This week in South Africa we have celebrated Freedom Day, which marks 18 years since we became a democracy. In the new South Africa, our Constitution places a duty upon us to promote equality in all spheres of our lives. Gender equality is central. Nelson Mandela said, “freedom cannot be achieved unless the women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression”. In the last few years, we’ve seen moves the world over to restrict women’s equality in the Jewish world.
In Jerusalem our sister organisation, the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), brought a case to the Supreme Court against women being segregated to the back of buses. In Modí’in this month, a woman was removed from the stage of a circus after an ultra-Orthodox audience member complained. Here in South Africa, women’s voices have been slowly removed from singing at our secular communal events.
We choose to celebrate Freedom Day in part by beginning a campaign for women’s freedom. We’re launching a video with 11 prominent female members of our Cape Town and Johannesburg community explaining why they oppose the exclusion of women from singing in secular events. The video can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VAJ3E-CKfq4 . Treating women with respect, and dignity, while offering them constitutionally guaranteed equality, is in the best interest of a democratic South Africa. Some within the Jewish community are free to choose to interpret Jewish law to mean that they should not hear women sing. They do not, however, have the right to impose such restrictions on the broader community.
The South African Centre for Religious Equality and Diversity (SACRED) was formed in September 2011 to provide a progressive Jewish voice on relevant social, moral, ethical and religious issues in South Africa: to counteract religious discrimination in all its forms; to advance freedom of religion and to promote fundamental rights and freedoms through advocacy, activism, scholarly contributions to public discourse and public interest litigation.
Whilst we are motivated by our Jewish values, we aim to be working for civil rights and social justice throughout South African society. We model our work on that of our parent organisation, the Religious Action Center, based in Washington, in whose office the Civil Rights Act was drafted, and the Israel Religious Action Center, based in Jerusalem.
Please sign up on our website or ‘like’ our facebook page if you are interested in being part of our campaigns.