The most trying thing about working in a rural environment is not the lack of better roads or basic services not reaching areas that need them the most – it is watching people falling through the cracks of a system designed to improve their status quo. On any given day community media journalists get bombarded with complaints from members of the public wishing for recourse for the injustices they’re faced with. Community media is viewed as a salvation for those who are looking for affirmation that they are right in demanding better treatment from those entrusted with bringing them services.
It’s not uncommon to hear stories of local clinics closing after lunch because the nurses are too tired to continue working. Either that or they are just unwilling to do their jobs. The negative attitude public servants greet rural masses with also leaves a lot to be desired. These are people who have to wake up in the wee hours of the morning to walk long distances for hours queuing to get help. More often than not it has to take a call and few follow ups from a newsroom to help someone obtain their ID from home affairs due to years of unexplained delays. Here nothing happens unless you know people who can push it. This has become a normal part of working for a community media. It can be as fulfilling as it can be frustrating.
Frustration perhaps is a word I can best describe the plight of girl students at a Ninakhulu Primary School in Lulekani villages around Ba-Phalaborwa Municipality.
From a distance their new school looks like it was plucked from a city and put in this arid area surrounded by golden grass. When you step inside and meet the students you don’t need the principal to tell you that a big percentage of the learners come from poor family backgrounds. You will still need to give your ear to listen to the situations most go back home to after each school day. When the school year calendar ends the principal identifies learners whose need for food are more urgent, in order to give what is left from the government’s feeding scheme to them. At times their food packages get stolen as their households have no doors.
I first came across their story as a rumour that turned out to be a dire need for girls, many of whom at puberty are at the threshold of womanhood. The story was that a high rate of absenteeism among female learners had lead to an investigation that uncovered that the girls would be absent for an average of three days per week. Upon further investigation the acting principal Mrs Sibiya said she discovered that learners were absent during their periods. She had conducted this investigation talking to them and assessing their backgrounds. The majority of the girls came from impoverished households and their parents could not afford sanitary pads.
Not having sanitary towels to aid them during their periods is a problem the girls’ families cannot afford to have. The principal took it upon herself to do something about this. Armed with a zero budget and mostly hoping for donations from members of the public she started her request for help with the common of “Can your radio station please help…..” Like most people in this area community media is where she hopes her girls’ salvation will come from.
If you can assist, please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org and we will put you in touch with the principal directly.
In 2014, street harassment remains (along with other outlets for patriarchy) a social problem globally. It remains largely under-dealt with and under-publicised. Sexual prejudice and oppression are still a thing as patriarchy is force fed down our throats. This is a serious vigil in the face of the age of information and other liberations.
It transpires that there is next to nothing being done about ending street harassment in South Africa. Recently, I was in a conversation about the idea that billboards instructing men on appropriate and inappropriate behaviour would help. I argued that while it was good thinking, the reaction has to be in scale with the offence, which is as big as we know it to be but bigger than what our reaction to it would suggest. Let me explain.
Whenever I speak to people about poverty or corruption or racism I say that you can’t simply erase a problem by looking at the surface of it. One needs to look after the cause and the cause of the cause and the cause of that and then positive results will look after themselves. Usually it is right to say that the problem is a by-product of society, not a gross departure from it. Therefore it is elements in society and social conventions/systems that need changing.
In this case, one cannot simply say “stop touching peoples’ butts on the street!” and expect anything to happen. Our nemeses are mindset, history, compliance, conventions etc. I think that a billboard or an advert or a discussion among innocent people is largely an exercise in futility. You can never get the message across in that space/time to someone who still has the wrong attitude in 2014. I think you need more time and intimacy.
We often say, as black South Africans, that colonialism/white supremacy/apartheid etc acted against the interests of people of colour for about 350 years and that we can’t expect that 20 years of freedom (and I use that term very, very loosely) will reverse all of that. So how can silence, conversation or an advert remove an outlet of patriarchy?
To be clear, I don’t have an issue with the idea of billboards, but I don’t think they’d be that effective, especially with something so deep rooted. I just think it takes way more. It appears to me as a case where teaching is needed as the people have been told, or the why of the what. How many people are likely to pass a billboard or a street ad and exclaim in shock: “Oh my God, a billboard, now I can change my attitude towards women. This was all I needed?”
Also, people have to buy into it first. People buy into patriarchy because they were walked into it by convention and a social system that is blatantly patriarchal. So without the appropriate respect for women, a billboard advertising something with the use of female sexuality is acceptable. Or when you have no respect for a TV show, a billboard about it holds no interest to you. Also, it’s easy and comfy on our selfishness. We weren’t told: “OK, it’s time to be patriarchal,” we were trained and continue to be trained on a daily (hourly even?) basis. That is what has to happen in reverse to reverse the curse.
In any case, are we not undermining the intelligence of the people by assuming that they don’t know that it’s wrong to harass other humans? Are we saying that they have had no way of telling that the ‘harassees’ have misgivings about their actions? It would seem to me that this is case of arrogance, conformism, laziness, cowardice, opportunism, being normal and stupidity. Not ignorance.
Furthermore, we are currently being afforded the opportunity to look away from our weakness. We don’t have to confront the current level of noise on patriarchy because it just isn’t forceful. Even if one finds him/herself engaged in a conversation it is easy to wait a few days to convince yourself that it never happened or that it was just one person’s opinion. It is also the natural reaction to get defensive and feel hard done by when your stupidity is confronted, as I did in my conversation. You scapegoat feminism in the heat of trying to remove yourself from the blame.
In the aforementioned conversation (which led me to writing this,) I suggested that the troops over at www.stopstreetharassment.org were on the right track. They hold talks to teach people about street harassment. The other person in the conversation said that harassers who are poorer (street vendors, builders, domestic workers etc) would not have access to these talks. But what if we don’t go to them as vendors but as residents of their communities at the community school/hall? Or if we go to them while they are school kids or if teachers do it once or twice a week. Not just on street harassment but sexual respect and equality and more.
There are free workshops to teach people how to run businesses, free tertiary education, free religious services and workshops, free sport workshops and more. Do we not have the time or will for the safety and respect of humans?
In any event, I think the real question is the following: why is it that most of us (including yours truly) are only talking about this and speculating instead of doing things to cull the flow of bullshit?
This is your chance to show that you take children’s rights seriously and object to the violation of female sexuality in our country, and in our schools.
It is Child Protection Week this week in South Africa. Last week a bloodied condom was found in the girls bathroom at Jordao College, a private school, in Gauteng. Instead of using this as an opportunity to encourage positive and healthy discussions around sexuality, the principal instructed teachers to conduct ‘tests for sexual activity’ on all female learners between grades 10 and 12 (average age at starting grade 10 – 15 years old). The way they chose to do this was to force female learners to remove their underwear so it could be inspected. Girls were not given a choice.
“The Children’s Act, Section 12(4) prohibits virginity testing of children under the age of 16 years. Anyone who contravenes the prohibition is guilty of an offence and can be fined or imprisoned for 10 years or be given both a fine and a term of imprisonment (section 305(1)(a) and (6)). Virginity testing of children older than 16 may be performed but only under strict conditions that are specified in the Act and the Regulations:
• the child must consent to the test – i.e. it must be the child’s choice
(the child must sign Form 1);
• the test may only be performed after the child has been counselled properly;
• the child’s age must be verified;
• each child should be tested individually and in private;
• the test must be done in a hygienic manner (in particular, a separate pair of sterile surgical gloves must be used for each child);
• only a female can test a girl child and only a male can test a boy child;
• the results of the test may not be disclosed without the child’s consent; and
• after the test, the child’s body may not be marked in anyway (i.e. the outcome of the test must be kept confidential).
