Over the past three years artist, Phoebe Davies, has been exploring current attitudes to feminism, gender inequality, expectations and aspirations. Working collaboratively with a wide range of communities and young women’s groups, her research has led her to draw upon and subvert the contemporary culture of nail art. Creating printed nail designs depicting people of significance that are specific to the groups she works with, these designs are then applied in a nail salon installation. This nail salon acts as a site to exchange opinions and ideas, questioning what feminism and gender equality means today.

Phoebe will be showcasing her work Influences Nail Salon in Johannesburg in November 2015 to coincide with 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children. Phoebe is creating a bespoke nail designs that will represent women* of influence who have worked to address social and political issues across South Africa AND WE WANT YOUR NOMINATION!

We are collecting a range of nominations of women of all ages and backgrounds from well-known historical figures to those directly impacting their local community. All nominations are welcome whether it be anti apartheid activists, local youth workers, DJs, scientists, fashion designers or feminists, we are looking for a diverse mix of women to represent contemporary and historical social activism in South Africa.


We are collecting nominations over the next few weeks – so please email your nomination, a short reason why and how they have impacted South Africa and a headshot of the person to Sarah Phillips, sarah@artsadmin.co.uk or tweet @artsadm #InfluencesSA

The deadline for nominations is 12 noon on Wednesday 23rd October 2015 Please do circulate this call out to friends and colleagues.

Women*: Women and people who identify as transgender, queer, gender fluid or non binary.

Celebrating the Unbowed ‘Crazy Woman’

Njoki Wamai, Kenya, MaathaiBy Njoki Wamai

Wangari Maathai was always there with us in our house in Kenya when I was growing up. She was there on our television screens, in the morning news on the radio before we went to school and in animated yet hushed conversations about her courage between my parents and their visitors in our living room during the troubled mid-90s. The strong dark woman in African prints and braided hair speaking truth to power when no one dared question the then dictator President Daniel Arap Moi.

She was there even after Moi called her the crazy woman with insects in her head and sycophants in parliament chorused calling her a badly behaved woman and a divorcee who was a threat to Kenya’s national security.

She was there in press interviews and run-ins with the Moi governments hired goons after graciously kneeling to plant a tree.

She was there, at home with grandmothers in villages urging them to plant more trees, as she was dining with world leaders in exclusive locations explaining complex concepts of why they urgently need to address climate change.

The grey Monday morning she left us on September 25, 2011 signified the mood that enveloped me and indeed Kenya and the world as we came to terms with the loss of yet another great non-conformist. Her courage to turn her back on old formulas while inventing the future had left an indelible mark in Kenya and the world we live in. Thomas Sankara, the revolutionary President of Burkina Faso once said that,

“You cannot carry out fundamental change without a certain amount of madness. In this case, it comes from nonconformity, the courage to turn your back on the old formulas, the courage to invent the future. It took the madmen of yesterday for us to be able to act with extreme clarity today. I want to be one of those madmen. […] We must dare to invent the future.”

Wangari was labelled a mad woman but because of her madness she reinvented our collective future albeit in her small way.

Wangari Maathai, feminism, politics, kenya
Picture supplied by the author

In her memoir Unbowed, she reveals the difficult choices she made in her personal life in a conservative Kenya after she went through a painful divorce where she was labelled by her ex-husband as a ‘too strong-minded a woman who was not easy to control’. By Wangari’s refusing to conform as a ‘well-behaved woman’ in her private space she made history and expanded the public space for women at a national and international level in various spaces such as the private space, the academy, in politics and most importantly the ecological space which she was later feted for as a Nobel Laurent. As a feminist, she exemplified the personal is political mantra from her days in the National Council of Women of Kenya, as a founder of the Green Belt Movement when she publicly initiated a campaign that supported another trail blazing Kenyan woman Wambui Otieno whose legendary case to bury her husband SM. Otieno advanced women’s rights. Many ‘well behaved women’ who were beneficiaries of the patrimonial politics of Moi’s leadership refused to support Wangari as she fought for the rights of another ‘crazy’ woman( Wambui Otieno who fought for widows rights to bury their husbands) and for a younger generation of Kenyan women who now enjoy these rights.

These instances of madness and non-conformity have led to several legacies she left us on environment, women’s emancipation and politics. On the environment, her madness finally bore fruit when she recovered and secured our public spaces such as Uhuru park, Karura forest and more recently our water towers: the Aberdare and the Mau complex from land grabbers and corrupt politicians. Internationally, as the co-chair of the Congo-Basin fund she tirelessly campaigned to save the African water tower.

In conclusion, the most notable constant that enabled Wangari to soldier on despite adversity and insulting labels such as ‘mad woman’ is her love for the environment.

“A true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality.” Che Guevara.

We miss you Wangari.

Lean Back, Please

Natasha Skoryk
Natasha Skoryk

by Natasha Skoryk

First off, I’d like to say that I read Lean In last year, and I liked it. I liked it so much that I took photos of certain paragraphs and messaged them to my best friend. I particularly loved the sections on not feeling the need to be ‘unemotional’ in a workplace environment, Sandberg’s telling women to stop expecting more senior females to mentor them purely on account of their shared gender and her trepidation about women setting unattainable standards of perfection for themselves, which then prohibit them from feeling successful. I did not find the book particularly revolutionary in how it dealt with gender issues. I didn’t really get a sense of it being any sort of concrete manifesto. I read Lean In as a memoir of a very successful career woman, whom I admire, and a self-empowerment book. And I felt pretty self-empowered by the end, so I recommended the book to others, because I figured it did what it set out to do pretty well.

But I was wrong. Because Lean In had actually set out to become a practical movement. Lean In, a book about one middle class white woman’s success in the corporate world and her (genuinely good) advice for others like her, is now being framed as seminal doctrine. Which is where my confusion starts. The book is all about self-empowerment, so I struggle to see how it can form the basis of a grassroots movement that seeks to bring about meaningful transformation. I struggle to see how personal advice about things women can do to better themselves in corporate environments can be institutionalised to bring about mass change. But apparently, there is now a Lean In Circle at the University of Cape Town, trying to do just that. I quite like that name, I fancy the idea of women seated around a table, leaning the fuck in and grabbing opportunities. I just don’t really see how this Lean In Circle is doing that.

Lean In at UCT has fringed my life – I have several friends involved. This is unsurprising – most of my friends, both male and female, self-identify as feminists. However, this week the organisation made its way onto my social media radar with ‘The Man Campaign’ that they have now implemented. The idea, I’ve been told, is to ensure men are not sidelined from the feminist movement. The idea, as I understand it, is to get men’s ‘buy in’ to support gender equality. And, well. I fundamentally disagree with the premises that led to those two ideas.

Men have never been sidelined from feminist discourse. Men have never been excluded from the conversation. In fact, men have been, and still are, shaping the conversation. Lawmakers continue to predominantly be men. Most of current female-centric media is being produced by men. This is a problem. This needs to change. While we undoubtedly need support from men, we don’t need the conversation focusing around how men view gender inequality. We need men listening to the conversation, and participating in it to a degree, but the conversation needs to be shaped by women. This is not a radical notion. The idea of allies to the oppressed is present in most equality movements – yet for some reason, the idea of ‘allies’ to feminists continues to appear problematic to a lot of people. For some reason, ‘allies’ to feminists are expected to ‘buy in’. They are allowed to purchase a part of our conversation, a part of our experience, in order to validate it to society at large. They are expected to own a part of the discourse for their ‘mothers, sisters, wives and daughters’.

The reduction of women to their relationships to men has already permeated ‘The Man Campaign’. The first image shown depicted a young man saying that women are the most powerful people in the world (this is a well-meaning lie, women are not the most powerful people, women continue to take up but a small percentage of leadership roles in both the public and civil sectors and there remains a pervasive pay gap between genders – all issues, interestingly, that Sandberg highlights in her book), and that he really loves and respects his mother. I have no problem with the latter claim, except where it ties into feminism.

Please, men. Stop being feminist for the exceptional women in your life. I don’t like the insinuation that because certain women are phenomenal, all women must be. I don’t like women being reduced to one homogenous group based on preconceived ideas of femininity gleaned from the other women in men’s lives – regardless of whether those ideas are positive or negative. This takes away women’s individualism and agency. Some women are horrible. I simply don’t love all women. I also don’t love all men. But I believe they must be treated equally, because I believe in fundamental human rights. And I know that women are currently oppressed, whereas men are not. Which is why I am a feminist and not broadly egalitarian.

Another thing that needs to stop is the idea that men ought to support feminism because they stand to benefit from gender equality. They do. Feminism supports stay-at-home fathers, paternal rights and men being sensitive and creative. Patriarchy is harmful for men and women alike, the gender binary is devastating for us all. If ‘The Man Campaign’ had focused on the ways men are harmed by patriarchy, I would have possibly resented it less. That is a worthwhile conversation. Still, let’s not focus our attention on the benefits to the oppressor. Men should be supporting feminism because they believe in principles of equality. Not for certain special women. Not for themselves. But for us all, as a society.

Honestly, I really don’t need men validating my feminism. ‘The Man Campaign’s’ insinuation that I do, that by having men talk about my issues they somehow gain credibility in broader society, is abhorrent to me. I want men supporting and engaging with feminist discourse. But no, I’d rather they not Lean In with us. Why? Because they’ve already been leaning in for centuries. Let’s have men lean back for once, and let women shape this one conversation.


Natasha is a third year humanities student at the University of Cape Town. She is passionate about societal transformation, and is actively involved in student life, currently serving as Deputy Chair Internal of Ubunye. Ubunye is one of UCT’s development agencies, committed to meaningful change amongst the student population and the communities at large.

When ideologies and sexism collide: workplace sexism

Caitlin Spring, workplace sexism, feminism
Caitlin Spring

By Caitlin Spring

Oh, so this is what they were talking about when they discussed sexism in the working world. It usually wasn’t particularly overt, several people who witnessed it probably didn’t even notice, and some who did thought it was pretty funny; some good banter.

I had made it through my undergrad without ever having to do any group work. However, I was recently part of a team with a definite power hierarchy and a formal working structure. This year’s senior leadership body was comprised only of men, and initially I saw no problem with this. We’re a very liberal group. We stand on the right side of issues of oppression and discrimination. However, throughout the process of working in this team, certain situations arose that made me feel deeply uncomfortable: they contribute to the discourse surrounding sexism in work environments. Once I’d had some distance from the group I was able to reflect, and what I looked back on was highly problematic.

