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In light of Women’s Month - Ageism Must Fall!

The era of inclusivity and representation although progressive, has also highlighted issues that hold women back, particularly in the workplace. Ageism, sexism and racism are the most prevalent.

You may understand the history behind sexism and racism because the topics have been covered extensively over the years. But to tackle an issue head on, it’s important to understand its roots.

What is ageism?

Coined by Robert Neil Butler in 1969, the term “ageism” refers to discrimination against individuals or groups based on their age. It usually favours younger groups over older people, and is often perpetuated by institutions and policies. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has identified ageism as a global challenge, and there have been calls for urgent action to be taken to combat it. It’s important to note that younger people can also be on the receiving end of ageism, and this usually takes the form of being denied access to certain spaces, or being excluded from the criteria for essential services.

According to a report released by the WHO last in 2021 ageism can be seen across sectors including health, social care, the workplace, media and the legal system. “Ageism towards younger and older people is prevalent, unrecognised, unchallenged and has far-reaching consequences for our economies and societies,” says Maria-Francesca Spatolisano, Assistant Secretary for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

From a South African perspective, being cognisant of our history helps us appreciate women’s fight for gender equality. For centuries, women have been marginalised, and were practically invisible in a society that favoured patriarchy and racism. They were excluded from economic activity, their role reduced to a domestic one; primarily child-rearing, maintaining the home and tending to the needs of their family.

By 1910 however, women were already making strides towards financial independence. Women’s movements were formed with the aim of encouraging women to play a more active role in society outside the home. Stokvels were emerging as a way to save money, and anti-pass campaigns were being initiated to fight for freedom of movement.

It’s Freedom Time!

The 9th of August 1956 marks a historical moment for South Africa as 20 000 women took to the streets to march to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, as part of the Anti-Pass Campaign. Led by anti-apartheid activists Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph and Albertina Sisulu, this was a watershed moment for the country. A day we have come to know as Women’s Day in South Africa, which is now celebrated as a public holiday.

Women played a pivotal role in the liberation struggle, and are still cementing themselves in society 29 years into a democratic South Africa. There are examples of women shattering the glass ceiling everywhere. These women have gone against the grain to be who they want to be in different spaces.

Women, young and old, are doing life on their own terms, inspiring those around them to do the same. It’s a new dawn and women refuse to be defined by their circumstances, and certainly not their age! We have made strides but the fight for gender equality is far from over, and further discriminating against women on the basis of age is counter revolutionary.

Happy Women’s Month!



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