Feminist activism makes the world a better place for all!

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Women Journalists and Sexual Harassment

Women Journalists and Sexual Harassment

Aarti Narsee tells how women journalists experience sexual harassment on a daily basis “You are so beautiful, are you married?” “I should have booked you into my hotel room.” “I will rape you.” These are just some of the utterances that I and other women journalists have […]

I’m not a rock

I’m not a rock

By Berenice Paulse At the total shutdown women’s march in Cape Town on 1 August 2018, women objected to a male speaker’s use of the slogan for the 1956 Women’s March to Union building ‘wathint’ abafazi, wathint’ imbokodo’ I’m not a rock, don’t call me […]

#TotalShutDown A Case for Action

#TotalShutDown A Case for Action

By Anastasia Slamat

Here we find ourselves once again, on the eve of women’s month. A month where various events are hosted by government to honour women and their role in society. Awards are handed out by an imminent South African in an Armani suit while speeches are made to praise our strength and ability to overcome.

Above all else, we commemorate the bravery of South African women who marched to the Union Buildings on August 9, 1956 to demand that Prime Minister JG Stiijdom abolish the use of passes for African women. Led by the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW), a broad based women’s organisation, approximately 20 000 South African women marched against pass laws which treated African women as minors and second class citizens by policing and infringing their right to movement. Twenty four years after the dawn of democracy, has anything really changed?

The days of carrying passes are over, and according to the Bill of Rights, we, as South Africans are afforded the right to freedom of movement. However, this right has not been extended to South African women, as we continue to have our movements restricted due to fear. Fear of rape. Fear of assault. Fear of murder. All forms of gender based violence (GBV) ultimately deny South African women and girls the opportunity to achieve the equality and freedoms enshrined in the Constitution and affect their ability to reach their full potential in every sphere of social and productive life.

The women’s month celebrations are a patronising cover up of the daily atrocities South African women face. Without questioning how the system continues to reproduce the inequity faced by women or how systemic change in the discourses shaping government can be facilitated, it remains unclear how planned activities seek to disturb and dislodge patriarchal systems and challenge the status quo. Ultimately, women’s month is a celebration of women that achieves nothing at all.

Given the alarming rate of femicide and intimate partner violence (IPV), what is the point of women’s month? According to the World Bank, the rate of femicide in South Africa is 5 times the global average. The latest SAPS annual report (2016/2017) records that 93.2% of perpetrators who have been identified and arrested in relation to murdering women are male. In the same vein, a longitudinal study on intimate partner violence in South Africa found that in cases where perpetrators could be identified when women were murdered, more than half (57.1%) were committed by an intimate partner.

Yet, like clockwork every year, we celebrate women’s month. But we are no closer to justice for women. Our leaders say that empowering and improving the lives of South African women are regarded as a priority, but they offer only tepid condemnation of gender based violence. Indicative of this culture of indifference towards women, many of our leaders are perpetrators of gender based violence themselves who have not been held to account, because, you know – “you strike a woman, you strike a deal”.

It is within this lacklustre attitude towards gender based violence that the #Totalshutdown campaign finds its relevance. This campaign, spearheaded by gender activists is calling for a #Totalshutdown and Intersectional Women’s March against gender based violence on the 1 August, 2018. The campaign calls on all women, non-gender conforming people and the LGBTQIA+ community to stay away from work on the 1 August and join the protests around the country. It further discourages the attendance of men to the marches. Three of the major cities will be participating in marches on the day- those in Pretoria will be marching to the Union Buildings, the Cape Town participants will be marching to Parliament and in Bloemfontein the march will make its way to the Supreme Court of Appeals. In Kwazulu Natal three marches will be held in Newcastle, Pietermaritzburg and Durban.