It’s important to remember that sexism is almost never going to involve your boss standing in front of you saying, ‘You are a woman, therefore you are inferior to all the men here’. Instead, it will be a series of trends that, when examined together, show women consistently undermined in various subtle ways. Patriarchy is powerful, it’s built into how we speak and how we act, but there’s a responsibility on all of us to educate ourselves so we don’t propagate the kinds of misogynistic behaviour I experienced.

When I started to reflect, I realised that the two people the group leader had the biggest issues with were women. They were both women who executed their jobs really well. They were women with strong personalities: so they were labelled as ‘difficult’, ‘opinionated’ and ‘stubborn’. They disagreed with the group leader on some of his decisions. I didn’t find the fact that there had been disagreements problematic; no one is going to agree all the time. However, I found the manner in which these disagreements or conflicts were handled, particularly so. When these women voiced their opinions over the table as supposed ‘equals’, these were often disregarded in light of their ‘difficult and unreasonable’ viewpoints. A lot of the team saw these women, who were brought on board for their expertise in their respective fields, being publically undermined in meetings, and did nothing.

Then there was the time when I disagreed with the way my work was handled. Instead of my concerns being respectfully listened to and considered, the leader sent me a picture of his name and title, and I was told that this ‘isn’t a democracy’. I was then told to stop being so ‘emotional and sensitive’. My rational concerns were reduced to my temperament. I was later told to be mature. For decades, women’s concerns have been reduced to infantile irrationalities. Small actions like this speak to how women are professionally undermined. It is the compounding of these small instances that do great damage to how women are seen (by men and other women) and how women see themselves in workplace environments.

And then there was the time when the sexual relationships of people in the group were discussed in a working Whatsapp chat. No one shut down the inappropriate and offensive jokes that sprang up from this. Comments like, ‘oh, that is poes funny’ were used. Using ‘poes’ is problematic enough, using ‘poes’ in response to slut shaming made me deeply uncomfortable. Anything that contains a ‘bros/hos’ binary is problematic, especially when done in a seemingly professional context.

Something we released for public viewing was called out for having homophobic undertones. Nothing constructive was done in response to these allegations, and those who raised the concerns were ridiculed behind the scenes. Laughing at anyone who’s standing up for gay rights is not okay.

Throughout this experience I was so tempted to justify why I had a legitimate reason to be frustrated. Yes, I was directly affected, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t be objective. So often the victims of discrimination feel the need to defend ourselves to prove that we aren’t crazy, that it is real, that we have a right to be upset – and this is dangerous. I know I’m not subjectively twisting and fabricating the truth, nor was this article written out of angry emotion, despite accusations to that effect. This is an article about how easy it is to be part of the problem and what I’ve learned from my experience.

I’ve learned that people who are perfectly nice can be extremely misogynistic and oblivious to their role in propagating patriarchy by undermining, dismissing, and slut shaming the women on their team. I’ve learned that most people simply won’t understand why you’re upset when these instances make you uncomfortable. I’ve learned that far too much is defended in the name of a joke, too many ideals forgotten for a moment of banter. However, I’m not the only one who saw these things. I’ve spoken to various people on the team who hold varying levels of power and when pressed a lot of them agree with me. But if so many of us were uncomfortable, why didn’t any of us speak out sooner? Everyone needs to speak out when someone is being targeted; a disrespectful act is never small. Surely we’ve evolved from letting the popular kids pick on someone? What is it about a group dynamic that allows for such unacceptable interactions to take place? I think a strong responsibility rests on leadership to set the boundaries for social interactions, I think there needs to be a definite line of what constitutes ‘going too far’. I think that line was absent. I don’t see the senior leadership body as a homogenous group of sexist men; I know that isn’t true. A lot of the sexism was propagated unintentionally, but lack of awareness is not a sufficient excuse.

That being said, I’m horribly disappointed in myself for not speaking out sooner. But it’s hard to go against a group dynamic and sometimes it’s hard to realize how problematic a situation is until you’ve had some distance to reflect on exactly what it was that made you uncomfortable. And it’s also important to remember that even though I didn’t speak out enough at the time, those who propagated the wrongs and I are not equally guilty.

Sometimes people aren’t receptive to being called out and can get ugly and defensive. Don’t let someone intimidate you as they try shift blame from their own discriminatory actions to your uncomfortable silence.

We are the future leaders of this country. Our interpersonal relationships have to be conducive to the society we want to live in. No sexism, or racism or homophobia can ever be tolerated for a joke. Let’s not write essays about a just society and then act in a way that destroys that future in our next social interaction.





Why the casual sexism at UCT matters

Dela Gwala
Dela Gwala

By Dela Gwala

“The girls here are all sluts man, is it any better at Rhodes?”. I overheard this question on Jammie plaza last year. The unidentified dudebro essentially ruined my lunch and made me vow to continue hiding out in the postgraduate corners of this institution.  Against my better judgement, I continued to take tea breaks on those pigeon-infested stairs. One day, I came across a poster promoting UCT’s netball team. It was basically a full-blown shot of several pairs of disembodied legs with the catchphrase “UCT netball team revealed”. Strange I thought, whenever I see a poster that concerns the rugby team their legs are attached to the rest of their bodies. A few days later, walking back to the dingy postgrad labs, I noticed another poster. This one was advertising a College House party. In the bottom right corner it said ‘R 20’ and underneath that ‘Puss ‘n Pint.’

I’m not the only one that continuously bumps into UCT’s culture of casual sexism. The First Year’s introduction to life in a campus residence seems to be a training ground for misogyny.  A recent Facebook post that popped up on my timeline spoke of the questionable war cries sang by members of some of the male residences. Apparently, in recent years, the Smuts Hall boys sang that they could go to Fuller House and get some free vagina…And they sang this to the Fuller girls. Also, the Kopano boys had been heard listfully wishing that women’s buttocks were like buns.

Opening up the latest edition of SAX appeal, the editor started his letter with the sentence “Nabeel you’re going to get all the bitches”. It’s satirical social commentary they said. Sian Ferguson, UCT alumnus and current Rhodes student, tweeted “good satire should make the oppressor feel uncomfortable, not the oppressed”. The common denominator in all of the above examples is that a group of people that are often socially, politically and economically marginalised due to their gender are thrown under the bus for the sake of humour.

“When we live in a world where street harassment is just a normal part of life it sets up a culture where even worse things happen behind closed doors.” These were the words attached to a piece of street art whose image made its way around social media a couple of months ago. The same goes for casual sexism. When you create an environment that is accepting of gross objectification of women then you are fuelling a culture that will ignore the violence committed against them. If we’re all just skanks, sluts, hoes and bitches then what happens to us is inconsequential – we had it coming anyway.

I wonder if the unidentified dudebro from the beginning of this article is aware that the language he uses comes straight out of the mouth of a sex offender. Words that demean women because of their sexual past/activities are always the first port of call to rationalise what they’ve done. Policing women’s sexuality allows for a social space where they get blamed for sexual crimes committed against them. If you think our worth or respectability is determined by how much sex we are or aren’t having or the amount of clothing we wear then those will be the first questions that come up when you’re trying to determine whether an act of sexual violence has happened or not.

Being on a campus where judging women’s sexuality is part of everyday conversation means we don’t ask important questions. We don’t ask why we’re not sure of the procedure/policy of reporting sexual assault and sexual harassment on campus. We don’t ask why we don’t know the statistics of how many of these incidents occur on campus. We don’t ask why DISCHO, the body in charge of dealing with these cases, is underfunded and understaffed.  We don’t ask these questions because we’re too busy blaming women for going about their lives the way they see fit. We don’t ask because we don’t really care. When women are only vaguely human – owners of body parts we mock and objectify – then why should we?

Gender and local government: What needs to change

Nicole Graham, DA, women, councillor
Nicole Graham

By Nicole Graham

I became a local government councillor on 18 May, 2011. At the time, I was a 21 year old university student and wasn’t sure it was something I would do for any length of time. I was studying a post-graduate LLB and had been active in the DA since I was 17 years old.  The opportunity seemed to be a good learning experience and so I took it. I came into the eThekwini Council at number 21 on the DA’s proportional list; not high, but not unimpressive.

Immediately, I was struck with how unsuitable the environment was for young women. I was called ‘girly’ and ‘kiddo’ by colleagues and faced endless comments about my outfits, looks and body. Continuous sexual harassment only came to an end when colleagues realized I was serious about pursuing charges. I received general disdain from politicians and municipal officials, despite my increasingly solid performance in my committee and council meetings.

After a colleague resigned in 2013, I applied to stand in a ward. I had begun to enjoy the challenge of local government and the close relationship with communities. Ward councillors are the only directly elected politicians in South Africa- the rest are effectively elected by their political parties using a list system. I wanted to work on the ground in the community I lived in and loved, and was fortunate enough to be elected to do so. It is a wonderful ward, but a very tough one to work in, plagued by numerous difficult challenges and governed by a municipality that is often unable to tackle them.

Despite improved gender representation in South Africa, women often find themselves moved out of the competitive political space. Democracy and the ANC’s 50/ 50 policy has definitely seen the overall picture improve, with far more female councillors, MPs and even Ministers in office from 1994. This is significant. The political landscape, however, remains overwhelmingly better suited than to men that it is to women. I don’t think a single political party and their policies could have changed that alone. There is definitely room for improvement regarding gender issues across the political spectrum- which is too extensive to discuss here- but I think this issue runs far deeper than elective politics. It is symptomatic of our society, and a broad reflection of how our communities continue to operate.

eThekwini has almost 100 female councillors, but less than 20 are directly elected ward councillors like myself. Men are the ones with their faces on the posters and the women are used to cushion the PR lists.  In the Zimbabwean Parliament, 60 seats are reserved for women that are proportionally elected by their political parties. I once asked a young female MP why she held one of these seats and didn’t contest in her home constituency. Her reply was simple: she didn’t have the money to pay for her campaign. That is real barrier in many of our neighbouring countries that lists and quotas alone cannot change. It is an improvement to have more women in their parliament, but still a massive problem that they can’t always compete in the same way.

Pervasive attitudes, often attributed to liberalism, seem to think that the barriers to women entering local government aren’t real. They seem to think that the problem lies with women, who should be more willing to enter the arena and fight it out with the boys. I am a liberal. I am a liberal who believes that attitudes and barriers that prevent people from operating as equals in any given environment should be tackled, especially when they relate to race, gender and sexual orientation. I am perfectly able to fight it out with the boys, (and regularly do), but I shouldn’t have to. I should be able to function as male colleagues do – without the extra drama, without having to regularly explain to men why they cannot talk about my dresses, without having to face undue criticism because I am young and female.

