Feminism in South Africa

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South Africa celebrates National Women's Day on August 9th.

Feminism in South Africa has been shaped by struggles for political and racial equality, as well as by national and transnational struggles for gender equality.[1] Woman in South Africa have historically faced a myriad of state-facilitated and socially-practiced discrimination including pay discrimination, the inability for all women to vote until 1983 and cultural sexism manifesting through severe violence against women. South Africa has high rates of rape and domestic violence which frequently goes unreported [2][3]. Nearly one third of adolescent girls report being sexually coerced by men by the time they turn 16 with this statistic matriculating into high rates of sexual harassment and assault experienced by women.[2]

As a response to these issues, and out of desperation for change in a politically unstable time in the 1980s, feminism in South Africa began to gain traction as women became more politically active. [4] Specifically, feminism in South Africa gained new life in 1994 when the constitution was being rewritten to cater to a post-apartheid, democratic society. During this phase of reconstruction, women unified and lobbied for a more equitable positioning of women within the constitutional framework. Women benefited from the democratization of South Africa as women were the ones most significantly impacted and oppressed by the male dominated, state repression.[5] It was the initial unification and women's rights movement during the negotiations of the constitution that spurred other activism related to women's rights and social circumstances. These progressive women led movements were later labeled one of the first examples of modern South African feminism.[6] The 1990s South African feminist movement was also propelled forward by the momentum of other noteworthy women's rights movements in neighboring African countries. Countries such as Zimbabwe and Mozambique served as inspiration as women in both countries successfully organized themselves and lobbied to make the needs of women a concern of the state.[7]

Through the country's transition to multi-racial democracy in the mid-1990s, South African feminism contributed to the process of reconstruction, striving for a non-racist, non-sexist society.[6][8] However, feminist activism and radical transformational politics were largely diluted in the process. Contemporary South African feminism continues to engage with questions of the role of feminism within broader national and international struggles for class and racial equality.[1] South African feminism aligns with the agenda of global feminism as a continuous project designed to deconstruct and challenge the dualities and binaries between men and women in the eyes of society and the state. Feminism in South Africa is rooted in distinctly different epistemologies and beliefs of women and women's work than the beliefs that ground other modern inequitable social structures, such as worker's compensation. International feminist theory asserts that exclusive dualities between men and women serve as the groundings on which discriminatory laws and practices lie. Modern South African feminists aim to deconstruct these dualities by politicizing the lives of women and demanding gender equality laws.[9]

History[edit]

Women's suffrage and civic engagement[edit]

In South Africa, adult white women were given the right to vote in 1930.[10] The first general election at which women could vote was the 1933 election. Due to the patriarchal structure embedded in South Africa's cultural norms and governing bodies, women have faced adversity in the fight for equality, particularly women of color who, because of the unique racial history of the country, have faced even greater disadvantages due to apartheid. [7] Asian and women of color in South Africa gained suffrage in 1983, more than five decades after suffrage was granted to white women .[11]:371

In 1933, Leila Wright, wife of Deneys Reitz, was elected as the first female Member of Parliament.[12]

On May 2, 1990 the African National Congress released a statement titled "The Statement of the National Executive Committee of the African National Congress on the Emancipation of Women in South Africa" which was the first national acknowledgment of the need for gender equity in order to advance a truly democratic nation. The statement also recognized that there was a striking imbalance of women in government positions and that is detrimental as women's perspectives and issues are often overlooked. The document initially received high praise from feminists in the country, but in later years women criticized the congress for not taking action to rectify the issues outlined in the statement.[7] However, since 1990 women have gained more positions of power within government as today South Africa is ranked among the top five African countries that have high representation of women in the national legislature.[13] This improvement is largely due to mandatory quotas now required by political parties in South Africa to ensure minimum female representation in government positions. [9]

Equal pay[edit]

Due to a pay structure based on nuclear family ideals based in patriarchy, men are assumed to be the primary income for a home and all wages women make are assumed to be supplementary to whatever income the husband is making. The nuclear family structure is becoming less common among South African families as more women opt out of marriage and divorce rates rise, leaving single income homes.[3]

Although it is illegal in South Africa to pay either gender more or less for the same work per hour or per annum, women are often pigeonholed to fields that are devalued in compensation leaving a pay gap between men and women.[14] [3] Equal pay in South Africa has not yet been realised. In 2017, the World Economic Forum estimated that the estimated earned income (Purchasing Power Parity) in South Africa for women was US$9,938 while for men it was US$16,635. In South Africa, the proportion of unpaid work per day is 56.1 for women and 25.9 for men.[15]

Anti-discrimination laws[edit]

On August 9, 1956, some 20,000 women held a protest march at the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest against passes for women. The march was organised under the banner of the Federation of South African Women (FSAW). This day later became National Women's Day in South Africa.[10]

The Matrimonial Property Act 88 was passed November 1 1984 and overruled the economic, social, legal and property and subordination of White, Indian and colored married women to their male spouses. Prior to this act women were seen as legal minors in the eyes of the law once married, which stripped them of any legal protections or individual social liberties and outlined that all economic or property assets be passed through male lineage. On December 2, 1988 the Act was amended to also protect African women in civil unions.[3]

After the country's first democratic elections in 1994, many discriminatory statutes in South Africa were scrapped and replaced with the Domestic Violence Act of 1998.[14] The 1994 Constitution also established the first Commission on Gender Equality to make sure that the rights and protections outlined in the new constitution were respected, followed and adapted to suit the evolving needs of South African women.[6][3]

Persecution of activists[edit]

During the 1950s, activists from the Federation of South African Women (FSAW) were placed on trial for treason, alongside members of the African National Congress (ANC), the South African Communist Party and other organisations.[16]:60–61