It is an offence not to comply with these requirements and a person is liable on conviction to a fine or to imprisonment for up to two years in some cases, or even up to 10 years in other cases, or to both a fine and imprisonment.”
Instead of taking decisive action against all those involved in this violation of girls’ dignity, and stigmatisation of female sexuality, the Gauteng MEC for education has simply asked the teachers to write an apology, to the parents of the learners, not even to the girls.
The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Act 32 of 2007 also describes the offence of ‘compelled self-sexual assault’ which applies to this situation. It states as Section 7:
“A person (‘A’) who unlawfully and intentionally compels a complainant (‘B’), without the consent of B, to: (b) engage in any act which has or may have the effect of sexually arousing or sexually degrading B, is guilty of the offence of compelled self-sexual assault.”
The Act defines consent as follows:
“‘consent’ means voluntary or unforced agreement.”
It is alleged that the girls were not given any choice, and in fact were threatened by teachers. If this is the case then these teachers have committed a crime in terms of the Sexual Offences Act and should be removed from their positions with immediate effect, and charged for the failure to do their duty to protect learners from harm.
Nowhere in the article does it make mention of inspecting the boys and thus this is a clear instance of gender-based violence. Gender-based violence cannot be something that is let off with an apology. That is what we have the law for. It is not acceptable that we continue to allow the violation of children’s rights, especially not in such a critical period as children’s week. The MEC has an opportunity to show South Africa that the Government takes children’s rights seriously.
An apology is not enough. I encourage you to email the MEC and the Gauteng Department of Education (email@example.com) and ask him to follow the law in terms of removing the principal, removing those teachers involved in this abuse, and holding all responsible parties accountable. Girls should not face fear when they go to school, and should not wonder about whether their dignity will be violated.
Until Malala Yousafzai’s story became well-known, I doubt many people considered what it means to be young and female and seeking an education in a conflict-ridden society that has a bias against the education of girls. Recently I read about a teacher from Afghanistan, Nahida, and I realised that in another part of the world a girl’s education is not a given. Nahida is a school principal for a girls school in Kabul. She has persevered through many difficulties in making sure the education of girls in Kabul matters. Her experiences also reveal that when a country is conflict-ridden for three decades, the people who suffer the most are girls and the women who teach them.
If we focus on Afghanistan alone, Nahida’s story brings to light the interconnectedness of politics, security and education. She points out that
“In the last period of time when Mujahidin came to power, different portions of Mujahidin started fighting in Kabul and other provinces. Schools closed because of security, especially girls schools. Schools become a target for Mujahidin. Slowly when stability came to Afghanistan and Kabul for me it was priority to encourage girls and their families to come back to school. I gave the message to their families and asked them to send their daughters to school again.”
Nahida’s story is relevant when we consider the education of girls in other regions because girls living in the Arab States are at a greater disadvantage: the share of females in the out-of-school population is 60%, compared with 57% in South and West Asia and 54 % in sub-Saharan Africa.
A more gendered narrative reveals that girls education can still be sacrificed at the altar because of sexist ideas that reveal that women and girls do not matter. This is especially the case with the Taliban’s laws in Afghanistan. Nahida reveals that
“When the Taliban came to power, it was their policy to close all the schools for females. For me, it was difficult to go to school to teach. When I went to my school, the principal of the school was a Mullah and he didn’t allow me to enter the school and asked me after that not to come to school. But for the boys, school was open. When I understood the policy of Taliban was not to allow girls and female teachers to go to school, I started a home school for girls because families and their parents asked me to teach their daughters.”
Let’s consider some statistics from UNESCO’s EFA report related to education in Afghanistan and the Arab states:
175 million young people in low and lower middle income countries are unable to read a single sentence, of whom 61% are female. In South and West Asia, two out of three young people who cannot read are young women.
Afghanistan has the highest level of gender disparity in primary education in the world with only 71 girls in primary school for every 100 boys. It is likely to remain very far from the Millennium Development Goal target of gender parity in primary education by 2015.
No girls were in secondary school in 1999 in Afghanistan. By 2011, the female gross enrolment ratio rose to 34%, which meant there were only 55 girls in secondary school for every 100 boys.
While almost 80% of the richest boys in urban areas were completing primary school in 2011, the same was true for only 4% of the poorest girls living in rural areas.
In Iraq, not only has progress towards gender parity been slow, but poor, rural girls have not benefited. The lower secondary completion rate was 58% for rich urban boys and just 3% for poor rural girls in 2011. Safety remains an issue for girls’ schooling, particularly in areas of major instability and insecurity.
What do these numbers suggest about the education of girls? Beyond considering the role of the teacher, it seems that in societies where the girl child’s education is not taken seriously, a cultural shift needs to happen alongside the change in policies that recognise that the education of girls is central to the development of any country. Girls born in middle class homes (where both parents are usually educated) have chances of escaping the narrative however for poorer women and girls more needs to be done politically and socially.
Writing about the education of girls immediately invokes the position of boys. It matters for both boys and girls that girls should be treated equally and have access to the same education. Boys that do not grow up around girls whose minds and opinions matter become men who may interpret that as the default setting for women. An equal education is a good idea for both boys and girls.
Whenever the issue of gender equality comes up amongst the boys I teach there’s always the rolling of eyes and defensiveness. Boys have misunderstood gender equality: they have been duped into the idea that the equality of girls means that boys do not matter; that boys are the enemy that are the target when women and girls are being empowered. Boys need to be given a new narrative not only about their masculinity but also about femininity and an equal education with equal opportunities is central to making those changes.
I went to a girls school for 12 years of my life. My learning was never disrupted, not even by teacher strikes. I never had to contemplate whether my education mattered or not because whenever I went to school, I knew it mattered and it made me believe that I matter too. Apart from the criticism against girls’ schools, when we consider the global context, we need to prioritise the education of a girl child even more. Girls who stay in schools that function are more likely to make different decisions for their lives and these decisions are important for their families, communities and the rest of the world.
The Advocacy Director will lead the Fund’s advocacy work, with the goal of creating a campaign that brings increasing government and donor attention to girls’ education, and gives visibility to effective solutions.
Deadline: Open until filled
Location: New York, USA
Organization: Malala Fund
About Malala Fund
The Malala Fund is the organization founded and inspired by the Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai. Malala campaigned in Pakistan for the right of all girls to go to school in the face of a ban on female education by the Taliban. She was shot by the Taliban for her campaign at the age of 15 on her way home from school, causing global outrage. Malala survived the attack and went on to become a world-renowned leader for peace and education, the youngest ever Nobel Prize nominee, and the most powerful advocate for girls’ rights of our time.
Malala launched the Malala Fund launched in October 2013, along with co-founder Shiza Shahid and a group of advisors, with the goal of creating a world where every girl has access to an education that empowers her to recognize her potential. The Fund has a two-pronged approach to its mission. First it invests in local entrepreneurs: working in communities to develop education solutions that are grounded in the reality of the girl and teaching her skills that empower her to lift herself out of poverty. Second, it aims to take these solutions to scale by pushing governments and donor organizations to prioritize high quality girls learning programs for girls. Malala and the Fund direct attention to the current state of girls’ education, and the potential of girls as an unparalleled force of change and development. The Fund then spotlights high-impact solutions that can de adopted and scaled by governments and multilateral institutions.
The organization is a start-up in its early stages. It is run by Shiza Shahid, who is the CEO, and advised by a cross-functional group of committed and passionate advisors including a partner at McKisney and a VP at Google. The team and the board will be built over the course of 2014.
Major Duties and Responsibilities
The Advocacy Director will lead the Fund’s advocacy work, with the goal of creating a campaign that brings increasing government and donor attention to girls’ education, and gives visibility to effective solutions.