I do not think all criticism of me is invalid or unfair. Being a councillor is difficult, and I am bound to sometimes drop the ball or say the wrong thing. I accept that criticism when I do as best as I can. Even after many years in local government, I still will not know how to solve everything and may sometimes be confused or disillusioned. It is par for the course. I try my absolute hardest to be available and accessible, to resolve queries and to represent the interests of my community as best as I can. Still, I am often bombarded with strange rumours, bizarre claims and downright rude comments about things that do not affect my politics at all. Often, these come from people who have never met me or asked me for any kind of assistance.

Patriarchy is a complicated thing. It makes women more likely to see other women as threats or competition in a way that does not happen to men. It makes men and women more likely to question the credibility and abilities of women in all levels of government, as well as corporate and academic environments. It also makes women open to intrusions about their private lives that often supersede their actual work.

To this end, I am trying to establish some kind of support and mentoring structure for young women who wish to follow the same path that I have. I will continue to do my work as best as I can, and continue to confront gender-based challenges head on. I will make it a priority to raise matters related to women in the eThekwini Council, even when they are not supported. Local government is a difficult political space, but more so for women. It is vital that we acknowledge this, and move towards meaningfully correcting it.


Female State of the Nation: The health issues we should be concerned about

By Rebecca Hodes, Marion Stevens, and Jen Thorpe

Marion Stevens
Marion Stevens

Marion: The State of the Nation speech happened last week and despite a number of health challenges continuing to face South Africans, far less was said about this than would have been the ideal. In fact, more was said about the Rhino protection programme.

Within health the broad epidemics of HIV, Tuberculosis (TB), Violence against women (VAW) and substance abuse were noted and plans to remedy these through antiretroviral Treatment (ART) and TB treatment programmes, speaking out against VAW and tobacco control were proposed.

As I was digesting this input the face of a black woman with a bruised face surfaced repeatedly on my media platforms, following her expulsion from the House in the EFF scuffle. This disconnect was jarring.

In my area of focus (reproductive justice) women, and in particular black women, continue to bear the brunt of ill health in South Africa. We need leadership and the implementation of our good policies in order to truly transform the lives of women accessing reproductive health services. Schools need to provide comprehensive sexuality education and provide condom access (both female and male). We also need to continue Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccination programmes to reduce the risk that women will contract cervical cancer late in life.

Women and girls need information about the range of contraception options available and to be able to have a conversation with a health provider and choose the method that is most suitable for them. Should contraception fail and a pregnancy takes place women should have access to HIV testing and also have access to a safe and legal abortion and not have to have to resort to an illegal provider. Maternal health programmes need to continue to welcome women and to provide them with good information about their pregnancy and planned delivery.

The Department of Health needs to strengthen it’s work on sexual and reproductive health and rights and the leadership needs to refrain from using misinformed language that suggests that women use abortion as a form of contraception. Commodities, supplies in relation to reproductive health from female condoms to IUCDS need to be strengthened. These suggestions are not new, our Department of Health has fabulous policies, but little leadership and stewardship to implement them.

Are Rhino’s more important than the health of women in South Africa?

Rebecca Hodes
Rebecca Hodes

Rebecca:  There is good news and bad news.

The good news:

By the end of 2010, over 1 million people in South Africa had been initiated on ART (Republic of South Africa 2010). By 2013, this figure had escalated to 2 010 340 adults reported to be receiving ART in South Africa’s public health services (UNAIDS 2013: A86). The expansion in ART provision was testament to the efficacy of a broad-based alliance of healthcare workers, patients, activists, researchers, government officials, donors and other partners who continue to collaborate in the expansion and improvement of the national HIV response. South Africa’s ART programme has begun to reverse the precipitous decline in life expectancy, wrought by AIDS mortality, that came to characterise South African demography in the late 1990s. Due to the provision of ART, life expectancy in South Africa has increased by six years, and mortality among children and adults has declined by 43% and 20% respectively (Mayosi et al, 2012). By 2010, the life expectancy of patients initiating ART was around 80% of normal life expectancy (Johnson et al. 2013: 5).

The bad news:

The structural factors that increase vulnerability to HIV infection and transmission pose persistent challenges to the progress in South Africa’s health sector, and to the democratic transition more broadly. These factors are manifest in enablers of HIV infection, including unemployment, alcohol abuse and gender violence. While health and social interventions to diagnose, treat and manage HIV have provided some of the services necessary to address the needs of patients, the deep-seated determinants of risk and resilience towards HIV infection in South Africa have remained largely intact.

In South Africa’s struggle for public access to treatment, the attention of health care workers and activists was focused on initiating patients onto antiretroviral treatment. Now that South Africa has the world’s largest cohort of patients on antiretrovirals, we must confront the challenges posed by sustaining a massive public health intervention at a time in which resources for health are declining and there is donor fatigue for funding HIV treatment programmes (Mills et al., 2010).

The stigma surrounding HIV remains prohibitive, preventing the vast majority of HIV-positive people from disclosing their status openly and publicly. While antiretroviral treatment has saved the lives of many, recent studies have shown that, contrary to the expectations of public health specialists, the public provision of treatment has not alleviated HIV stigma in South Africa.

While the fight for public access to ART has won numerous gains for women, the primary focus on their health outcomes as mothers, and the related prioritisation by public health specialists, donors and activists of Prevention of Mother To Child Transmission (PMTCT) initiatives, has shifted attention away from other reproductive health rights. Health interventions that have prioritised treatment for women as mothers has placed primary value on their reproductive capacity rather than their individual health outcomes (Eyakuze, Jones, Starrs & Sorkin, 2008, p. 33).

In spite of the requirement in many healthcare settings that HIV-positve women accept contraception as a pre-requisite for access to ART, social sanctions and individual factors compelling people to become parents continue to play a formative role in the reproductive choices of people with HIV. If the roll-out of ART is to continue to improve the health outcomes of women in Southern Africa, sexual and reproductive health must be repositioned at the centre of HIV prevention and treatment programmes.

South Africa has among the highest rates of rape and sexual assault in the world, but research has shown that very few women report rape or seek healthcare services after being raped or assaulted.[i] Survivors of rape and sexual assault have the right to free medical advice and medications, as stated in the Sexual Offences Act (2007).

Jen Thorpe, feminism, South Africa, feminist
Jen Thorpe

Jen: In terms of mentioning women specifically, the 2015 SONA limited itself to describing the fact that ‘some progress had been made in fighting crimes against women and children.’ Whilst that can be debated in other platforms, what is important to consider for women’s health is the very strong linkages between violence against women and HIV and sexually transmitted infection contraction.

In addition to what Rebecca describes above, the links between violence and HIV have been well documented by the World Health Organisation and can be summarised as follows:

  • rape and sexual violence usually result in trauma to women’s genitalia, increasing the likelihood of contracting HIV and other viruses;
  • sexual abuse in childhood has been linked to risky sexual behaviour in adulthood, increasing the chances that an individual will contract HIV;
  • violence or fear of violence can reduce the likelihood that a woman feels safe or empowered to negotiate condom use;
  • violence or fear of violence, in addition to societal stigma and the gendering of disease, can make it less likely for women to go for HIV and other STD testing; and
  • violence can make it less likely for women to go for antenatal testing when pregnant, thus reducing the efficacy and reach of programmes designed to prevent mother to child transmission.

Sonke Gender Justice recently called for a National Strategic Plan on violence against women, and this is a call that bears serious consideration.

Another element that was left out of the State of the Nation was South Africa’s extremely high maternal mortality rate, and the fact that over the past years this has only reduced marginally. South Africa is far off from achieving the maternal mortality rate set by the Millennium Development Goals as made clear in Part 1 of this series. The leading causes of death were non-pregnancy related infection (most often HIV related illnesses) and high blood pressure. It seems essential then that the outreach of maternal health services should be widely expanded.

Our teen pregnancy rates also remain high. Early pregnancy has long term impacts on the lives of girls, and because of patriarchal gender norms continues to impact on girls education and life choices far more than it does on boys. In addition, the number of pregnancies that happen in school should be a serious concern as many of these are legally rape. Where healthy consensual sexual activity happens between adolescents, problems with the legislation around sexual offences have the impact of limiting adolescents access to sexual and reproductive health services, making it more likely that they will not seek treatment for sexually transmitted infections or pregnancy. Possible amendments to this legislation are currently before the Portfolio Committee on Justice. This must be addressed as soon as possible.

The State of the Nation will never be the speech that will solve all women’s health problems. However, there was certainly more space available to address these significant challenges than was used.

Female State of the Nation: Part 4: Crime and Human Rights

Jen Thorpe, feminism, South Africa, feminist
Jen Thorpe

By Jen Thorpe

Read Part 1 ‘Where are We’, Part 2 ‘Women and the Economy‘, Part 3: ‘Energy and the Environment

As South Africans it seems that it is impossible to go a day without seeing a news headline of a violent attack in some form. Between 2006 and 2013, more than one million crimes were committed against women. Common assault was the most common contact crime, followed by assault with the intent to commit grievous bodily harm. The Table below provides a breakdown of the SAPS statistics.

But before you get there, statistics of this scale are often hard to process. It’s difficult to imagine what more they represent. So when you see these numbers, I want you to think of the images you know of the 1956 women’s march that changed our history. In that march, there were roughly 20 000 women.

Crimes against women 2006 – 2013[1]

Year Murder Sexual Offences Serious assault (assault GBH) Common assault Total
2006/7 2 602 34 816 69 132 100 390 206 940
2007/8 2 544 31 328 64 084 94 286 192 242
2008/9 2 436 30 124 61 509 91 390 185 459
2009/10 2 457 36 093 62 143 94 176 194 869
2010/11 2 594 35 820 60 630 89 956 189 000
2011/12 2 286 31 299 57 345 87 191 178 121
2012/13 2 266 29 928 55 320 83 394 170 908
Total for crime category 2006 – 2013 17 185 229 408 430 163 640 783 1 317 539

It’s unfortunate that the crime statistics are not reported in a gender-disaggregated way each year that would allow us to track what types of crimes women are reporting. In 2012/13 however, the SAPS did report in this way, as detailed in the table above. In that year, adult females were more likely than adult males and children to be the victim of sexual offences and common assault. In terms of the total number of crimes, sexual offences against adult females represented 45 percent of all sexual offences, and common assault against adult females represented 48 percent of all common assaults.

So it’s clear that women are more likely to report certain types of crimes – namely sexual offences and common assaults. It’s possible to conclude that these common assaults represent some of the domestic violence statistics which, although tracked daily by the SAPS, have never been reported on.