Challenges[edit]

According to research on the history of the Federation of South African Women, initially, the struggle of women in South Africa was seen as a two-pronged issue: firstly, the issue of apartheid, which discriminated against non-whites, and secondly, the issue of laws and institutions that discriminated against women. During the time of apartheid, women of color experienced significant inequity as they were a part of both repressed groups. Women of color suffered from the structural violence tied to discrimination against non-whites in addition to the being subject to the inequalities assumed by all women.[17] The oppression these women of color faced also impacted their socioeconomic standing, with the working class consisting almost entirely of women of color, thus forcing women of color to face three separate forms of oppression and discrimination.[6][3] Additionally women of color were the primary demographic involved in agriculture and service work, two sections of labor that were not covered by protective labor legislation until 1994.[3] For several decades, anti-apartheid causes and protests took precedence over gender equality initiatives. Following the abolition of apartheid in 1991 and a transition to democracy in 1994, more attention was devoted to women's rights.[18]

Some have argued that feminism in South Africa was often associated with white, middle class women.[19] For black South Africans, feminism may often be a highly charged position to take up; it has been seen as a colonial importation, white and middle-class.[20] There are contemporary black African woman feminists, such as Thuli Madonsela.

Broadly, feminism in South Africa has been met with varying responses. Some support the effort and see the advancement of women as a parallel issue to the advancement and liberation of the nation. Others reject the feminist movement because it is perceived to threaten customary patriarchal practices and male authority in South Africa. [3][21]

Organizations[edit]

While there is no peak body organisation for women in South Africa, what passes for the women’s movement is a collection of disparate NGOs such as People Opposing Women Abuse, Sonke Gender Justice and Progressive Women’s Movement of South Africa.[14] Women's organizations in South Africa fight not only for women's liberation but national liberation from the racial history of the country, as one liberation cannot fully exist without the other being reached as well.[4]

Other organisations that have played a historical role in promoting the rights and privileges of South African women include:

Other national and regional organisations include:

  • Progressive Women's Movement of South Africa (PWMSA) – a national women's movement founded in 2006.[10]
  • Rape Crisis (RC) – a feminist nongovernmental organisation based in the Western Cape Province which advocates for gender equality and the freedom from gender-based violence.[11]:98

People[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Buiten, Denise. "Feminism in South Africa." The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Gender and Sexuality Studies.
  2. ^ a b Jewkes, Rachel; Abrahams, Naeema (2002-10). "The epidemiology of rape and sexual coercion in South Africa: an overview". Social Science & Medicine. 55 (7): 1231–1244. doi:10.1016/s0277-9536(01)00242-8. ISSN 0277-9536. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h KADALIE, RHODA (1995). "Constitutional Equality: The Implications for Women in South Africa". Social Politics. 2 (2): 208–224. doi:10.1093/sp/2.2.208. ISSN 1072-4745.
  4. ^ a b c Hassim, Shireen (2006-06-26). Women's Organizations and Democracy in South Africa: Contesting Authority. Univ of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 9780299213831.
  5. ^ a b c Hassim, Shireen. "Voices, hierarchies and spaces: reconfiguring the women's movement in democratic South Africa." Politikon: South African Journal of Political Studies 32, no. 2 (2005): 175-193.
  6. ^ a b c d Steyn, Melissa. "A new agenda: Restructuring feminism in South Africa." Women's Studies International Forum, vol. 21, no. 1, pp. 41-52. Pergamon, 1998.
  7. ^ a b c Walker, Cherryl (1991). Women and Resistance in South Africa. New Africa Books. p. 309.
  8. ^ Frenkel, Ronit. "Feminism and contemporary culture in South Africa." African Studies 67, no. 1 (2008): 1-10.
  9. ^ a b Porter, Elisabeth (2007-09-18). Peacebuilding: Women in International Perspective. Routledge. ISBN 9781134151738.
  10. ^ a b c d e "Women's struggle timeline 1905-2006". sahistory.org.za.
  11. ^ a b Blee, Kathleen M., and France Winddance Twine, eds. Feminism and antiracism: International struggles for justice. NYU Press, 2001.
  12. ^ "Commando". Cederberg Publishers.
  13. ^ Bauer, Gretchen, and Hannah Evelyn Britton, eds. Women in African parliaments. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2006.
  14. ^ a b c d "South Africa needs a strong feminist movement to fight patriarchy". The Conversation.
  15. ^ "Data Explorer". Global Gender Gap Report 2017. Retrieved 2018-08-05.
  16. ^ Shimoni, Gideon. Community and Conscience: The Jews in Apartheid South Africa. UPNE, 2003.
  17. ^ Graybill, Lyn (January 2001). "The contribution of the truth and reconciliation commission toward the promotion of women's rights in south africa". Women's Studies International Forum. 24 (1): 1–10. doi:10.1016/S0277-5395(00)00160-6.
  18. ^ Walker, Cherryl (1991). Women and resistance in South Africa. New Africa Books.
  19. ^ Van Der Merwe, Anita S. "The power of women as nurses in South Africa." Journal of Advanced Nursing 30, no. 6 (1999): 1272-1279.
  20. ^ Driver, Dorothy. "Transformation through art: Writing, representation, and subjectivity in recent South African fiction." World Literature Today 70, no. 1 (1996): 45-52.
  21. ^ a b Basu, Amrita (2018). The Challenge Of Local Feminisms: Women's Movements In Global Perspective. New York: Routledge: Taylor & Francis Group. ISBN 9780429961472. line feed character in |title= at position 34 (help)
  22. ^ Also referred to as African National Congress Women's Section.