August is Women’s Month in South Africa and the plight of women is again being highlighted this year as the Month this year coincides with the 60th anniversary of the 1956 anti-Pass Law march by South African women.

Minister in the Presidency in charge of Women Affairs Susan Shabangu says women are still being excluded from the mainstream economy as she visited female prisoners to kick off the month. She was accompanied by apartheid era political prisoners who experienced some of the worst human rights abuses.

“For your parents to come and see you, they needed permission, they couldn’t just come. And some of us, even though we stayed more than a year in detention, our parents only came to see us once, and some of us were still under 18 (years of age) when we were detained,” said former political prisoner Matiro Mogopodi.

Today, the face of prisons is changing and women are able to further their studies and some have acquired various skills in arts and crafts, construction and sewing.

“The decoration inside was done by me, so I can go be an events manager. I can apply for a job doing my business management. I am currently teaching, so I can go teach at a nursery school,” says prisoner Fikile Mhlangeni.

Shabangu is proud of the visits as she says they highlights the plight of all women.

“We really need to work together and unite as women, unite as society in making sure that what we envisaged in our Constitution, we are able to achieve that,” she adds.

“It is a journey, it is not an event, but it is these particular activities like today for the women who are here recognise that there is a broader world for them.”

Shabangu says prisons should transform into centres of rehabilitation.