It is important therefore for those listening to SONA to consider what commitments have been made to women in terms of protecting them from crime both outside and within the home. In the 2014 SONA the only commitment made was that the Government would ‘work to reduce levels of crime’. Following the deaths of Anene Booysen, Anni Dewani, and Reeva Steenkamp, a great deal of noise was made by many Government representatives from all parties about the need to address crimes against women. But now that noise has become an almost inaudible murmur.

Two years ago the Government via the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities launched the National Council on Gender Based Violence (NCGBV). This council was formed to address and monitor high levels of violence against women, as well as to consider strategies to prevent further violence. During 2014, after finalising its identity, the Council seemed to disappear. Another commitment made was the development of new sexual offences courts and the refurbishment of existing courts to become sexual offences courts. This is another development which seems to have disappeared from the agenda. There is also an inter-ministerial committee on violence against women. Yet, the relevant departments are not working together to improve the lives of survivors in a way that is evident, efficient or speedy enough. If these commitments are not discussed tonight, why not? If there is not sufficient budget for these important services, where is that money being redirected to?

Of course, as I explained in Part 1 a useful term to understand is intersectionality. That is, the intersection of various forms of oppression on different people. With crime and violence, it is true that certain categories of women are more vulnerable.

Sex workers currently face a number of human rights violations because of the criminalisation of the sale of sex in South Africa. These have been well documented by organisations like the Women’s Legal Centre and the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce. Excellent arguments exist for decriminalising sex work, and ensuring that sex workers are able to perform their work without fear of violence from police, and from perpetrators.

Violence against Lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex women is also prevalent, and there has unfortunately been a move away from South Africa’s active championship of LGBTI rights on the continent. The National Task Team on Hate Crimes was formed in 2011, and since then the Department of Justice has made several commitments to introduce new legislation to support LGBTI victims of violence. However, four years later this has not happened. This failure to amend existing legislation to enhance sentences for hate crimes, or to introduce new legislation that will effectively allow for the tracking of these incidents and the prevention thereof, is an indication of a lack of political will to really support the right to be free from discrimination and violence on the basis of sexual orientation. South Africa’s failure to criticise other African states for ‘anti-gay’ laws indicates that we have moved back from the leadership role on these issues. In 2014, a transgender woman undertook a hunger strike after Home Affairs repeatedly failed to assist her in changing the sex status on her ID document.

This is not the time to be inactive or complacent about violence against women. There is a need to identify this as a core issue in tonight’s SONA, and if not, to question how the problem will be addressed in the 2015/16 period.



[1] South African Institute of Race Relations (2013) Page 770.

Female State of the Nation: Part 3: Energy and the Environment

Jen Thorpe, feminism, South Africa, feminist
Jen Thorpe

By Jen Thorpe

Read Part 1 – ‘Where are we’ here, and Part 2 ‘Women and the economy’ here

It seems important that I’m sitting in my living room in the dark during load-shedding trying to finish this portion of the SONA analysis on the environment and energy. It couldn’t be much clearer to me that the decisions that the State makes about how we produce and distribute our energy impact on women, particularly those that are already facing other challenges such as poverty.

What does it mean for women when the lights go out, or to have never been connected to electricity in the first place?

In public, it means dark streets, intersections, public transport routes, and footpaths. Any woman reading this does not need any further detail about the sense that this darkness is inherently dangerous, and limits women’s ability to enjoy their Constitutional right to move freely, and to be free from violence. Part four of this series will deal with crime and human rights, and so I will not belabor the point further in this section.

As noted earlier in this series of posts, the NDP makes clear that access to basic services and human rights such as safe drinking water, electricity, and quality childhood education could “free women from doing unpaid work and help them seek jobs.” As already discussed in the section on women and the economy, women’s economic empowerment is critical to the development and well being of the entire family.

Across South Africa, around a third of households do not have access to electricity. When there is load shedding or no electricity, households must use alternative energy sources to prepare food and heat water. As of 2011, according to the census, only 26 percent of households in informal settlements used electricity as their main form of energy for heating, 39 percent used electricity for cooking, and 43 percent used electricity for lighting. In 2011, 57 percent of all households classified as “informal dwellings” (shacks not in backyards) had no access to electricity at all.

According to the 2010 survey of time use, women were twice as likely as men to spend time on food preparation and where electricity is not available, this is likely to take much longer, placing further domestic strain on women. In addition, a Housing Development Agency Report noted that female-headed households in informal settlements are more likely to be overcrowded and house skip generation families, as well as non-family residents, creating an even more extensive burden on these women.

There are multiple risks of using these alternative sources of energy to cook and heat the home. A 2009 World Health Organisation bulletin noted that because paraffin is highly flammable, this can lead to fires either from malfunctioning appliances, placing appliances too close to curtains, or accidents. In addition, the use of paraffin in wooden or cardboard structures, as well as in population dense areas means the risk of fire is further escalated

The energy crisis in South Africa is at the forefront of many of our minds because of the inability to flick a switch and turn on a light. What may seem a more distant issue is the impact of our energy decisions on women in the long term. I think it’s important then to explore what climate change means for women, and how South Africa’s current energy decisions are likely to increase our contribution to climate change and are already affecting the health of many South Africans.

It is well documented that in times of environmental crisis women are often hardest hit. This has been recognized by women’s organisations and institutions for many years: Women and the Environment was one of the 12 areas of critical concern acknowledged in the Beijing Platform for Action developed in 1995. The document states that:

“Awareness of resource depletion, the degradation of natural systems and the dangers of polluting substances has increased markedly in the past decade. These worsening conditions are destroying fragile ecosystems and displacing communities, especially women, from productive activities and are an increasing threat to a safe and healthy environment.”

In South African policy this has also been acknowledged. The NDP notes that climate change will have a negative effect on the health of communities, and that this will disproportionately impact women and children.[1]

It was positive that the 2014 State of the Nation speech called for

” a radical transformation of the energy sector, to develop a sustainable energy mix that comprises coal, solar, wind, hydro, gas and nuclear energy.”

And yet, simultaneously there continued to be investment in coal power at the expense of our renewable electricity infrastructure, and at the expense of the health and livelihoods of many South Africans, many of whom are women.

The impact of these decisions on the health of the population is not something that will only happen in the future. It is already happening. The environmental impact is not only a long term, but current. Witbank in Mpumalanga has the world’s dirtiest air. In The Poisoned People Greenpeace Africa details the stories of the people who live around coal mines, many of whom who are already suffering from respiratory problems as well as other health conditions.

There continues to be this push for coal despite the fact that it already results in hundreds of deaths per year as a result of air pollution, and this could increase when (if) Medupi comes online. This could be as high a figure as 20 000 premature deaths. Eskom has consistently exceeded air quality limits on pollution, and yet in 2014 applied for the right not to comply with Minimum Emission Standards. There continues to be this push for coal despite it becoming a massive financial burden for the State, and it being well over budget. Eskom continues to get State bail outs that could be invested in renewable energy which is labour intensive, will reduce South Africa’s contribution to climate change, and will not have the same devastating health impact that coal is having. It is important then, to listen to SONA tomorrow to consider whether

The decision to continue to invest in environmentally damaging energy production methods such as fracking, rather than redirect investment towards greener energy will impact on women. Other than the aesthetic destruction of environments, fracking is an incredibly water intense activity. Even if the well-documented risks of groundwater pollution do not happen in South Africa, we are a water scarce country. Where water is not readily available, or in times of drought, again the impact on women’s domestic responsibilities is significant.

In addition, around 16 000 women are involved in the formal agricultural sector[i], and many more are involved in informal agriculture in order to meet the food security needs of their families. Women already face additional obstacles to becoming involved in agriculture (such as access to technology and finance), and climate change will only heighten these challenges. Thus, a drought or an impact on the ground water because of pollution will have a profound impact on women in terms of job losses, and food insecurity. This is already happening in countries bordering and near to South Africa.

Our future energy decisions, proposed and discussed in the State of the Nation, will continue have a profound impact on women. As you listen to the speech tomorrow, consider how the decisions about energy and the environment could impact on women.

If women are not mentioned at all in this regard, as has frequently been the case, it is likely that their interests will not be considered. It is clear that any further decisions about our energy future should be made only with specific consultation with women’s interest groups, in order to ensure that our energy and environmental policies are gender-sensitive, and in line with the Constitution which provides every South African with the right to have an environment that is not harmful to their health or wellbeing, and to have it protected for future generations to come.

[1] NDP

[2] South African Institute of Race Relations (2013). Page 252, 253

Female State of the Nation Part 2: The Economy and Women

Jen Thorpe, feminism, South Africa, feminist
Jen Thorpe

By Jen Thorpe

Read Part 1 here.

State of the Nation Speeches often begin with a discussion of the economic situation. So that is where Part 2 of this series will enter the discussion.

Women make up the majority of the unemployed across all age categories, but particularly amongst the youth.[1] What is interesting about this figure is that whilst unemployment in general has grown, and simultaneous the number of employed people has grown (as the population grows, this happens), the percentage gap between the number of employed males and females has remained the same.[2] Essentially, what this statistic tells us is that there continue to be barriers for women entering the job market, and these barriers affect men less than they do women.

These barriers are complex and differ for women from different backgrounds. Whilst the official SONA is likely to refer to the infamous triple challenge of poverty, inequality and unemployment, for women there are often more than three factors affecting their ability to find employment, and to remain employed. Academics use the term ‘intersectionality’ to explain how different forms of oppression intersect to create different lived experiences for women, and I think this is a useful term to use here.

The NDP itself notes that patriarchal attitudes remain a barrier for many women. In the old days this might be reflected in a saying like ‘why hire a woman to do a man’s job’. Currently, economic chauvinists are required to keep these opinions to themselves. However, there remain sectors of the South African economy where women are the minority, and often women encounter a glass ceiling to their progress. Most women who were employed in 2013 were involved in trade or in community and social services (including government).[3] As of 2012, only 3.6 percent of Chief Executive Officers were women and 5.5 percent of Chairpersons were women.[4]

Patriarchal attitudes also reinforce stereotypical gender roles meaning that women remain responsible for the majority of household work, even when they are employed.[5] The annual average income figures indicate an even more significant gap between men and women. When the 2001 and 2011 annual income figures of men and women are compared, it is clear that the annual average income of a female in 2011 remains only slightly higher than the annual average income of a male was in 2001.[6]

The NDP also recognises that the provision of basic services to women improves their ability to be healthy and supported workers. The NDP notes that basic services and human rights such as safe drinking water, electricity, and quality childhood education could “free women from doing unpaid work and help them seek jobs.” I would further suggest that the development of better transportation infrastructure that is safe, well-lit, and regular would mean that women would not have to brave violence in public on their way to and from work. In addition, I strongly suggest the consideration of equitable paternity and maternity leave so that the gendered division of child care is reduced, allowing new mothers and fathers to raise children together, and support one another during their careers.

