9 August 1956: 20 000 women of all races marched to the Union Buildings, Pretoria, to hand over a petition against the Urban Areas Act.
The march against the pass laws was organised under the banner of the Federation of South African Women.
The Federation challenged the idea that ‘a woman’s place is in the kitchen’, declaring it instead to be everywhere’.
Although Prime Minister J.G. Strijdom was not at the Union Buildings to accept the petition, the women of South Africa sent a public message that they would not be intimidated and silenced by unjust laws.
After the petition was handed over to the secretary of the prime minister, the women sang a freedom song: Wathint` abafazi, Strijdom!
Since then, the phrase ‘wathint’ abafazi, wathint’ imbokodo’ (You Strike a Woman, You Strike a Rock) has come to represent the courage and strength of South African women.
As a group that has been marginalised, they rose to question the barrier and fought for their emancipation and that of their families.
The first National Women’s Day was celebrated in 1995 and since then annual celebrations take place throughout the country.