Work with CEO to develop advocacy strategy and implementation plan;
Keep informed about and engaged with relevant research, debates, innovations and policy changes in education
Help prepare written materials, including policy analyses, innovation briefs, advocacy documents, and op-eds
Co-develop papers with partner organizations with key policy recommendations
Present policy recommendations to relevant groups, such as high-level government officials, international and regional institutions, media and general public;
Develop and maintain core partnerships with NGOs, UN, World Bank, Governments and communities;
Represent the Fund along with CEO, and sometimes Malala, at key international meetings at UN, World Bank
Be part of the start-up team and willing to contribute to other areas of work as need arises
Required Skills & Qualifications
Experience in designing and implementing advocacy initiatives at the international, national land community level on gender/education/ related areas;
Strong relationship building skills with UN/multilateral agencies, government, and civil society/communities
Good analytical skills – ability to understand complex issues and present positions to governmental and intergovernmental bodies as well as to media and staff;
Excellent oral and written communication skills in English;
Creative thinker – eager to explore out-of-the-box ideas rather than simply fit within the traditional framework
Passion for start-ups, willing to play different roles as necessary, work in a small-team and get things done
Mission Talent has been tasked by the Malala Fund to undertake this search. Therefore, all applications must be addressed to Mission Talent via email to firstname.lastname@example.org MF-DA-NY/+your surname in the subject line.
To apply for this role, kindly attach your CV (in English) and motivational letter (of 350 words or less) which summarizes how your profile aligns with the key requirements, skills and abilities of this role. Kindly send these documents as word files to us.Thank you in advance for your interest in this position. Please note that only candidates under serious consideration will be contacted by Mission Talent for follow-up.
Agang’s have never contested in elections before, so there is no way of telling who they will put in Government or Parliament if they win their seats this time around. We also can’t evaluate them on past behaviour. So all we have to go by is what’s on the surface. They are one of two parties with a female political leader at the head of the party (the other being the DA – analysis on them to follow), but thus far a female political leader has not necessarily meant a feminist political leader.
Could Mamphele Ramphele become South Africa’s first female President? She is no stranger to firsts – she was one of the first people to be detained under the Terrorism Act, the first South African to hold a managing director position at the World Bank and the first black female Vice Chancellor of any South African University (UCT). She has an extensive academic background and is a qualified medical doctor. She is certainly a leader, but is she a leader for women? She is currently one of only two women in leadership within her party.
Our country is at a crossroads – Agang and policy
Agang’s five political policy areas are economy, education, health, public service, safety and security. A dominant theme is ‘our country is at a crossroads’ suggesting that unless something drastic happens to change the status quo, we are heading for disaster. They have a further section titled ‘Zwakala – Be Heard’ where members of the public (that’s you feminists) can help them to formulate policy on other issues. Currently they are asking for input on black economic empowerment and affirmative action.
In terms of economy, the policy narrative explains that current measures of economic redress have resulted in the creation of political and economic elites rather than achieving the trickle down empowerment of all as hoped. They end the section with “To boost our economy and job creation, we must make decisions based on what’s best for the next generation and the future of South Africa, not short-term political gain.” If it were me, that best thing would be the empowerment of women tout suite.
Their solution is five fold: make government accountable, build infrastructure and create jobs, unleash small businesses, let business get to work, and invest in South Africans. These five targets don’t explicitly mention women, although they do mention other vulnerable groups such as the youth and informal traders – many of whom are women – and the need to economically empower them and provide further opportunities. Mamphele Ramphele also noted in her launch speech, that black women specifically face challenges in accessing their rights.
The April 28 Edition of the Sunday Times this year provided a table on the average monthly earnings of women in South Africa based on the 2011 census. 16 108 650 women provided information on their earnings and of them 8 591 823 (53.34%) did not have any monthly income, and a further 1 025 400 women earned between R1 and R400 per month. Any political party that does not address gender inequality in the labour sphere as a core and explicit part of its economic policy, will perpetuate existing labour conditions.
In terms of education Agang’s plan aims to make South Africa a top ten education system globablly, and to immediately make our pass rate 50%. Strategies to achieve this include: put students first, fill 15 000 teacher vacancies, upgrade infrastructure, set minimum standards and top-up social grants for education results (i.e. they’ll give additional social grant money to families for students who achieve a 70% pass in any year and for matriculation). The last idea is interesting, in that it recognises that a good education requires the support of a family. Whether this idea is financially viable however in terms of a our current economic climate where the 2013 Medium Term Budget Policy Statement introduced significant cost-cutting for departments is not clear. It is also not clear where they will get all the teachers they need to implement this strategy, but that’s a conversation for after elections I suppose (textbook suppliers, please be ready this year).
A major gap from their strategy is ensuring that schools are safe places for learners to go. In 2009 and 2010 alone, there were 81 918 learner pregnancies in SA schools. 1 666 of those learners were between grades 3 and 6 (i.e. between 9 and 12 years old). In terms of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Act 32 of 2007, sex with any child under the age of 12 is rape, and sex with any child under the age of 15 is statutory rape (unless the sex occurs consensually between two children between 12 and 15). Teen pregnancies should be a significant concern of any political party that wants to empower the youth through education, or achieve an economy that grows and is supportive of the people. Teen pregnancies affect girl learners far more significantly than they affect male learners, and it is thus imperative that Agang consider the issue of learner safety as central to their policy on education. Training on sexual health and safety for all teachers and learners is important. If these are not included in a political party’s education strategies, they will leave girl learners behind.
Health:Agang recognises that the health system is in crisis and is largely polarised into poorly equipped public health for the average South African, and well equipped and serviced private medical care for the wealthy few. Positively, Agang recognises child and maternal mortality as two issues that are highly problematic. Their plan to solve the crisis includes: increasing health professionals (including the re-opening of nursing colleges), expanding local control (strengthening district and provincial health care systems, making public hospitals non-profits and using the private sector to run supply chains), making performance transparent, increasing private sector access (by providing tax incentives for private providers to work in the public sector and letting the private sector run some public assets) and turning around health outcomes by tackling HIV, TB, maternal and child mortality.
Access to adequate health care is essential for women, and it is true that in some areas in South Africa this is simply not happening. The two leading causes of maternal mortality in SA are HIV/AIDS and high blood pressure. These deaths are preventable and something must change. However, Agang’s drive to privatise much of our health care makes me profoundly uncomfortable. I’m left with questions like: how will we ensure that medicines remain affordable for the average South African if the supply chain is privatised? How will we ensure that if public health facilities are transformed into non-profit entities they will not face the same funding challenges that other non-profits are facing as the government insufficiently funds them and international donors move elsewhere? How will we ensure that our National and Provincial health policies do not become problematically controlled by the interest of pharmaceutical giants and corporations?
Another critical issue that seems to have been left out is the expansion of access to health care through mobile clinics which are able to reach areas where there are simply no health facilities, and the building of more health care facilities in general, though this is mentioned briefly in their ‘vision’ section. If it were me writing the policies here I would also include something on the increased access to contraception and termination of pregnancy facilities so that all women are able to make choices related to their fertility and sexual health. At the moment, it is simply not clear what they think about those issues.
Public service is really the policy section where Agang comes out swinging, and if you monitored any of the initial statements made back when they were just a ‘political party platform’ you will realise that they are a party that is sick and tired of corruption. They site the fact that only 22% of Government Departments received clean audits in 2012, as well as the presence of politicians who have already been found to be corrupt within government (many have just moved to another department e.g. Bathabile Dlamini, the Minister of Social Development, a vital department in securing support and empowerment for women). Their solution includes the introduction of new legislation to ban government officials and their families from conducting business with government as well as legislation to protect whistleblowers. It also includes the allocation of better budgets to the auditor general and public protector, and the ban of officials found guilty of corruption from running for office, holding government positions, or receiving government contracts for five years. Finally it includes training all government officials and employees in anti-corruption requirements.