We can all agree that unemployment is a bad situation for everyone and that solutions are necessary for both men and women, so why should we care specifically about unemployed women? For a number of reasons. Evidence suggests that around 38 percent of households in South Africa are headed by a single mother.[7] The education of women also affects women in the future – educated mothers are more likely to have healthier babies, and their own children are more likely to attend school.[8] Women’s education and resultant economic empowerment not only affects women, it profoundly changes the gendered functioning of the economy and society.

Furthermore, ensuring that women have access to their own income can mean the difference between leaving a violent relationship and staying. In a response to a 2013 Parliamentary Question, the Department of Justice reported that around 50 percent of women who dropped their domestic violence case did so because they were financially dependent on their abusive partner. Where patriarchal norms remain the norm, and where violence is readily used by many partners to ensure women are ‘put in their place’, the decision of the state to ignore the feminisation of poverty will mean that they relegate women to remain punching bags for the crisis of masculinity.

So women’s economic empowerment is essential to the development of democracy, and to a more equal situation for many people in the country. This is certainly something the Government has recognized, given the fact that the Department of Women in the Presidency has shifted its focus exclusively to this topic as announced in the 2014 State of the Nation Address. Whilst it is positive that more emphasis will be put on this element of women’s lives, it is certainly not the only topic that requires the attention of the Department, and the assumption that other Departments are mainstreaming women’s issues is problematic. In addition, it is not clear that any real progress in this regard has been made by the new Department from a casual observation of the Department’s work since May 2014. In the 2015 SONA it will be important to consider how women’s issues are being dealt with by other departments, and if they are not mentioned, whether any action will happen on them at all.


[1] Statistics SA (2014a). National and Provincial labour market: Youth. Pretoria, Statistics South Africa.

[2] Statistics South Africa (2014b). Gender Series Volume 1: Economic Empowerment 2001 – 2014. Pretoria, Statistics South Africa.

[3] South African of Race Relations (2013). South Africa Survey. Page 240.

[4] Businesswomen Association of South Africa (2012). Women in Leadership Survey.

[5] The 2011 household survey.

[6] Statistics South Africa (2012). Census.

[7] South African Institute of Race Relations (2013) Page 660.

[8] UNICEF (2014) The State of the World’s Children 2014

The other half of the conversation: Osrin and daily violence

Dela Gwala
Dela Gwala

By Dela Gwala

Last year, Tim Osrin made the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town infamous by attacking Cynthia Joni because he thought she was a sex worker. Five UCT students cemented this new found infamy by assaulting Delia Adonis on the pavements of Claremont. “ Racially-motivated” attacks is what the headlines cried. But in both these cases that was only part of the conversation. Adonis’s attackers were reported to have called her a “coloured cunt” and Osrin seemed to have drawn his conclusion about Joni simply because she was black, female and standing on a street corner in Kenilworth. The gender politics of both these stories just about got a cursory mention.

If walking is how you make your way around the streets of Cape Town, then open air incidents of gender-based violence are often a part of your daily commute.  During the weeks that accusations of racism dominated discourse about Cape Town, I walked into three incidents of physical and verbal violence taking place on the pristine pavements of the Southern Suburbs.  In Newlands, I watched a man grab a woman around her throat and scream threats at her as she walked away. Back in Claremont, I saw a man drag a woman down the street by her braids. Further along main road, I witnessed a gaatjie (taxi door operator and fare collector) pull a knife on a woman for talking back to him.

There is no headline here – no newsroom would ever report on these incidents. We live in a country where rape is calculated per minute and femicide per hour, but gender has still not quite made the national agenda. The furore around the racist attacks last year collided with 16 days of activism against violence against women. Parliament was in the spotlight as the country’s new source of entertainment but not even that brought eyeballs and eardrums to the 2 hour joint sitting when gender-based issues were debated.

To give a quick recap:  ANC MPs complained about opposition MPs taking photos in parliament. Then MP Mandla Mandela complained about a DA member chewing chappies then later on mockingly referred to another DA MP as “ Miss South Africa”. After that Opposition MPs accused the Chairperson (Deputy Speaker Lechesa Tsenoli) of not being consistent because MPs took pictures of EFF members last time. Later on, DA Chief Whip complained that Minister of Women in the Presidency Susan Shabangu had called him “mad”. A he said, she said ensued. Then the DA Chief Whip said that another ANC MP had called him a liar. Between eruptions of laughter, calls to retract statements and heckling, the chairperson called this grown up playground a “disgrace”.

Where are we now? Tim Osrin is expected to skip off into the sunset thanks to a plea bargain – it’s likely that he will take part in a community programme instead of serving jail time. On a national scale, there is still no comprehensive plan of action to tackle gender-based violence. There is basically no national policy or programme to fund even though it’s costing the country R 28.4 billion  to R 42.2 bilion to ignore this issue.  In Johannesburg, a restaurant manager has been accused of being racist for shouting at two black female patrons and telling them they need a “good shagging” or a “ fuck”. Barely anyone noticed or acknowledged that these statements were also deeply sexist.

Gender issues have been treated like an unwanted add-on to the national conversation since the TRC days.  Statement takers who were on the frontlines of uncovering truths about apartheid era abuses often didn’t think that incidents of sexual violence or any other form of gender-based violations were even worth recording. These issues were not considered politically significant or worthy of a spot in the national dialogue. Two decades later, It’s why no one flinches when the department of women in the presidency suggests prayer and candle vigils as the plan of action to combat a pandemic that ruthlessly claims the lives of women. It’s why police vans can simply drive past while women are being assaulted on the streets of the Southern Suburbs. It’s why South Africans hardly notice sexism and misogyny even when it’s the not-so well hidden subtext screaming at them from national headlines.


Dela Gwala is a full-time feminist and post-grad student at UCT. She has an honours degree in International Relations but has jumped ship from the politics department to take on an MA in Creative Writing. She spends a ridiculous amount of time on social media moderating a Facebook page called Guerrilla Feminism South Africa. Find her on Twitter @indie1activist and read more of her writing on her blog https://genderspecs.wordpress.com/.


Confronting Birth Violence in South Africa

Rachelle Chadwick
Rachelle Chadwick
Marion Stevens
Marion Stevens

By Rachelle Chadwick and Marion Stevens

We know that gender and sexual violence are major problems in South Africa. We know that we have shockingly high rates of rape, domestic violence and femicide. What is not always recognised however is a different form of violence against women. This is violence that is perpetrated predominantly by women and which targets other women when they are in one of their most vulnerable moments. We are talking here about birth violence that happens to women during labour and when they are giving birth to a new life. While reports of abuse in maternal health services have been fairly widespread since the early 1990s, these incidents are often not framed as a form of violence against women. Some view these incidents as the work of a few bad apples and not indicative of wider attitudes. We know from writing on the issue that the factors involved are complex and multiple, including an over-burdened public health system, lack of resources, highly stressed staff and health-care providers and a long apartheid legacy that still marks our healthcare system. We appreciate the point made by others [i] that healthcare-workers, nurses and midwives need to be validated, supported and cared for so that they can do the work of caring for women during labour and birth. This is important. At the same time, however, we feel that something about this issue is being squashed and silenced.

Shouting at and insulting women, engaging in forms of physical violence such as slapping and rough treatment and deliberately shaming, humiliating and neglecting women during one of the most vulnerable moments of their lives is unacceptable. It is unacceptable regardless of work-loads, lack of support or difficult working conditions. That our healthcare system and society at large continues to largely ignore, and in some cases tolerates these abuses, is indicative of a much wider problem of gender relations in South Africa. Of course it is not simply women in general who are the recipients of such abuse. Privileged and middle-class women, protected by their resources and cultural capital, usually escape gross mistreatment. Other forms of obstetric violence (such as unnecessary caesarean section) however do still occur in the private healthcare system. However, it is predominantly poor and marginalised women (including teenage and HIV-positive mothers) that are targets of violence.

Abuses often seem fuelled by normative ideas about who is a ‘good’ and a ‘bad’ mother. Being poor and coming to a public health clinic without appropriate baby clothes and supplies often automatically marks a woman as a ‘bad mother’ who is then sometimes punished by healthcare providers through insults or deliberate shaming. [ii] Other forms of violence, often not recognised or reported, are institutional in nature and involve the shoddy treatment of women in general in public sector health clinics. Examples include dirty toilets, spatial arrangements at maternal obstetric units which do not allow for any privacy during birth and which often preclude women being allowed to have a partner or companion with them during labour, lack of basic supplies such as blankets, pillows and cutlery (one woman told of how all the women had to share one mug) and not being offered any food after going through the exhausting process of labour and birth [ii].We have to ask serious questions about this mistreatment of women. Why has the National Department of Health (NDoH) been so reluctant to address these problems despite evidence of abuses reported since the 1990s? What does this mistreatment and abuse say about how our society sees and values women?

Thankfully there are signs that efforts are being made to begin to address these issues. There have been calls for increased accountability and institutional reform by some academic obstetric departments (such as the University of Cape Town). The Human Rights Watch also pulled no punches in their report on maternal health abuses in 2011, which was tellingly titled, ‘Stop making excuses’ [iii]. Pressure on various fronts has led to some notable recent actions, including the passing of a policy in 2013 by the Western Cape Department of Health (WCDoH) called the ‘Code of Practice for Patient-Centred Maternal Care’. There has also been the introduction of a new national mobile health programme, ‘Momconnect’ which will enable women to directly report abuses. A hotline has also been set up in the Western Cape to make complaints (0860 142 142). At the same time, however, the NDoH has not widely supported or allocated funding for attempts being made in the Western Cape to address these problems. There thus still seems to be a shocking lack of will by governmental bodies to tackle abuse and violence in maternal healthcare settings.

We have to begin to ask why? Perhaps it is difficult or disturbing to recognise a form of violence against women that is perpetrated largely by women ‘caregivers’. Perhaps wider societal attitudes and discriminatory stances towards poor and marginalized women regard the ‘care’ received in public health settings as ‘good enough’ for them. Maybe wider society and government just don’t care about how low-income women are treated. Maybe society in general fails to value women’s reproductive labours and life-giving efforts. Maybe we just don’t value mothers or the precious new lives that they give birth to? One thing is certain – the ways in which women are treated during the vulnerable time of labour and birth says a lot about wider societal and governmental attitudes towards women. We need to confront and expose these unacceptable attitudes. As a nation we can no longer simply ignore or tacitly tolerate these abuses.



