Feminism, Politics and Femininity by Joy Watson It can be hard being a woman. Feminism, politics and femininity and its associated implications of the pressure to conform to limiting notions of right and wrong ways of being a woman are enormous. The assumption is that most of […]
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 […]
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @WomenProtestSA. Alternatively, you can also join the closed facebook group called Totalshutdown.
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 […]
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 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 […]
Fragile by Bernedette Muthien
in your eyes
that shift with the anxieties
of these times
i see the deepest compassion
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
and for your single act of kindness
i offer you
my fragile heart
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 […]