These suggestions sound promising – especially given the fact that a number of Departments, including the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities, have experienced corruption in the past. Thankfully the Department of Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities undertook to root out corruption, however it is certain that those resources could surely have been better used to support the rights of women. Perhaps an additional policy should be the cancellation of all events that do not have a measurable impact in terms of the lives of the population they are meant to serve. See Helen Moffett’s take on this here.
In terms of Safety and Security Agang sites a lack of South African Police Service capacitation, high crime levels, and a lack of convictions as major problems. Their solutions include hiring more police, investing in the police financial and other resources, de-militarising the police, training police, ensuring that police work more closely with communities and private security companies, and improving and investing in the national database that manages and tracks crime.
Through the articulation of the problem in this way, Agang situates the essence of the problem of violence and crime with the police, rather than the largely dysfunctional justice system as a whole. To my mind, it seems imperative that police are equipped both in terms of human and financial resources (and please god, with debriefing so they are all not traumatised by the thousands of scary situations they are placed in daily). However, it also requires that that the Department of Justice and the Department of Correctional Services are equally equipped to convict perpetrators of crime, and to ensure that when they are incarcerated they are able to develop and reform respectively. If not, they are either not arrested, not prosecuted, or released whilst still a danger to society.
In addition, their problem statement and solution does not mention violence against women specifically as part of the problem, despite the scary prevalence of this in South Africa. They also don’t discuss how much of the violence that is perpetrated in South Africa occurs in the home – an area that makes policing incredibly difficult. A stronger and clearer focus on this would do much to strengthen Agang’s policy in this regard. However, it is clear that the fact that violence against women is a complex issue is understood by Ramphele, as her statement in her piece on Women’s Day suggests:
From our family behaviour, to the violent anger of some men, to the police handling of victims and the ability of the judicial system to successfully prosecute rape and abuse cases, the distortion of patriarchal traditional societal norms and the numbed reaction to stories of horrible acts, we are in danger of sending the message to victims that it is something normal, something that women just have to deal with.
The fact is that violence against women is an extreme symptom of the failure of our democracy to provide opportunities for all South Africans. It is a manifest failure of government to address the humiliation of men, especially black men at the hands of apartheid. The disempowerment that men feel is taken out against women closest to them.
Agang’s Interim Constitution provides for the establishment of a Women’s Forum. As yet, it’s not clear whether this has been established. This year, Agang released a statement on Women’s Day that was in line with most political party’s rhetoric on the celebration of women past, the praise for women present, and the hope for women future (somehow this is reminiscent of Scrooge). I have mentioned some of the other statements that came out of that speech, but one statement (about the praise of women present and past) caught my attention:
Women have power that remains under-utilized in our society. Women in my life understood the power that is women – their essential role as bearers and nurturers of future generations of both men and women, their capacity to be connectors of the extended family, their ability to empathize with the vulnerable, their organizational abilities to collaborate to tackle complex problems and their capacity for joy.
I think the picture that this paints of women and their role is extremely tied to patriarchal gender-norms that imply that women are nice and caring and want to make babies so that the population can thrive, and go on to become the economy that we need. But, this implicit essentialising of women’s empathy and men’s anger doesn’t really do much to challenge gender norms. It seems to suggest that we can all keep the gender roles that fitted in well in the old system, get rich, and be happy. I don’t think so. I think something more fundamental needs to shift in our perception of women’s strengths and men’s weaknesses. Gender inequality is bad for everyone because it limits our ideas of what men and women can be, and are in their essence.
Gaps: A clear section on furthering the rights of women, LGBTI people, the disabled, and children could add some pinache and would indicate the strategic thinking that is required to make real change. I also think that a section on their energy and environmental commitments is important given the fact that climate change and our carbon intensive energy commitments will have a negative impact on the environment and will result in further scarcity which negatively impacts women most profoundly.
Overall, there is potential, especially for feminists like you to get involved and contribute to policy. I recommend that you do. If you do, let us know how it goes.
As a teacher I have come to appreciate some of the challenges that teenagers have to face: teenage pregnancy, drug-use, sex education in relation to the myths they hear from friends! All these ills are often clumped under the portmanteau word: peer-pressure. Beyond these challenges, access to quality education and opportunities that will ward off poverty also form part of the teenage-question. In truth, the list is endless.
What is also often included in the list of the many social ills that plague young people is the question of family structures. For many working class teens the prospect of being in a child-headed home is a real possibility or a home where the mother is the primary care-giver, raising a child (or children) alone. As someone who was raised by a mother who opted for divorce and a grandmother who raised six children alone, I am often uncomfortable when single-mothers are lumped into the list of social ills that I’ve listed above.
My purpose is not to glorify the experience of single mothers as I have no doubt that it is often (not always) circumstances beyond many women’s control that leads them to a place where they are left with the responsibility of raising children without the assumed extra help of the father or a father-figure. I have also been surprised by friends (who happen to be white) who have spoken about being single-mothers. The one shared how she opted to be a single-mother because she was financially independent enough to do so and another said she would opt to be a single-mother if she felt ready to have a child whether or not she’s in a relationship.
I’d like to question how it is that we continue to add single-mothers to the list of social ills. The truth is, the reality of being a single-mother and the extent of the hardships one faces are closely related to a woman’s social class. The reality of raising a child or children alone without the expected help of a father, is different for a middle class woman than for a working class woman. The middle-class woman has resources the poorer woman does not have and the poorer woman is often called in to be the child-minder for the wealthier woman who can afford to pay someone to help look after her child.
My other concern is that the focus on the poor, single-mother should rather shift to the harsh reality that renders the lives of poor women an eternal hardship. Poverty. Together with poverty, the obsession with the idea of the nuclear family means that women are a problem unless they conform to the social structure of family where there ought to be a father figure in the home. Where a man or father figure is absent in a home, we refer to this as a broken home (but if a man is in a position where he raises children alone, he is the hero).
If we consider the reality of many working class black families, the family unit has never been prioritised. Many working class women have never been “kept” women who stay at home and look after the children. They have mostly been working mothers who have been in exploitative working environments without the benefits to support child care (When my aunt had her first child in the 1970s she was working in a factory. She did not have maternity leave and she was back at work the day after she gave birth to my cousin). Fathers, brothers and uncles were migrant labourers who could not be in the home to help raise the children. And this form of family life in the black community still exists where work opportunities do not allow working class men and women to fully support their families either financially or with their physical presence.
The single-mother question often brings into light the question of what kind of children does a single-mother raise? The perception is often that single-mothers cannot raise boys who will become “real” men and their daughters will become women who are too independent with “daddy issues” and will therefore seek attention from men because they have never received attention from their fathers. These are negative perceptions about what it means to raise children as a single-mother.
We need to recognise that whether a woman chooses to be a single mother or not, she has the right to be given the space and the rights to raise her children in a society that does not damn her for not conforming to the heteronormative idea of what is means to be a mother. We all have taken-for-granted ideas about what it means to be a mother and a father without thinking about the role of the extended family as well as the role of more supportive networks that woman may have when they are single-mothers. These networks may be informal or formal but they must allow us to recognise that single-mothering is a legitimate form of parenting.
To my horror, my daily news readings found me looking at a picture of five murder-accused where I recognised at least 3 of them as definitely having gone to my former high school (IOL). They were either in my year or a year or two below me. This fact was confirmed in the article itself.
I was shocked not only by the brutality of the crimes for which they are accused but for the fact that they went to the same school that I did. The thought that I was in the same environment as possible murderers is chilling: it makes the magnitude and reality of their alleged crime hit closer to home without (thankfully) having to experience it. Darwinian self-preservation in full force, the question is selfishly asked, “Could it have been me?”