  1. Honikman, S . & Meintjies, I. ‘Nurses are stressed, ill-treated, burdened’, Cape Times, 9 September 2011.
  2. Rachelle Chadwick, ‘The right to dignity in childbirth’, National Research Foundation Report, 2013.


  • Human Rights Watch, ‘Stop making excuses: accountability for maternal health in South Africa’, 2011.



Rachelle Chadwick is a lecturer and Research Career Fellow in Gender Studies (School of African & Gender Studies, Anthropology & Linguistics) at the University of Cape Town. She has a PhD in Psychology from the University of Cape Town. Rachelle is a recipient of a National Research Foundation Research Career Advancement Award and is currently working on a new research project titled, ‘Intimate ethnographies of giving life: the bodily-emotional worlds of childbearing for low-income South African women and their partners’. She has published research articles and book chapters in the areas of qualitative methodology, gender theory, sexuality, childbirth, embodiment, narrative resistance and reproductive health.


Marion Stevens has a background as a midwife, in medical anthropology and in public and development. She has worked in the area of sexual and reproductive health and HIV/AIDS for some 20 years. She is currently the coordinator of WISH Associates (Women in Sexual and Reproductive Rights and Health) a network of nine South African consultant activists and a research associate at the African Gender Institute at the University of Cape Town.









Is Parliament any better than the Women’s Ministry? Not really.

By Helen Johnston

The recent media release circulated today related to the Ministry of Women in the Presidency’s failure to take women’s rights seriously got me thinking. Earlier this year FeministsSA considered the electoral manifestos of political parties to assess whether they were women-friendly or not. I also wrote a piece earlier this year for Heinrich Boll on whether voting in this year’s election was a vote for gender equality. The resounding answer for most of them was that a lot more could be done.

But if political parties and the executive aren’t fulfilling the constitutional mandate to promote gender equality, who is responsible for checking on them? The answer to that is Parliament.

In the previous term, Parliament had two committees dedicated to furthering the rights of vulnerable groups – A Portfolio Committee on Women, Children and People with Disabilities and a Select Committee on Women, Children and People with Disabilities. In addition, there is Multi-Party Women’s Caucus dedicated to resolving gender issues in Parliament and allowing women to thrive. Over their five years in Parliament they held numerous meetings on issues related to women, including public hearings on the domestic violence act, meetings on the costs of gender-based violence, maternal health, sex work, hate crimes against LGBTI people, the gendered implications of climate change, the empowerment of rural women, the implementation of international conventions, and HIV amongst others.

In the new Parliament, it appears as if all those vulnerable groups have been dropped from the parliamentary agenda. In the new formation of Ministries, issues of children and people with disabilities were re-allocated to the Department of Social Development. It seems as though the Portfolio Committee on Social Development and the Select Committee on Social Services have picked up on this re-allocation and begun to allocate more meeting time to addressing these vulnerable groups. As the issues concerning these groups is broader than grants, it is positive to see meetings related to violence against children and early childhood development. Though more could certainly be done to take up some of the outstanding issues from the previous committees focussed on these issues.

There is still a Portfolio Committee on Women in the Presidency, that has remained active in its oversight over the new Department, and the CGE, even sending the Department of Women back this week because of a failure to produce documents on time. But to date, it isn’t really clear what this new Department is doing – perhaps the reason why their attempts at  considering gender-based violence are so misguided. It’s certainly not clear what has happened to the National Council on Gender Based Violence, that the former Department went on about as if it was going to solve it all [which is why you should sign the petition after reading this article].

In the National Council of Provinces however, there is also cause for concern. Trying to find the minutes for women’s issues in the NCOP, you are redirected to the Select Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs who are already given the mammoth task of oversight over local government issues in South Africa. In the minutes available on PMG this year there only seems to be one reference to women’s issues – one meeting that happened on the 14th of October relating to women and youth unemployment. Can it be the case that out of six meetings at Parliament, only one  has considered the needs of women? Can that be correct?

Is this a problem of political will, or the allocation of too many issues to NCOP committees? With local government elections coming up soon, if women aren’t currently on the agenda, how on earth will they stay on the agenda then? It’s not clear at this stage, but there is certainly the need for all of us to keep our eyes on what is happening for women in Parliament.

Patriarchy revisited: Alarming anti-feminist rhetoric expressed at Ministry of Women meeting.

Editor note: The link to the petition has been edited, and should work now 


Patriarchy revisited: Alarming anti-feminist rhetoric expressed at Ministry of Women meeting. No plan to address gender-based violence.

Yesterday the Ministry of Women in the Presidency held a meeting in Lakefield to announce their plans for the international 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children campaign. While civil society was invited to a “consultation,” we arrived to find a plan for 16 Days that was already finalized and approved by Cabinet. This plan will focus on engaging men to stand up and support a campaign on violence by saying, “Count Me In.”

We acknowledge and support the need to engage men in the fight against gender-based violence and applaud the Ministry’s desire to broaden the movement as widely as possible. Unfortunately the Ministry’s language in launching this campaign reinforced a range of patriarchal ideas that we as the women’s movement and as feminist organizations have fought against for years.

Minister Shabangu opened the session explaining her desire to focus on mobilizing men during these 16 Days because, “Men are supposed to be protectors of society. Men are supposed to be protectors of families. We need to bring back these protectors of society. We need to mobilize our protectors.” She went on to say that women cannot be victims any more and need to “get their confidence back.”

As Nandi Msezani from ESSET expressed directly to the Minister, “We need to be aware of the language used as it comes from a very patriarchal standpoint. Men need to protect us? With language such as this, women are being infantilized and moving the women’s movement backwards.” She also went on to note “What about women in same sex relationships? LGBTI individuals? Are we not women too?”

The Minister then invited Mpumalanga Chief Moses Mahlangu to share his comments. He announced to the crowd that women must be submissive to their husbands. Princess Dineo, from the Northwest Province, then stood up to tell us that feminism is un-African and encouraged the Minister to cut all funds for centers for abused women and children, as they should be dealing with these issues at home. Both speakers received nods from the Minister on the dais and applause from the audience. Others followed decrying women’s abuse of men and women’s aggression as the biggest challenges.

How have we come to this moment? This would be hilarious if it weren’t so deeply depressing. The Minister closed the opening session noting the diversity of opinions expressed and that we must value diversity as it is protected in the South African Constitution. Are women’s rights not also protected in that same Constitution? Are women’s rights not human rights?

In the midst of an epidemic of gender-based violence unparalleled almost anywhere else in the world, in a moment when we are desperate for leadership, for vision and strategy, we instead are delivered destructive discourse and no clear roadmap for progress. Participating civil society organsiations that have been fighting for gender equality, safety and security for over 20 years were highly disappointed that what should have been a safe space to develop positive, progressive narratives and actions for women’s rights was left open and unprotected by the Department of Women for highly negative, oppressive and patriarchal input from traditionally conservative institutions and individuals.

This concerns us as activists. Patriarchy has been brought back to the mainstream and seems to be supported if not promoted by the State agenda, ironically through a campaign that is designed to highlight the scourge of patriarchal violence. Patriarchy is not an abstraction or a theoretical concern as stated by the Minister. It directly feeds our epidemic of sexual and intimate partner violence. A South African women murdered by an intimate partner every 8 hours is not an abstraction. Tens of thousands of brutal rapes per year are not theoretical abstractions.

Activists at the meeting also reminded Minister Shabangu of the Department’s previous commitments on designing a national strategic plan on gender-based violence. Jabu Tugwana of People Opposing Women Abuse, read a brief statement from 13 organizations from across the country demanding the resumption of the National Strategic Plan process. But we received no response, no answers on the status of the National Council on Gender-Based Violence, which has been “under review” for 6 months. We received no public commitment on the National Strategic Plan, which will be essential in stemming our country’s epidemic of violence.

We do not want our attendance at this meeting to be mistaken as an endorsement of the Department’s campaign. We are concerned that the language used and the sentiments expressed in the meeting are an indication that a more conservative and frankly oppressive understanding and approach to women and social rights has emerged and taken grip of a state institution that is intended to promote protect women’s rights, as defined by women in South Africa and globally. We call on all women, on all feminists, on all South Africans, to challenge this neo-patriarchal framing, and to demand a plan from government.

To this end, we will host a National Day of Action on 25 November to launch our own 16 Days campaign to demand a national plan to end gender-based violence from government. Join us by signing this petition and by coming out to participate in actions nation wide demanding an NSP on 25 November.

Statement signed by:

Centre for Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR)

Eastern Cape Rape Crisis

Ecumenical Service for Socio-Economic Transformation (ESSET)

Justice and Women


Sonke Gender Justice

People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA)

Project Empower

Thohoyandou Victim Empowerment Programme (TVEP)

Tswaranang Legal Advice Centre

For media inquiries, please contact:

Jabu Tugwana, POWA



Event: Yes Lorde! A tribute to Audre Lorde

Calling all radicals,activists, irreverents and academics to honour the 20th anniversary of the passing of Audre Lorde; a black lesbian, feminist, poet, mother, activist, lover and survivor who pioneered fighting societal oppression on every front. 
YES LORDE! A TRIBUTE TO AUDRE LORDE takes the form of an outdoor picnic set to create an intersectional space to engage, have dialogue and share views on Queers, Feminism, Gender equality and Activism. Our goal is to have a fun, diverse and robust experience that hears everyone’s views.
On the panel;
  • Zandi Sherman – MA Sociology Student at UCT.
  • Busisiwe Ncane Deyi – cisgender queer feminist/transfeminist.
  • Tiffany Kagure Mugo – Feminist & founder of HOLAAfrica
  • Sian Ferguson – Feminist Writer
On poetry;
On some music;
We’re also having a book exchange. Bring a book on any of the following subjects;
  • Queer
  • Feminism
  • Gender
and get another one on any of the above subjects.
Admission: R20 (with a book to exchange) or R40.
Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 9.11.24 PM


Keeping women “safe” can be dangerous

Joy Watson
Joy Watson

by Joy Watson


Rape stats not improving, court stats even worse

The recently released crime statistics indicate a slight drop in the number of reported cases of sexual offences, from 66 387 in 2012/13 to 62 649 in 2013/14. Over the course of the past few years, the trend has been to drop, then increase again and then drop again at different points in time. In 2004/05, for example, there were 69 117 reported cases. By 2007/08, this had dropped to 63 818. In 2008/09, it increased again to 70 514, dropped to 64 514 in 2011/12 and then increased to 66 387 in 2012/13.