The significance of this march is that it potentially represents one of the most significant moments in social mobilisation in South Africa since the inception of democracy. It has been fuelled with the same fervency of the 1956 women’s March. The campaign is set to hand over a memorandum to government, outlining changes that should be actioned by all branches of government, the judiciary and legislature. Against the backdrop of escalating GBV, women have grown tired and frustrated with having their grievances met with indifference and inaction and demand the attention of government and leaders by disturbing the economy for one day.

Mobilisation by the Federation of South African women culminated in the drafting of the Women’s Charter, which would later be incorporated into the Freedom Charter. The uncompromising character of this march seems to have been reignited in the #Totalshutdown march, where South African women are banding together to have their issues placed firmly on the agenda. The march is a form of claiming agency and citizenship.

As most movements are characterised by a wave of ebb and flow, arising around certain issues and dying down straight after, the #Totalshutdown leaders have ensured the livelihood of the movement beyond the march. After the 1 August 2018, the steering committee has committed to continue to work and eventually register the organisation as a non-profit organisation.

If in the event you are interested in joining the march, for more information contact the #Totalshutdown march via email at wosatotalshutdown@gmail.com or on Twitter @WomenProtestSA. Alternatively, you can also join the closed facebook group called Totalshutdown.

 

The Mutilation of the Female Tongue By Berenice Paulse

The Mutilation of the Female Tongue By Berenice Paulse

   DISCIPLINING THE TONGUE History is replete with examples of how women’s voices were historically silenced within the confines of patriarchy and societal convention about the spaces they were allowed to occupy (both physically and intellectually). The crudest of instruments of silencing included the use […]

Sisonke Msimang’s Always Another Country

Sisonke Msimang’s Always Another Country

Book Review by Joy Watson

Sisonke Msimang’s book “Always Another Country” is a memoir, a striking narrative of growing up in exile. The book is a poignant reflection on how we construct identity in different temporal and societal spaces. At a young age, Msimang’s father went underground as an ANC cadre and became part of a group of recruits who were to join the military wing of the ANC. He was sent into exile, under strict instructions to tell no-one, not even his family, where he was going. ‘Always Another Country’ chronicles Msimang’s childhood in exile in Zambia, Kenya and Canada, her college education in the USA and her eventual relocation back to South Africa. Set in these terrains, the landscape of the book is both haunting and beautiful. Msimang’s vivid, colourful descriptions transport us on a magic carpet ride right to the epicentre of the places she’s lived and experienced. We are lulled into the beauty of ordinary, everyday things, such as the joy of lunches with steaming plates of nsima with greens and tomato relish and playing imaginary games of Olympics. Through her childhood eyes, we catch glimpses into the lived realities of her different social contexts. With razor-sharp insight, she gives us a snapshot into the underlying cultural and social dynamics at play in the different spaces she finds herself.

In some ways, “Always Another Country’ is about a series of awakenings. One such awakening relates to how, as children, we encounter the world in particular ways, one where we hold the promise of all that is good; and the gradual awakening into the realisation that the world can be cruel place, one that seeks to diminish our sense of self. Msimang pulls the reader into a turbulent emotional vortex. We are transported into the pain associated with moments of awakening, such as when she encounters the ugly slap across the face of blatant racism, when misogyny rears its twisted head and she is sexually violated and, when she has to stare in the face the stark reality that the South African dream of a liberated future has not brought about social justice.

Msimang describes what it is like to grow up as a ‘born free’ and how as a child she had ‘every reason to believe that she was the centre of the universe.’ Moulded by parents who taught her to be confident and secure in her sense of self, they conveyed an ‘unmistakeable air of self-assurance’ and behaved ‘as if though the ground beneath their feet was theirs and the sun in the sky had risen purely for their benefit.’ Against this backdrop, Msimang’s childhood is a relatively stable, happy one, notwithstanding not having a real sense of home and not being anchored in any one place. With adept, skilful command, we become spectators to the pain associated with her moments of awakening, when her sense of security and assurance is tested, when she loses loved ones and when she is forced to rethink what it means to be a patriotic South African, committed to social transformation.

