South Africans will celebrate National Women's Day on 9 August. As the country prepares for this historic celebration, United States (US) Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton arrived in South Africa on 6 August. It's a fitting metaphor that Clinton, who's arguably the world's most politically powerful woman, is visiting South Africa at this time and it provides the space to talk about political power and women's role in it.
By commemorating the women's march to the Union Buildings, August 9th directly remembers South African women's mass political action in taking on a repressive state power. It's a reminder that women in South Africa and in many African countries have always been effective agents of political change - whether challenging the pass law system, being part of armed resistance or being effective leaders and representatives in elected and parliamentary structures. It's important to remember the role of women in African political and economic life, as post-liberation African governments often work against women while at the same time insultingly celebrating African women as revered non-entities.
Clinton's visit is important for diplomatic relations after South Africa found itself at odds with the US as well as many other countries in the world, in its futile attempts to prop up former Libyan leader, Muammar Gadaffi, when it seemed so obvious that the tide of history had shaken his "empire."
Clinton's role in the early days of the Libyan conflict is a telling counterpoint to those who believe that female access to great power - and to great state power - will immediately render that power benign or progressive. US President Barack Obama and his security chiefs for a long time resisted getting directly involved in Libya. Yet, Clinton who seemed to beat the drum for war decided to run her own agenda, at odds with her boss and the security establishment, which eventually forced their hand in the involvement.
The lesson here is that female power is not always peaceful - whether it's female political power, state power or racialised power - and in some aspects Clinton represents the non-benign face of all these levels of power.
Key to Clinton's Africa trip agenda is the issue of trade, and she is travelling with a business delegation. However, for many in Africa, the US has always been associated with the push for increased militarism in the continent. This has become even more pertinent with the US trying very hard - and finding very few takers - for its US-Africa Command, Africom. But militarism has decimated the lives of women across Africa, including in South Africa, whether these women are victims or survivors of armed conflicts, part of armed groups and fighting forces or from the political opposition.
Recently, Liberian president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf spoke out against the arms trade and the devastating effect it has had on African societies, including her own and in neighbouring Sierra Leone. Competing military growth and international interests has left countless African women murdered, raped and tortured or infected with HIV as a result of conflicts. It has also empowered repressive forces in societies, which in turn has entrenched brutality - and particularly violence against women - even after the conflicts end.
But the United States' military power and support across the continent is not the only military power that African women need to be wary of. Asia is currently undergoing an undisclosed arms race between China and India, fuelled by their strengthening economies and global power. Arms sales to foreign governments fund a significant part of Chinese growth, and it is key to a number of its government-to-government agreements. This has already been seen in its support of arms to the Zimbabwean government and questions about China's backing of the Guinea coup leaders during the 2009 repression when opposition activists were massacred and women gang-raped in the streets of Conakry by soldiers.
If during Women's Month, South African women are asking whether Clinton's visit represents a push for increased militarisation of parts of the continent, African feminists also need to start asking questions of the role of military support and sales to the continent by emerging economies, and in particular about the relationships between China and repressive African governments.
South Africa - and many African governments - has a close relationship with the American administration, and Pretoria would not be able to fulfill its continent-wide political ambitions without a large degree of co-operation with Washington. The political weight that the US carries also means that it will make a decisive difference to whatever cause it supports.
Clinton's visit can assist to highlight abuses in countries that are American allies, and to support efforts towards peace, security and justice across the continent. For instance she can strongly condemn sexual violence against women in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Similarly, the ongoing fighting in Somalia continues to devastate the lives of the local population, including those who are refugees, and the war has spilled over into attacks on Kenya. The takeover by Islamic extremists in northern Mali is bound to have a huge impact on the lives of women. The constant threat of conservatism and repression in North Africa is an ongoing challenge for women's rights after their participation in the Arab Spring.
Both Kenya and Zimbabwe are preparing for elections, with few perpetrators brought to book for the political violence of Kenya's 2007 polls, including perpetrators of large-scale gender-based atrocities against women. Similarly, Zimbabwean women have in the past been systematically targeted using rape and sexualised torture as part of government repression that often accompanies election campaigning in that country.
If Clinton and the U.S. is serious about engaging human rights abuses around the world, it can review its traditional refusal to engage with the International Criminal Court.
Since June, an African woman, Fatou Bensouda, has headed the court. Strong political support is needed for the new ICC Prosecutor as she aims to steer it from dealing solely with African cases and works to have the court fulfill its original mandate of being a truly global court. Such a global court will try mass human rights abuses wherever they occur and bring justice to places where there is none.
Karen Williams is a journalist who works across Africa and Asia. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service, bringing you fresh views on everyday news.