The pattern that emerges is not one of a steady decline as a result of a coherent, targeted strategy to eradicate sexual offences. Equally concerning, is the fact a small fraction of the total number of reported cases eventually go to court. In 2007/08, 6.8% of the total number of sexual offences went to court. Of the total number of cases reported to the police, 4.5% resulted in convictions. This improved marginally in 2008/09, when 7.5% of the total cases reported went to court and 5% of the total cases reported resulted in convictions. For the next two years, there was no reporting on the related statistics. In 2011/12, there was a marginal improvement with 10.7% of the total number of reported cases going to court and 6.97% of the total cases reported resulted in convictions. The subliminal message is abundantly clear – a rapist has to be extremely unlucky to get convicted.

The reasons for the vast majority of sexual offences cases not going to court varies. Some cases are eventually withdrawn by the victim, largely as a result of secondary victimisation in the criminal justice system. In other instances, the National Prosecuting Authority will drop a case if it seems as if though there is not enough evidence to support it. This is a contentious matter as forensic evidence is an important part of deciding whether or not a case can potentially be won in court.  Yet, there are significant delays in securing forensic evidence and even where it is secured, the accused can argue that sex was consensual.

We need new strategies

The fact that there is no coherent, inter-departmental strategy on the part of the state to deal with rape is one of the main reasons why we see no real improvement in addressing the issue of rape.

Much of the state and media discourse in this regard has focused on the notion of protectionism, namely, that women need to be kept safe from harm and navigate their way cautiously in public spaces, particularly at night. Embedded within this narrative of danger is the underlying view that “bad” women ask for trouble, and that women who conform to the tacit rules of how to dress, where to walk, when to be out etc., will be “safe”. Restrictions on women’s mobility are therefore sanctioned by rationalizing that it is in the interest of their safety.

Yet, rape has confounded this myth. Even “good” women who conform to the rules have been raped and the disproportionate focus on the danger to women in public spaces appears to ignore the reality that women seem to face more violence in private rather than public spaces.

Furthermore, the language of protection and safety is couched within a problematic framework of concern for women’s sexual virtue. It obliterates the fact that the everyday acts of violence such as catcalls and comments directed at women on the streets are linked to more brutal forms of violence such as rape. These daily, repetitive acts of intrusion and harassment which women are expected to take in their stride, creates the kind of social context where more brutal forms of harassment can take place.

In the longer term, the better strategy is for women to enhance their claim to public spaces as notions of protectionism and keeping women safe ultimately limit life choices and restrict mobility. This in itself can be seen as a form of violence. In the process of doing this, violence is something that needs to be contended with and addressed at its roots, that of structural social inequity. This will require that we think differently about violence against women – placing it not in opposition to risk and pleasure, but alongside them and understanding what these terms mean in their own right and when connected to each other.



Black bodies not for your abuse Osrin

Jen Thorpe, feminism, women, South Africa
Jen Thorpe

By Jen Thorpe

Cape Town swimming coach Tim Osrin was arrested last week when he allegedly beat up a middle-aged domestic worker, Cynthia Joni, in the middle of the day without the two ever having said anything to one another. Osrin was driving his car along a road, saw Joni, and stopped his car to beat her up. She sustained multiple injuries. His explanation for this – he thought she was a prostitute. He is quoted as saying “I just snapped. It is a result of the years of stress of having these people in our area.”

To add fuel to fire, when charges were laid against him, Osrin said that Joni had ‘trumped up the charges’ because he was white, and was probably thinking “here comes my Christmas box.” A petition to Virgin Active to remove Osrin from their team of swimming coaches, and make true their commitments to a non-racist society, was successful. His case has been postponed to 27 November at the Wynberg Magistrates Court.

I think it’s important that we unpack this crime for the very many layers of ‘isms’ and wrong doings based on Osrin’s statements.He reveals particular prejudice about sex workers, black women,

1. “I just snapped. It is a result of the years of stress of having these people in our area.”

If you’re hearing loud sounds it’s because you’ve stepped on a minefield. Unpacking the layers of privilege in this statement could take all day but let’s go step by step.

A: These people:

In this statement Osrin was referring to his belief that Joni was a sex worker. Sex work is criminalised in South Africa. Whilst everyone is entitled to their own opinion about the decriminalisation/legalisation of sex work (if your opinion isn’t an informed one I suggest you engage with SWEAT) there are certain facts that are important. These are:

  • Sex workers are people and have human rights like everyone else including the right to be free from violence.
  • It is not acceptable to assault someone because you disagree with their career.
  • Someone being a sex worker doesn’t mean is not an explanation for someone else’s violence.

The point that Joni is not, in fact, a sex worker is discussed in B below. But even if she was, this doesn’t legitimate his violence.

B: These people in our area:

Osrin never explained why he thought Joni was a prostitute, and it seems the only marker that identified her as one of these people in his area was the fact that she was black. The assumption then is that Osrin had some misplaced belief that black people walking in Kenilworth don’t live there, or work there, and if they do work there it’s as a sex worker. This type of active stupidity is not exclusive to Osrin.

This is linked to the racist patriarchal hypersexualisation of black female bodies, to white male privilege that says women are not allowed to choose what they do with their bodies, and to racism that assumes that black people do not have legitimate space in ‘white’ areas like Tim’s (see D below). All of this, is quite frankly, bullshit and should no longer be tolerated as an explanation or excuse for violence.

Deliberate ignorance should not be seen as a mitigating factor in his case.

C: I just snapped: 

Assault is not a legitimate response to frustration. So the excuse that he snapped, unless he had some sort of mental break that reduced his criminal liability (which I doubt because he was able to drive off in his car, and to give subsequent statements to the media), then he was directly responsible for his choice to beat someone up who had not instigated any violence against him.

If Osrin has in fact ‘snapped’ then he should be admitted for psychiatric evaluation before he can stand trial.

Importantly, it must be made clear in this case that violence against sex workers is unacceptable. Particularly because this type of violence can be considered a hate crime – it is motivated by hatred for sex workers as a group and sends a message to other sex workers that it is not safe in that area.

D: Our area: 

Public spaces, including streets, are, well, public. Anyone is entitled to walk in any area that is not access controlled. So it’s not actually your area Tim, it’s Kenilworth, and Joni has every right to be there.

E: The prevalence of sex workers in Kenilworth as a cause for concern

Sex workers are workers. This means that they often work in places where there is a demand for their services. I’m not quite clear on why this is a problem, and don’t agree that having sex workers in an area automatically brings shame/disgrace to an area.

However, Osrin alleges that the sex workers expose themselves to children in the area, and this is certainly not acceptable and criminal behaviour. In the same way that sex workers are entitled to be in public spaces, children are entitled to live in spaces free from violence. This behaviour, if it is happening, cannot be condoned.

So if Mr Osrin seeks to address the issue, perhaps what would be more useful than assaulting individual women, would be a community dialogue with sex workers, sex worker organisations, community members, etc to discuss why sex work is thought to be a problem, and how the community feels about it, given that sex workers are clearly part of the community.

I think that type of dialogue is an imperative after such an incident of violence, and that it should happen as soon as possible.

2. Here comes my Christmas Box

Osrin’s counter allegation is that Joni is trumping up the extent of her injuries in order to exploit him in some way. This statement points to some racist and sexist assumptions:

  • Black people do not tell the truth – of course, Joni couldn’t just be detailing her injuries.
  • Black people are out to exploit white people and see white people only as a source of personal enrichment – through laying charges, Joni wasn’t trying to achieve justice or prevent Osrin from assaulting other unsuspecting women, but was trying to get money out of him through a court settlement.
  • Women don’t tell the truth – her injuries were probably not as bad as she said they were (if you see the earlier links, he only slapped her once, so ‘any injuries she sustained were a result of her fall’).

These assumptions seek to undermine Joni’s right to report violence against her, and will certainly cause secondary vicitimisation. Women who are abused face discrimination from police often, and their injuries or lack thereof are often commented on in court cases. What is important is that this was a physical assault, and secondly it was an assault to Joni’s dignity.

3. Shock is not enough, we need action

It’s clear that Osrin is a complex guy – he is angry, violent, mistrustful, racist and sexist. Part of ensuring that incidents like this don’t happen again is removing the conditions for their acceptability – addressing the intersectionality (the ways that his various prejudices converged upon a black female body and not a white female body, or a rich black body, or a white male body) that facilitated this abuse. It’s important that stereotypes and racist and sexist assumptions like those that Osrin made are addressed at a community level.

I think it is vital for the Kenilworth, Harfield, Claremont village associations and ward councillors to host a discussion inviting all members of the community to discuss the following:

  • racism
  • violence
  • socioeconomic inequality
  • sex work

And I’m sure a number of other areas. If you live in an area where you face similar issues, then I suggest you contact your councillor and ask for a dialogue.

If you would like to do more, and participate in an event outside the court where Osrin’s case will be held on 27 November you can find details of one here.

Sign on NOW to support sexual orientation and gender identity rights

This is an URGENT and extremely IMPORTANT action, and we kindly ask that your organisation signs onto this letter before or by 18h00 today-Tuesday 23 September 2014.

Activists and advocates and human rights defenders working on sexuality and gender and on human
rights and social justice in Africa are asked to take note of the proceedings at the Human Rights
Council [Geneva] this week and engage!

At the Human Rights Council in Geneva

Now/This week

A resolution on Human rights and Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity has been tabled [see
attached] by Chile, Columbia, Uruguay and Brazil.
This is a follow up Resolution to the first ever SOGI specific Resolution at the UN – Human Rights,
Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity of June 2011 [Resolution 17/19] which was led by South
Africa and co-sponsored by Brazil and Norway.