An integral part of ‘Always Another Country’ is Msimang’s eventual home-coming, her return to South Africa. With visceral honesty, she recounts the joy of coming back to craft a life for herself her. This narrative is underpinned by the complexity of being ‘othered,’ in not having grown up in South Africa. The book is a sharp reminder of how language, culture and the lack of shared history can be a barrier that has to be transcended in trying to fit in and find our ‘tribe.’ Msimang negotiates her way through the complexity of issues pertaining to identity and belonging with prowess.

The book has a number of strengths. The story is riveting and keeps you wanting to dip back in for more. The use of language is a formidable force to be reckoned with – sentences are skilfully, beautifully constructed and I often found myself going back to be lost in pull of the words. Pivotal to the book are issues of power, privilege and the notion of social justice. Msimang sets in motion a process for thinking deeply about how our societies are constructed and how power is used as a mechanism for entrenching inequity. I found Msimang’s use of reflexivity as a writing tool particularly refreshing. Her commentary on power and privilege is underscored by her ability to put her own power and privilege under an analytic microscope. In this way, Msimang uses her writing as an agency for social transformation; the book is inherently activist, calling us to reflect on important political and social issues. It is testimony to her journey as a writer, activist and feminist. It should be prescribed reading for all South Africans.

Slave Woman Under Auction Hammer

Slave Woman Under Auction Hammer

Slave Woman Under Auction by Joline Young Advertisement in the Cape Town Gazette 4 July 1820: A public sale will be held on Saturday morning, the 5th instant at 11 o’clock in front of the old Admiral’s House, of household furniture, …..  also at the […]

We, the women

We, the women

We the women by Emilie Gambade   “It’s in the reach of my arms, The span of my hips, The stride of my step, The curl of my lips. I’m a woman Phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, That’s me.” Maya Angelou   I once wrote In one […]

Fragile

Fragile

Fragile by Bernedette Muthien

in your eyes
that shift with the anxieties
of these times
i see the deepest compassion
imaginable
for the perpetrators in all we are
the survivor-victims we’re forced to be
in your wide open gaze
i see reflected
my very own
soul
and for your single act of kindness
i offer you
my fragile heart

Should we not be talking about rape cultures?

Should we not be talking about rape cultures?

  By Rebecca Helman The idea of “rape culture” has become increasingly prevalent in discussions about sexual violence in South Africa. Black feminist student activists, in particular, have made visible the ways in which university campuses are steeped in “rape culture” The publication of a cartoon […]


Launch Piece

Feminism, Aprons and Manicure Sets

Feminism, Aprons and Manicure Sets

Carmine Rustin tell us about the day that feminism morphed into pretty aprons and manicure sets

A few short years into our democracy, when I started as a researcher at the Parliament of South Africa, I supported the then Joint Monitoring Committee on the Improvement of Quality of Life and Status of Women. As a young, black feminist, it was an exciting time to be working as a gender researcher contributing to our constitutional democracy. My role was to support the legislative and oversight work of the Joint Committee. It was a role that was enriched by the fact that an amazing older black feminist woman led the Committee. Yes, old black South African feminists do exist and they have much to share with the young feminists of all colours.

As a gender researcher in this euphoric new democracy, I felt that in a small way, I was making a difference in the lives of many women. I was proud to be part of processes that reported on the implementation of the Domestic Violence Act. It was gratifying to be part of a body that looked at the impact of HIV and AIDS on women, when the political climate at the time didn’t allow for open and honest engagement on the issue. And then there were all the many other initiatives that were aimed at celebrating and honouring women, which I loved.

But sometimes we got the manner in which we celebrated women wrong. At least I think so, but I may be wrong.

I recall one such event. It was at an event in Parliament to celebrate Women’s Day with women members of staff. A full programme had been arranged with speakers, lunch and gifts. Noble indeed. But then the time for the handing out of the gifts arrived. To my horror, the gifts included an apron – with the picture of leaders of the 1956 women’s march printed on it, together with a manicure set. I was flabbergasted and mad as hell for obvious reasons or so I thought.

