have worried many citizens who believe more should be done to combat such issues. Currently, the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) exists as one of the primary government agencies tackling such problems. The CGE’s mandate involves promoting, protecting, monitoring and evaluating gender equality throughout South Africa. 

National Women’s Day - Public Holiday
National Women’s Day – Public Holiday

Theme – National Women’s Day – Public Holiday

Each year, Women’s Month is held within the country under a different theme. The theme for 2021 is “Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights for an Equal Future” and relates to the global effort underway to achieve gender equality by 2030. This theme will also place a special emphasis on Charlotte Makgomo Maxeke, a religious leader and activist.

The Federation of South African Women

When discussing Women’s Day in South Africa, perhaps the most frequently mentioned political movement is that of the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW). Founded in 1954, this multi-national anti-apartheid group helped to coordinate the women’s march which then served as the basis of the holiday’s celebrations.

The federation organised and participated in various other protests and demonstrations and many of its leaders were jailed or forced into exile as the group declined throughout the 60’s. It was relaunched in 1987 and remained active until 1994.


One of the most lauded aspects of FEDSAW, the 1956 March and the many other pushes for gender equality in South Africa, is the fact that women of all races came together to oppose oppressive forces and unjust policies. This factor is often emphasised when remembering the history of women’s struggles throughout the country as it soundly reinforces the idea that South Africans are at their best when they are acting together and that any challenge to freedom and equality can be overcome when people unite.

In Conclusion – National Women’s Day – Public Holiday

National Women’s Day is a South African public holiday that celebrates the virtues and accomplishments of women across the country and throughout history. It takes place on August 9th every year and is not to be confused with International Women’s Day on March 8th. If it happens to fall on a Sunday, the public holiday will be pushed to the following Monday.

Although the public holiday only takes place on one day, the entire month of August is also recognised as Women’s Month and is used to highlight female achievements while spotlighting the challenges that are still being dealt with. Women’s Month itself operates under a different theme each year and 2021’s celebrations are centred around the theme “Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights for an Equal Future” with a special emphasis being placed on Charlotte Makgomo Maxeke.

National Women’s Day - Public Holiday
National Women’s Day – Public Holiday

Many speeches and seminars conducted by prominent figures take place throughout Women’s Month and special media attention is often given to related subjects.

Women’s Day/Month originated with the 1956 women’s march that saw around 20 000 women march on the Union Buildings of Pretoria to protest policies that would have forced black women to carry a kind of internal passport known as a passbook. The women left petitions outside the Prime Minister’s door, stood in silence for half an hour and eventually broke into songs that would become icons of their movement. The holiday was first celebrated in 1995.

Despite all this attention, many advocates note that not enough is being done to remedy the injustices faced by women in South Africa. Their central claims relate to the high levels of GBV present in the country and the lack of adequately severe penalties for offenders. Additionally, they highlight the fact that, when dealing with issues of unemployment, black women in South Africa are the most vulnerable group while many women are struggling to provide for their children as single mothers.

Disclaimer LAW101: All of our posts are for research purposes only. Law 101 aims to assist its readers with useful information on the laws of our country that can guide you to make decisions in line with the South African Governmental Laws currently in place. Although our posts cite the constitution in many instances, they are intended to assist readers who are looking to expand their knowledge of the law. Should you require specific legal advice we advise you to get in touch with a qualified legal expert.

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