It was this commonality and selfish preservation which led me to think critically about our school, violent crime and societal patterns of behaviour. Admittedly, we all have different experiences in life and our outlooks are shaped by a plethora of differing experiential realities. One thing that we have in common is the schools that we attend and what kind of life lessons they impart on us. Some may even argue that a failure to even get to school leaves an indelible mark: it is a proposition with which I am willing to agree.
So if we accept that schools have this kind of potential and ability to influence how we view the world, is it fair to question whether this school in particular contributed to what may have been the thought-process (or lack there-of) of these individuals who allegedly committed this crime?
It would be unfair for me to say that the school actively taught violence or that it officially condoned it. It would also be unfair of me to suggest that it could have been the school alone which is responsible for their questionable behaviour, whatever the outcome of the case may be. But is it fair for me to critically examine institutional culture I know to have existed at the school during my time? And which continues to exist (given the stories I hear)?
If it means that this school and others like it will critically examine the role that they play in shaping the many young men who pass through their hallowed halls, then yes I believe it is. In a country like ours, which is so devastatingly characterised by gender violence, we must do everything that we can in order to ensure that we stop this decay. The well-being of would-be aggressors and their possible victims depends on it.
Let me begin by saying that despite my own run-ins with management and my less-than-sympathetic critiques of the school and its personalities, I am immensely proud of that institution.
The school is a shining example of how public schooling can work, and work incredibly well. To a large degree, it offers boys a good education as well as excellent extra-curricular activities. It presents them with the ability to interact with boys from far flung parts of the province, to build a sense of camaraderie through the shared identity of that unflattering green blazer! Even though its racial demographics are still off the national scale, the possibility for integration does exist and in many cases has been achieved. It has produced champions in all fields; its matriculants have ranked highly, taken top places at South African universities and gone on to win major scholarships ending up with degrees from places like Oxford! It has produced artists, entertainers, sportsmen, politicians and businessmen all of whom have gone on to achieve magnificently and all of whom undeniably owe part of their success to the school.
It has also done much for the surrounding area. By making itself a centre of excellence within the community, it has contributed to increasing investment in property and business: the area is desirable for families and entrepreneurs because activity revolves around a school that most parents want to send their boys to.
But it would be remiss of me to suggest that the school does not have concerning problems that need to be properly addressed. Agreed, no school is problem-free but the problems which concern me are not matters of mere administration. They are problems which speak to an institutional culture and which themselves have the possibility of leaving negative imprints on some of the boys who pass through it. In my opinion, it is not good enough to be satisfied that only a minority may go on to act like these young men stand accused of acting. One could go so far as to say that in South Africa, where rape and abuse of women is more prevalent that in war-torn countries, the minority’s problematic behaviour it too great an issue to ignore.
So what are the issues of which I speak?
One such issue is that of a culture of silence. Meaningful criticism and engagement is either ignored, swept under the carpet or mischaracterised as being disloyal. And where the stench of disloyalty can have you excommunicated, you are most likely to keep quiet. This is especially the case where the least charming or intelligent epithets are used to harangue you into silence. Sometimes it comes from on high. Other times it comes from apparatchiks. The point is: it happens. I know. My big-mouth got me into a lot of trouble. I was able to withstand that because my own ego allowed me to treat such behaviour with supreme disinterest. What also cushioned the blow was the fact that I belonged to a circle of friends who were like minded and unlikely to be silenced. We were a minority but we spoke for many more.
Related to this culture of silence then is the creation of a machismo-centric culture that is both exclusionary and oppressive. The creation of camaraderie is great. The creation of an exclusive identity of what a true man is however is very problematic. Usually because this identity, or at least my experience of it, is a euro-centric, heteronormative, outdated cultural stereotype that is valued and rewarded. You must be a straight, rugby-playing, hulking child-beast in order to succeed. Yes, we give our kudos to the high-flying academics and cultural achievers (it is in our interest to do so), but we really want you to be one of our type. And we reward those who are our ideal with praise, leadership and adulation – with the exception of a few token appointments of course.
The over prevalence of (unqualified) old boys who were usually doyens of the sports field as academic staff, whilst problematic in terms of academic standards and quality, is also problematic in terms of institutional culture. Retaining these big names who never seem to grow up and move on from their school boy personas means that the testosterone filled environment only gets that much more contentious, with staff not being separated enough in age or temperament from the boys they are supposed to teach.
Effective discipline is confused with the need to appear and/or be tough. Threats, cajoling, shouting, swearing and physical posturing are favoured tactics amongst the enforcers. They work more often than not. And more often than not they result in that culture cascading all the way down the rank and file. Poor grade 8s. This again smacks of a predominantly male culture.
And it isn’t only the boys who are oppressed or excluded because of these constructs. So too are the staff. Independence is not valued and if anything, the independent voices are either made irrelevant, undermined or driven out of the school. The few female teachers that do exist are treated with respect but are treated in the same way that one would a trophy wife. Nice to look at but not really important to listen to. Women staff must surely feel this institutional culture intolerable if not oppressive. It is a pity that so few have any ability to act.
Allowing for difference is important. And schools must be safe environments in which the right to be different must be protected. A failure to do so only engenders more problems. It incentivizes underground activity which is itself risqué because boys do not want to be found out. Be that in something as serious as their sexual orientation or as unimportant as a penchant for singing classical music. Most of them know they have to lead a double life for fear of being outed – the start of a possibly unending round of psychological and physical torment.
I remember vividly that a cheeky (straight) friend once asked what would happen if someone chose to bring a male partner to the revered matric dance. The official line, if my memory serves me correctly, was that they would not be stopped from doing so. But the school would not be held accountable for the actions of their classmates.
This culture of official indifference was prevalent in other aspects of school life. Whilst bullying was outlawed, it was also expected that a certain amount of ‘boyish’ teasing and muscle-flexing would happen. Psychological distress and in some cases physical abuse was only ever acted against when the consequences were severe enough that the brand could be damaged. And even then, whilst officialdom took a certain line, the conduct of those in senior positions or those closely affiliated to them made it evident that this sort of thing was ‘snitching,’ ‘unmanly’ and worthy of contempt. Again, the reasons to remain silent and bear it were strong.
The school is in a unique place to rid the boys that go to it of decades long constructions of masculinity. In actively tackling these ideas and in making young boys understand that violence, chauvinism and sexism is incorrect, my old school, and no doubt many schools like it, can do society a great service. In moulding impressionable young minds and making them more tolerate, less prone to using violence as a solution and being more open-minded, maybe we can undercut the prevailing perverse culture of male violence in South Africa. If the schools are successful there is no telling of the type of change this can bring when those young boys become men.
I recently attended a high-level dialogue on the future of development in Africa. The discussions centred on governance and development and were attended by delegates from a number of African countries. Admittedly, I have not travelled through much of Africa, and so my distorted perceptions of gender equality throughout the continent are based on anecdotal evidence and media reports. But I think it is fair to say that gender rights and equality is not equally prolific in every African country, and even where these are supported, the results are far from perfect. I was surprised then to hear a lot of support for gender equality as a development outcome, voiced by both male and female delegates. I guess I must be somewhat naïve…or maybe not.
One discussion, in particular, was about gender representation in parliament. Interestingly, in Kenya a strict gender policy is being implemented which seeks a 50/50 representation, which sounds very noble. But I admit that my definition of gender equality does not encapsulate only one aspect of representation, as important as gender leadership is, but considers more the day-to-day trials and tribulations which exclude women from active participation in every aspect of life – from birth to school and family, to employment and giving birth and death. I always think about development in terms of the reality of the human being and what makes up their existence.