The fact that I protested and indicated that this was inappropriate resonated with some women only. For the majority of women, the gifts were great. There was a near-riot to get hold of the aprons and manicure sets.

The question that I was asked is why was this such a big deal? Why had I reacted in the manner that I did? I think that the intention of the organisers was good and the majority of women appreciated the gesture. But I thought that these gifts were casting women in stereotypical roles and reinforced a problematic message about what Women’s Day was about.

Many years later, a male colleague could still recall his first meeting with me, which was the moment where I expressed my indignation at being presented with what was perceived as inappropriate gifts for women. It was also the last time that I participated in a Women’s Day event at the office.

I was puzzled back then – and ten years later it still puzzles me – why women were so excited by these gifts. Perhaps it is because many women are uncritical about the way women are portrayed in society and how these gifts reproduced stereotypical portrayals of women. Perhaps some women are happy with their assigned roles in a patriarchal society. Perhaps the aprons were very nice and practical. And who cannot use a good manicure set?

It is more than a speculation that many of the women were more than happy with the Women’s Day gifts because indignation can be exhausting, some of us are wary of feminism, and many have not had feminist conscientisation. As for men, they are even more scared of feminism, and often anti-feminist. Feminism is a swear word for many women and most men in our society.

In light of the apparent lack of wide appeal of feminism, in the context of a free world led by the misogynist Donald J. Trump, and my country led by patriarch Jacob G Zuma, do we need feminists?

There’s no denying that since the advent of democracy in South Africa, the lives of women, especially for black women, have been so much different from their grandmothers’, mothers’ and aunts’. There have been many opportunities available to women – in education, the workplace and politics. No longer restricted in their aspirations to being married, mothers, nurses, or teachers – important as these positions and careers are for many women and society – women can be happily single, childfree, surgeons, or professors. They can be director-generals in government, chief executives and public representatives. Women can be found in every decision-making position in society. This difference in women’s lives was brought about through the collective struggles of women. It was through groundswell mobilizing that the equality clause, which protects everyone against discrimination based on gender, race, pregnancy and sexual orientation, amongst others, was included in the Constitution of South Africa. What a feat.

But whilst there have been many new opportunities brought about by women’s activism in the post-apartheid dispensation, new challenges have arisen. These challenges include balancing demanding and often competing roles as partners, caregivers and professionals. This can be exhausting.

Then again, it’s clear that some of the old challenges remain. Patriarchal culture and violence against women and girls are two of the main challenges. Even though in South Africa we have constitutional rights and opportunities to aspire to the highest office, our country remains culturally gender unequal, as well as violent. The rates of rape and murder are very high. A 1999 study found that the overall rate of female homicides in South Africa was 24 per 100 000, six times higher than the global rate of 4 per 100 000.[1] Is this not enough reason to continue to be a feminist?

Clearly, we need feminism more than ever before. Feminism is the recognition and the belief that we need to end sexism, the patriarchal oppression of women, we want gender equality and gender justice and to ensure that women and girls enjoy their freedoms unhindered. We need feminism because the struggle is far from over. An intersectional feminism is vital. This feminism should recognise our multiple and often contradictory sites of oppression. A feminism, which recognises our races, cultures, disabilities, classes, and sexualities, is essential. We need an inclusive, dynamic and nasty feminism.

As feminists, we draw strength from our collective stories and actions. Feminists, especially young feminists, need a space to share their everyday ordinary and not so ordinary stories; a space where we celebrate our collective and individual experiences, offer support and encouragement, play, grow and nurture action.

May this space grow into one where our voices and stories are heard and celebrated.

[1] Abrahams, Jewkes, Martin, Mathews, Vetten, Lombard, 2009. Mortality of Women From Intimate Partner Violence in South Africa: A National Epidemiological Study. Violence and Victims, Volume 24, Number 4, 2009.

 


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