Karen Roos, Dominique Huddlestone and Aimee Fouche
Student Division PSYSSA, Western Cape
The 9th of August 1956 commemorates the day that 20 000 women marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to petition against South Africa’s pass laws. The march which saw the women of South Africa standing together to fight for the rights of all oppressed South Africans, was revolutionary in the way that women, their contribution towards society and their importance was viewed. Identities were created. Women were increasingly seen as pillars of strength who showed bravery and perseverance in the face of a seemingly hopeless political situation. Although the month of August is not known as a time to reflect on the political injustices of the past, it is important to be cognizant of the powerful impact women had in shaping the future for all South Africans. It highlights that the struggle to end apartheid injustices was tied to the well-being of all, including women. It seems it is an opportune moment to reflect then over 60 years later on what the mental health status is of women in South Africa, and globally.
Considering that women were instrumental in the fight for liberation, the current status of women leaves much to be desired. The reality of so many women in South Africa and the world is physical, sexual and verbal abuse from partners, HIV/AIDS and femicide. On average women are more vulnerable to poverty than men, with women making up 70% of those living in poverty. Recent statistics reveal that the GNI per capita for females in South Africa is R8539 compared to the R15 233 for males. Furthermore, on average women receive 9.8 years of education in SA, compared to the 3.7 years in sub-Saharan Africa, while men receive 10.1 years and 5.4 years respectively (Department of Women, 2015). South African rural women in particular experience a lack of access to resources, basic services and access to familial assets like property and livestock. Women experience poverty differently and more intensely than men due to these hurdles. From a psychological lens, global reviews of general population studies all show that lifetime prevalence of depressive disorders is significantly higher in women than in men. Moreover, studies show that the social correlates of depression and anxiety in South African women are poverty, gender violence and HIV (Moultrie & Kleintjes, 2006). As students, we want to do more than draw attention to the plight of women in South Africa.
In light of the present context we need to ask what can we do as psychology students to improve the plight of women. As students while we have a wealth of theoretical knowledge (majority of which from a western perspective) but we are often not exposed to the reality of the psycho-social pressures faced by women in South Africa. We need more exposure to these realities so that we can critically engage with the topic and generate ideas for interventions that we can roll out as psychology students. Western Cape’s student division of PsySSA will be hosting a talk at the end of August, on women in our communities’ most prominent psychological needs. We also hope that by creating the event aimed at psychology students PsySSA’s Western Cape student division will be able to generate greater student participation and a more socially responsive psychology.