This thinking is strongly influence by Amartya Sen’s “Development as Freedom”, which sees development of human beings as something quite different to conventional theories of development which miss out on all the good stuff that make us human – our relationships, desires, needs and opportunities. Development as freedom understands and accepts that people are different and that true development of the human self comes from having a range of capabilities.
While I fully support gender representation in Parliament, because there are many useful and positive aspects which come from having female leaders at such a high level of governance, I wonder what these women truly represent in a world which continues to segregate women from the same opportunities as men, constraining their capabilities and confining them to worlds imposed upon them. As my colleague said to me, the changes don’t happen before the woman gets to the top, but only while she is there. Hence, that climb is difficult and I am continually surprised when women “make it”, when though I shouldn’t be.
But, when you really think about the challenges faced by women, you may also start to react like me. Think about China and how many girl children are born, in comparison to boys. Think about how being born into poverty denies you a good education in a country like South Africa. Think about how many girls are taken out of school to support their other siblings, or denied an education from the beginning, like fourteen year-old Malala Yousafza who was shot for wanting to go to school. Think about how many South African girls fall pregnant while they are still at school, or children themselves. Ever heard of the practice of ukuthwala? Well, it happens. I have yet to hear of a child bride who has gone on to be a world leader.
When I think about the world in this way, I see gender equality as equal opportunity in all facets of life and death, from simply the willingness of your parents to allow you to be born, to being able to attend school, finish it without being married or falling pregnant and go on to study anything you want to study or work in an environment where you are respected and valued.
Imagine the life you want and ask yourself how much of that you have achieved, what has set you back, and how is it related to the patriarchal norms and conditions that exist in this country. I am not talking of money, even though wealth can buy you many capabilities, but being able to have relationships with anyone you choose, love whoever you want, think and believe in anything that affirms your life and values and be capable of making real choices. We need to move away from gender representation to true equality, which means breaking down the social and cultural norms which deny people the lives they want.
Many people spend a lot of their time making straw-women arguments about what it means to be feminist. Feminists, they assume, are all unshaven, definitely don’t wear make-up or do their hair, and perhaps are a bit overweight. Feminists, they think, are all militant and anti-men. Feminists do not have a sense of humour, and are party poopers.
It seems unsurprising then, that many women shy away from the label, believing that if they name themselves feminist, they’ll lose the concession granted to ordinary women to define who they are without rigid categories. Ordinary women, they assume, are able to be concerned about their appearance whilst still wanting their husbands/wives to do some of the housework. Ordinary women, they assume, can be pro-men, and can be anti violence against women without really having to do anything about it.
I doubt however, that it is ever as simple as either of these examples let on. Feminism is bigger than how you look, and being an ‘ordinary’ (and lets just state here that ordinary is indeed class, race, and sexuality bound) woman means benefiting from the gains of feminism.
August is generally focussed around activities that celebrate women. In fact, the Ministry of Women (oh, and children and people with disabilities – in fact, everyone except able-bodied men) spent all their money last year on a nice party to say so. But, the month provides for little discussion of what it actually means to be feminist, and/or what in the hell happened to the women’s movement in South Africa. It doesn’t encourage women to get engaged in civil society, or activism around their rights. That’s because, few gains have actually been made for women in the last ten years, and all three branches of government have done little to push women’s rights.
My thinking is that somewhere between the stereotypes of feminism, and the burn out of anti-apartheid feminist activists, we’ve lost our mojo and our identity.
Feminists are not really sure what we’re fighting for anymore, and so, we don’t fight. We watch the news and maybe we make a comment every now and then, but we certainly do not organise around legislative gains that could make it easier for us to access safe abortion. We certainly do not organise, or actively support the few civil society organisations who do organise, around our right to be free from violence. We certainly do not organise around the education of girls in South Africa, or the fact that women in high level positions are consistently paid less than men. We don’t organise around the rights of sex workers, and we certainly don’t organise around the rights of HIV positive women’s reproductive rights. We do not organise around the rights of lesbian, bisexual and trans women, or around the need to make sure that the internet does not become a place where women are verbally/physically/sexually harassed while others watch on.
Why not? Why don’t you organise? Why don’t you go to that feminist get together when it is organised? What do you say when people say that feminism is out of fashion? What concessions do you allow the label ‘feminism’ to make sure that it can work for you?
What does it mean to be a feminist these days? Is it just a middle class luxury term? Or is it a reality?
It is always that question, that maddening question that makes me go into frenzy. “Do you have children?” they always ask, they being the hedonistic men who are always hitting on me. “Why not?” they ask appalled that I have no children, no boyfriend and I’m not seeking either of the two.
First of all I am twenty one, a student, freelance writer and casual worker, having a child at this stage would be utterly devastating, selfish and quite frankly stupid. Secondly the last time I checked it is the year 2012 and the stature of women has changed from merely being baby producing machines to actual beings with aspirations, dreams and choices to have children or not.
I have lost count of the number of men who when they find out that I have no children are disappointed; it is as if I am a product that has some deformity and is then rejected to oblivion. I thought this sort of thinking by these men attributed to their old age but even younger men (as young as me) don’t understand why I don’t have children. I fumble to understand their way of thinking.
My cousin told me that some of these men think that if a woman does have children she may not have HIV. I scoffed at this reasoning because it is dangerous and baseless. If men think that way then the HIV rates in South Africa are only going to climb exponentially higher. HIV is a serious epidemic, especially in South Africa and if stupid reasoning about HIV infection continues like this, the young women and children of South Africa are in grave danger. Education on how HIV works needs to be emphasised in every way, every single day, in the workplace, at home, in the malls- everywhere.
Another reason for this thinking is that men still do not see women as possible life companions, there is no romanticism to being in a relationship; the females are simply there to produce offspring for them and serve their men until God knows when. Could this way of thinking by men be the reason for the high teenage pregnancies? I don’t know but women, young women need to understand that their worth is not found in their fertility, that children are not bait to tie a man down and that most importantly that is not the only reason they are on this earth.
I am okay, I am not insane, and I don’t need a man or child to put my life into perspective. I understand how HIV is contracted and no thank you I do not want a dose of it. My worth is not found in my womb, it is found in my actions to society, it is found in my individualism, it is found in my talents, it is found in my mind, in my heart, in my soul. Do young women know where their worth lies but importantly do men?
Auma Obama – US President Barrack Obama’s half sister – is most definitely not a politician. With tiny dreadlocks and a booming voice that could engulf the whole of her home country, Kenya, she makes no apologies for being who she is.
Which is why being at her book reading at the Goethe Institute in Johannesburg a few weeks ago was such an experience. Her book, entitled ‘And Then Life Happens’, is all about her childhood, her struggles with her father, Barrack Obama Senior, and her studying years in Germany where she got a scholarship. Despite being told as a young Kenyan woman that because she was a girl, a certain path was already carved for her, she managed to get herself to Germany, receive an education and thwart a patriarchal culture. And yet it is a culture she still loves and calls home.
When you hear Auma speak, you think, “Now that’s a woman who knows what she is talking about.” It’s the same thought you can see crossing over every other enthralled-listener’s face. Passionate, bold but level headed she explains at her book launch how she had to rebel patriarchy in her culture very quietly and subtly. Children, and especially girl children, where seen and not heard in her home after all. At her book reading she explains, “I didn’t accept that answer – ‘It’s because you are a girl’. So I would politely ask why. The best we could do to rebel in our home was to sulk.”
So one can imagine it came as quite a shock to Barrack Snr when his only daughter fled Kenya without his knowledge to Germany. In fact when he came to visit her months later, she was terrified he was going to haul her back to Africa. However the book portrays the complexities of patriarchy, describing instead how Auma’s father sat on her bed in her university residence and looked incredibly sad, asking why she had not told him she had received a scholarship to study. He then goes on to tell her how proud he is of her. Auma explains, “I think it was a painful revelation for him because he realized that he had lost his little girl forever. For the first time he was forced to see me as a woman in my own right and as an adult and as an individual.”