This Resolution is important because
1. The issue of rights related to sexual orientation and gender identity and expression is not yet
recognised by many states as a human right issue. This Resolution and its predecessor assert
sexual orientation and gender identity as a human rights issue
2. The levels of violence and discrimination against people based on their real or perceived
sexual orientation and gender identity and expression continues to rise and is driven by both
state and non-state actors. Our efforts to confront these violations and discrimination must
be taken to every platform available. We must address this growing human rights crises and
related sexuality and gender related violations.
3. The initial Resolution put the issue firmly on the table of the major UN human rights body,
the Human Rights Council. There is a need to keep this issue on the Human Rights Council
agenda and at this point the Resolution does this in a way that asserts the importance of
rights related to sexual orientation and gender identity and calls for states to begin to make
the shit to recognition and protection of rights related to sexual orientation and gender
identity and expression
4. There is a massive backlash underway by many states and the Holy See at the UN against
freedom of association, speech and against rights related to sexuality and gender and the
demands we have been and will continue to make for autonomy over our bodies and lives.
We must push back at this backlash and continue to push forwards to setting standards of all
rights for all. This Resolution is one way of doing this. We must pay attention to other similar
issues and backlash against them, such as sex work, abortion and issues of people living with
HIV and transmission as well as the need for comprehensive sexuality education, amongst
others [Watch this space and check out the website of the Sexual Rights Initiative]
5. This resolution is an outcome of many of us on the continent and elsewhere to push forward
an agenda on autonomy and freedom of choice over our bodies and lives and we need to
recognise and affirm this work and push for support for this and similar Resolutions

All votes by all states which have voting powers [current members of the Human Rights Council] are
important. [See list attached]
This particular action is geared towards urging and pressuring South Africa to vote yes for the
Resolution because
1. South Africa has set a global standard on laws and policy frameworks for the recognition and
protection of rights related to sexual orientation and gender identity and expression
2. South Africa led on the initial Resolution [17/19] in June 2011 and this leadership is
important to sustain within the global intergovernmental system
3. We need African states to be voting in favour of this resolution and to be moving into
sustained dialogue on the issue of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.
South Africa is one such state with the credibility on this issue because of their domestic
policy framework. South Africa must not stop or withhold their leadership as slowly other
African states become sensitive to the need for protection and recognition of rights related to
sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.
Similar work is being done with other African states with current voting power at the Human Rights
Council [members of the Council]. Contact fadzai@cal.org.za and phillipa@aidsaccountability.org

1. Read the attached letter to the Minister of International Relations in South Africa (below)
2. Sign on by sending an email with your organisation name and the words SIGN ON
Send your SIGN ON email to signon@aidsaccountability.org
3. Keep engaging on this issue on the social media of the #DemandAccountabilitySA Campaign
member. You can find them here:

FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/UkomboziKwaAfrikaCampaign
TWITTER: https://twitter.com/UkomboziKwaAfri
E-MAIL: ukombozikwaafrika@gmail.com
Updates will be posted there and discussion and analysis will be underway for this week and
into the next.

COLLECTIVE letter TO minister DIRCO sogie SEPT 2014

Gender, ICT’s and the new hairdresser

Gabriella Razzano
Gabriella Razzano

By Gabriella Razzano

I work in the technology and transparency space and I am passionate about technology and transparency. And wine. But like anybody who loves something profoundly, I sometimes lose the capacity to think of it with any objectivity. My love goggles have meant that I sometimes preach about a topic, without reflecting on fact.

I may say Internet and Communications Technologies (ICTs) are important for empowering women, but I end there without always giving enough scientific evidence to back myself up. However, hard facts are being collated, and we should be exploring what they mean more rigorously.

What does the research say?

One thing that is clear from working in the technology space is that technology for technology’s sake is pointless. It’s like getting married because you like a party – why commit to an outcome if it doesn’t relate to a substantial need? If we want technology to empower women, the fundamental first step is to figure out how women use technology. Only then can we effectively explore solutions. There is nothing like a good body of research.

And, fortunately, the research is actually there. The obvious truth? Access to ICT is inequitable. The same structures that impair female participation in societal structures do not profoundly differ online.

What I am interested in is what happens once there is access. There are interesting differences across the continent, but focusing on the South African example, there is one particular pattern that I find noteworthy, which I found in the 2012 paper called: “Understanding what is happening in ICT in South Africa” created by ICT Research Africa.

Though ownership of mobile phones is fairly equal, not too surprisingly men have more access to internet-capable phones than women. This results in men using their phones to browse the internet more. And men (40%) use the internet more than women (29%) across apparatus. Men own more laptops, but women own more desktop computers. The ownership of equipment is therefore an obvious thing to consider – with women using computers more than men at home or internet cafes.

What happens when women get access to ICTs

But what I am interested in is – if, we give women access to facilities and the internet, what do they do? To explain I will paraphrase from the research:

  • “Among internet users, there are more males (72%) than females (57%) who first used the internet on a computer, while there are more females (43%) than males (28%) who first used the internet on a mobile phone…
  • [M]ost males (71%) and most females (70.9%) were found to have primarily accessed the internet via the mobile phone in the previous 12 months.
  • More males use the internet at work (45%) and at home (46%) than females (at 38% and 25% respectively).
  • More females access the internet via a commercial internet access facility (36%) and place of education (22%) than male (at 30% and 20% respectively)”.

Though women started using the internet on computers, the vast percentage now access on mobile – this is in comparison to men, whose behaviour hasn’t really changed in the preferred means of access. While there may be a cost consideration, and the pattern follows the uptake of mobile by ‘poorer groups’ because of cost, we would have also expected to see a relative increase in the use for men as well, if this was the sole determinate. Men access the internet more than women at work and at home; this in spite of the fact that we know from earlier women use computers at home more than men (and own more computers at home than men). And women use internet cafes and educational facilities to access the internet than men.

What do these usages demonstrate?

I have a strong theory about this, and that is that women prefer to access the internet in relatively neutral spaces (acknowledging of course that no space is actually neutral from patriarchal structures), removed from the stronger gendered influences of the home and the work place that might observe them or control their behaviour.

Women access the internet where they can engage more equally and more privately. For women, the internet is the new hairdresser – a dominion where engagement can occur free from the power structures that might influence behavior to be more restrained. It must be acknowledged that a lot of what I view as ‘preference’ might in fact be forced by the social expectations that preclude them from being active online at home, but how we can best engage women remains the same: stop thinking about the internet as a home experience.

We need to consider this behavior if we want to create solutions; and we need to figure out how to leverage this behavior to advance access for women. To empower women we need to work with the woman in mind, and work with her mind.

This is linked to my eternal optimism (fuelled by wine); I want to examine individual agency and behaviour and how that can influence the system, because I want to focus on the aspects of our lives that we can be empowered to change. If we want to take over the internet to enhance the lives of women, we must design with the reality of how we seek solace in the ICT space, and figure out how we can enhance that for the betterment of all.

* Thanks to the great work being done by Research ICT Africa team for their pioneering research in the field of internet policy and gender. Their research can be explored here.


We haven’t moved very far away from the age of ‘fallen women’

Tam Sutherns
Tam Sutherns

By Tammy Sutherns

Reeking of the 18th century Ireland Magdalene Asylums, a Chile Catholic Church has confirmed that a priest stole babies for adoption between the 1970s and 1980s. Reuters reports that the priest was:

“Instrumental in the forced adoption of at least two babies without the knowledge of their mothers, and had also maintained an “inappropriate relationship” with one mother.”

The priest, Gerardo Joannon, is being investigated after allegedly telling single mothers that their babies had died, while actually giving them up for adoption. Alex Vigueras, a regional church head who is in charge of the probe into Joannon, is reported as saying,

“The preliminary investigation has established the truth of the accusations…he always knew that both babies did not die.”

Apparently, the priest has tried to justify his actions with the fact that there is a stigma attached to unmarried mothers in the Catholic society in Chile, especially at the time of incidents.

Similar to the nun’s laundries in Ireland, where ‘fallen women’ were housed, put to work in the laundries and their babies given up for adoption, this story shows just what acts can be justified simply because of the patriarchal restrictions society can place on women. The last Magdalene Institution shut down in Ireland in 1996, which wasn’t exactly eons ago. This story in Chile has emerged, showing that these women were lied to and their babies taken away from them in the last three or four decades.

How far have we really come from shaming women?

It’s not restricted to religious culture, third world countries or the past. Slut-shaming is full steam on social media today – alive, kicking and international.

South Africa’s Grazia magazine caused a raucous recently when it tweeted:

“What makes a girl a slut? Is it the way she dresses? What she says? What she does? And …”

The magazine published an entire article dedicated to slut-shaming, clearing up the reason behind its controversial tweet. In-depth and well-put, Grazia SA  spoke about slut-shaming culture, amplified by social media commentary that is often abusive. With many getting the wrong end of the stick by Grazia’s Tweet, the magazine deleted the tweet and responded;

“The messages were published to gauge our audiences’ perception of the word ‘slut’ and to coincide with a feature that we are producing on ‘slut-shaming’ – the term used to define a woman’s character based on her choice of language, wardrobe or actions.


The concept of ‘slut-shaming’ is one that Grazia South Africa opposes in the strongest possible sense. We take our role of defending and empowering women very seriously and our feature story focuses on the fact that we live in a society where women are bullied and shamed and that it must stop.”

The sensitivity around the issue showed that it is one that did not die with the last Magdalene Institution and more so, that it should not be swept under the carpet. Why are friends, enemies, frenemies, the media or the public calling anyone a slut? What makes a woman a slut? What is it that she does that makes it OK to use that label?

If we’re horrified by the Magdalene institutions or a Chilean priest giving out women’s babies to save them from the shame of falling pregnant out of wedlock, then we need to be horrified by a culture that still judges a woman with such harsh and unnecessary labels based on her personal sexual life, her choice of clothes or who she chooses to befriend.

And it seems that we are. South Africans shunned the idea of slut-shaming (along with Grazia’s Tweet questioning what it means to be a slut) as a repressive, regressive and misogynistic side of society, similarly to how I would imagine they would shun Gerardo Joannon for stealing women’s babies.

Anton Marshall wrote on Facebook:

“This is a deeply problematic and inappropriate question. Deeply problematic. Given the volumes of information available as to why, I’m disappointed and offended by its phrasing, as I’m sure many others will be. EDIT: In fact, I’m pretty shocked that anyone in your organisation would be thinking along those lines at all. Horrifying.”

Chloe Quinn Johnson posted:

“‘Slut’ is simply another derogatory term developed to try and shame women (see ‘bitch’ and ‘ballbuster’ as another example of this). As long as the woman is happy with her life, prepared to accept the consequences of her decisions and her actions are not negatively affecting anyone else – then what she chooses to wear, who she chooses to sleep with, what she chooses to say and whatever else she decides to do with HER body and HER life is nobody’s damn business but her own.”

Let’s continue to draw parallels between 18th Century patriarchal practices and calling someone a ‘slut’ on Twitter and let’s end the shame right now. Instead of using social media as a platform to abuse, let’s use it as these South Africans did above: to defend, to educate and to stand up for.