Interestingly enough however, Auma does not call herself a feminist, asking instead, “What does being a feminist mean?” It’s hard to know exactly what she means by this but it seems to be more a question of definition, challenging the audience, than it is a refusal to categorize herself. It is as if she wants to take the concept and have it explained to her in real terms and then personified into real people. A woman who uses her influence to ensure other young African woman get a chance at education and a future as well as someone who speaks out on a number of issues worldwide, one cannot imagine not calling Auma a feminist however.
And this is what I took away from it. It’s easy for us as feminists to call on women and men to overthrow patriarchy, but what if patriarchy has your father’s face on it? It’s easy for us to fight institutions, but it’s people who make up those institutions. So what struck me about Auma Obama was how she manages to embody such a fearless woman who refuses to be a victim of her circumstances, but still manages to retain such incrediable compassion. And compassion is easy to forget when we’re fighting our daily feminist battles.
“Compassion alone stands apart from the continuous traffic between good and evil proceeding within us.” – Eric Hoffer
June the month of the youth is here. Never in my life have I ever been conscious about the significant of this month as I am of it this year. This could be because the year has been very challenging for the country’s youth and youth leaders. Just to recap, this year ANCYL leaders have found themselves at the in such a rap that those who are left to lead are not sure where how to proceed without the vocal forefront runners. Other youth bodies like the NYDA have been accused of looking out for their own and nobody takes them seriously anymore. In a way this has exposed the fear I have always harboured regarding the lack of high calibre youth leadership with a clear vision of what the needs of the youth are in 2012.
Those of us who have heard about the class of 1976 and their bravery find ourselves wishing for similar heroes today. As history teaches us, their quest for a decent education for every South African student is the main reason we are commemorating June 16th.
Exactly 36 years later millions of South African student find themselves relying on civil society bodies to force government through court battles to face its obligation of providing the basic norms of a standard education.
The increasing litigation against education officials at the low levels of education follows a successful action by Equal Education to compel government and Limpopo’s provincial department to provide text books to school kids in that province.The latest one is the Eastern Cape over the department’s failure to fill teaching posts. At the height of these court battles we are missing the youth leaders’ voices elected into authority to speak out against the national crisis that our education is turning into.
Higher learning institutions are not without challenges. Apart from the controversial administration policies at some of our university, education remains the one most important tool that will help our government curb staggering unemployment levels among the youth. Sadly the very same poverty, that makes many wish to escape its hold, is the stumbling block in the way of getting that education. Even though it represents a way out of a life of doom, the reality is that education is just too expensive.
At the end of last year Cape Peninsula University of Technology provided a ray of hope for students how have completed its graduate courses but still have outstanding fees. The letters were mailed encouraging those who have successfully completed their studies to apply to a bursary fund that was made available by the Minister of High Education.
Most graduates who could not afford to settle their accounts after successfully completing their studies just cannot seem to crack it into the work force. After a process of filling out forms after forms, and submitting one or another document, the process was frozen just before payment was supposed to have been made. Half a year later with no explanation, students were advised to start making arrangement to pay their fees. The muted reaction from the SASCO, PASMA and other student representative organisations just prove what I most fear. South African youth are on their own.
I started the month of June by reading this article about the number of girls falling pregnant in Grade 3. As in, at nine years old. When they are 27, their daughters and sons will be in matric. There is nothing in the article about the fathers of these children, other than to suggest that they are rapists. Sex with someone under the age of 15 is always rape. What about paternal parental responsibilities when the child is conceived with another classmate? How can children of 9 years old raise a child?
These are the young women we want to lead South Africa one day. Many of them are being educated outside of classrooms, because of a lack of teachers, a lack of government commitment and a lack of facilities. This should be of major concern to us.
Sexual violence flourishes in South African schools. This year we have seen the Soweto rape video, and many more instances of abuse against minors. There is no nationalised sex education curriculum, and the provincial ones that I have seen do not have any lessons on sexual violence or rape.
Girls are absent from schools because they are menstruating. President Zuma promised to provide sanitary towels to young girls of school going age. I haven’t heard any more about whether this has been implemented. Girls leave school when they are pregnant – sometimes at the school’s request, sometimes because of peer pressure. There are next to no support structures for mothers in schools.
Girls will leave school, with a matric or not, and will face soaring unemployment rates. Some will live in areas of affluence, others in areas with a lack of service delivery. A lack of education limits the life choices of girls in their adult years.
We need to change this somehow. This month I think we need to start looking critically at our lack of activism as women relating to education. We can no longer afford to remain silent about the risks that girls face going to school, and the more significant risks that they face when they don’t get an education. If girls in South Africa are not educated, we will remain a patriarchal country, and perhaps it will get worse for women.
I’d love to hear your solutions, suggestions and hopes. We need to see our way out of this tunnel. Shine some light for us.
I have just read a highly disturbing and problematic piece by the Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Free State, Professor Jonathan Jansen. In this piece he notes that
“more women, compared to men are graduating from high school and from university with dire consequences for our still patriarchal society.”
Understandably, he questions the sociological impact that this will have on South Africa’s patriarchal society, with a large focus on the impact on heterosexual marriages.
In this piece Jansen, using American focused research in the book ‘Is Marriage for White People‘ by Stanford University’s Ralp Banks whose research shows that as black women succeed, many black women remain unmarried (as they do not want to compromise or settle for a less educated man). Jansen correctly notes that many men in South Africa have been socialised as the head of the household, however I disagree with his gloomy and pessimistic, almost urgent conclusion that these
“emasculated” (black) South African men who in ten years time will find themselves overridden by women occupying important and influential occupations will result in “tension and violence in many homes as men struggle to come to terms with their changed status.”
I do not agree with Jansen because he wrongly equates women’s access to education as a threat to (black) men, and that is not correct. While Jansen has colourblinded and tried to keep his article race neutral, his utilisation of American centric research amongst black African-American men, implies his piece is focused primarily on black South African men, and not all races.
Jansen sees black men as inherently violent and patriarchal, so it’s only natural to him that if black women assume powerful positions of power in both academic institutions and the corporate world, then necessarily black men (seeing their status threatened by black succesful women) will retaliate in violence and consequently continue to fill up the prisons. Jansen further goes on to perpetuate the racist stereotype of the political arena in South Africa being a domain for only uneducated black men who cannot find occupation anywhere else. He says he imagines
“more and more of these emasculated [uneducated black] men following their role models into politics, where in this country you need neither a degree nor any limits on your appetites for the intimate.”
It is not clear if this is directed at a particular political party or not, but I wonder where he places all the black people in South African politics with Masters degrees and PhD’s from reputable institution?
I see his piece as not only deeply sexist, but also an innately racist piece of writing, and contributes to essential white supremacists colonial misrepresentations of black men. In ‘We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity‘ American feminist scholar and cultural critic bell hooks for instance notes that black men are often easily
“seen as animals brutes, natural-born racists, and murderers, black men have had no real dramatic say when it comes to the way they are represented. They have made few interventions on the stereotype. As a consequence they are victimised by stereotypes that were first articulated in the nineteenth century but [still] hold sway over the minds and imaginations of citizens of this nation in the present day.”
While Jansen notes that patriarchy is learnt through socialisation, I am surprised that he seems so ardent and sure that amongst black males it cannot be unlearned through the same process of (re)socialisation.
Jonathan Jansen misses the point that women, especially black women doing well professionally and academically, could be an important teachable moment in the lives of South African men, especially for black men to rise up. I’ve been blessed to have been surrounded by incredible young black succesful women during my time at university and in my working life, and most of these women were not only working to pay off student loans and supporting their families, but were often educating their younger brothers and sisters. Many leading world thinkers including Oprah Winfrey, (who was awarded an honorary doctorate in 2011 under Jansen’s leadership at the University of the Free State) have long recognised ‘to change the world, educate a woman’, for women as opposed to males are able to use their education to further advance their families, as opposed to the common focus on self-enrichment amongst men.
Jonathan Jansen further sees stay at home fathers, as inherently emasculated consequently perpetuating harmful patriarchal understandings of fatherhood, with men being portrayed as incapable of being nurturers, and women bearing the sole responsibility for rearing children. He sees fathers who stay at home (whether by choice or circumstance) to raise their children as beaten down, emasculated and failed men.
It’s highly problematic that a man of stature such as Jansen would not see the fringe benefits of educating women. Jansen in his piece does not question patriarchy and the negative remnants its left behind for men and women. His piece assumes that just because a black woman is successful, then that necessarily puts her in danger of the failed violent black South African man, so as to assume women less are less likely to suffer violence when their economic circumstances are less than those of men. With SA’s painful history of forced marriages, I am surprised that Jansen assumes it to be a bad sociological choice for women to choose NOT to get married where they feel they are better able to support themselves/happier alone.
Masculinity, patriarchy along with violence are all learnt, and can similarly be unlearned. Unlearning however is the hard part, but it is possible to break the cycle of patriarchal thinking and violence. It seems to me however, Jansen has given up that we can reconstruct and reconfigure masculinity and patriarchy, but it appears to me that he is preoccupied with managing it, than overhauling it completely.
Since Jansen is using American research to understand black South African males, I would further counter the book (which he uses to support his predictions), by directing him to a 2012 study released by the University of Pennsylvania’s newly founded Centre for the Study of Race and Equity in Education which actually highlights that the achievement among black male undergraduates often goes unnoticed by most education experts. Dr Shaun Harper focusing on black undergraduate males notes that for instance
“To increase their educational attainment, the popular one-sided emphasis on failure and low-performing black male undergraduate must be counterbalanced with insights gathered from those who somehow manage to navigate their way to and through higher education, despite all that is stacked against them.”
This is further supported by bell hooks who notes that
“negative stereotypes about the nature of black masculinity continue to undermine the identities black males are allowed to fashion for themselves.”
Jansen, makes the same mistakes that these education researchers Dr Shaun Harper is talking about, by focusing on studies of black men who have strayed, as opposed to looking at those who have succeeded not only professionally and academically, but as whole and fully realised black men in stable non-violent relationships with women (or even men) who earn more/less than them.
There are many powerful and succesful black women in South Africa and internationally who command a lot of money and power (with relatively less affluent black husbands/partners), who don’t seem to fall into violent patriarchal blanket terms that Jansen seems to us to address all black men.
I don’t see a pessimistic future for relations between black women and men, I see a more equitable one, where women have choices, are increasingly free from violence and better educated along with their black male counterparts. Just last week for instance we were celebrating one of Jansens black students, Sibusiso Tshabalala (20) who has recently been named one of Google’s top 10 young innovators, and there are many other young black males doing extraordinary things right next to the females.
As we highlight and celebrate them, along with their female counterparts, I believe the few left behind/straying will gather inspiration to become more better self-aware men. That’s why the work of organizations and programs such as One Man Can and Brothers for Life are important in introducing young men to new forms of masculinity, to counter patriarchal socialisation. It’s too early for Jansen to promote such a negative image of black men, especially when he himself is in a position to help change it.
White people trust me. They really do and I don’t blame them because I am awesome. They invite me to dinner and introduce me to their parents and feed me crudités. However, today I will have to strain my relationship with my white friends by being honest (I will let the irony of that serve as ambiance to this piece). The fact of the matter is; I have uncovered my secret; that je ne sais quoi that allows white people to let their guard down around me; I don’t pronounce the “c” in “schedule”.
Now before you dismiss this as inaccurate street therapy…or racist, please allow me to elaborate. I am a very dark skinned woman who is often mistaken, by many, for a foreign national on account of my dark skin and my accent. Upon finding that I am in fact a Xhosa woman, both black and white people tend to assume that my command of the English language and my fastidious approach with regards to my pronunciation means that I hate black people. Apparently there is an English Language/Black Pride ratio that is being applied throughout society and my Black Pride numbers are dismal due to the height of my English Language numbers. This would be absurdly funny if it weren’t for the fact that it is a real thing and people subconsciously use this ratio all the time. Still not convinced? Please read on:
When I was but an impressionable youth, I noticed that I kept finding myself in a rather awkward scenario. My white friends kept telling “black jokes” in my presence. The first time it happened I quietly looked for my reflection in a nearby window to check if I still had the charcoal coloured face I had come to know and love. When I saw my dark face staring (confused) back at me, I realised that I had to make a decision; was I going to giggle along and be a good black or was I going to stand up for my people? I heard myself say “that’s kind of racist” softly as if to get the statement out of the way. My white friends patted me on the back and giggled “come on now Julz, you are hardly what I would call black” (that response made me feel funny). These situations kept coming up time after time as if some higher power was trying to bring a point across. Was I a sell out? I began to look closely at the reason my accent was as it was. I did not go to a private school and was not adopted by a gay white couple at birth so there had to be a deeper meaning to it all.
The fact of the matter is I am a child who started at a predominantly white school at a time when the country’s future was not clear. My mother had no way of knowing which way the country was going to go. The streets were on fire and the threat of civil war was hanging heavy in the air. So she decided to arm me with the best English accent that her money could buy. She believed that doing this would secure my future no matter what happened. If the country went to the dogs and white people sent us all back to the homelands, I could still, at the very least, get a good job as a high end domestic worker by impressing them with my poised accent. In the event that white people did not send us to the homelands, I would be in the running to live the South African dream and become an MEC (whatever that is). Fast forward back to present day; I have my “good English” and absolutely no desire to become an MEC, and these awkward scenarios are still rearing their annoying heads and my white friends’ responses still make me feel funny.
I have never considered myself a prude, nor do I get myself all worked up over things before I know and understand the situation but I need to make something clear. Just because I speak “good English” and am well read, does not mean that I think that the word “Kaffir” is nothing but an Arabic word that has been misinterpreted. A Bitch is a female dog, but I don’t hear people telling women to calm down when someone refers to them as such. A seventeen year old democracy doesn’t change the fact that I would have failed the pencil, colour bar and brown paper bag test three decades ago and therefore would have been considered a second class citizen. This means that my parents were considered second class citizens as were their parents. I know that when bad things happen people say; “ten years from now we will all look back and laugh” but I just want to warn everyone that it may take a little longer for most black people to find the word “Kaffir” paradoxical. Am I asking white people to whisper in the presence of black people? No. I am simply reminding white people (as well as all those black people who have promised to find and kill all blacks with the bourgeois twang in their voice) that “good English” is not a symptom of self hate and even if it were; etiquette is a standard requirement if one wants to be acknowledged as a human being. Just like we don’t tell fat jokes around obese people, we frown upon those who tell black jokes around black people.
There is no pride in being perceived as a pseudo white person, nor is there shame in having gotten a good education. The shame is rather in the fact that the good accent matters so much and that English is interpreted as some higher power that only the best of the best can touch. The sad fact of the matter is that; we model C snotty types make the best window dressing…which brings me to that funny feeling I felt in the presence of those “black jokers”: Disappointment. I was disappointed that this group who I perceived as my friends and others perceived as open minded and diverse were racist’s incognito. They were forgiving me for my blackness on account of my general whiteness. I refuse to be that spineless excuse for a person that is too scared of being a sell out to speak English well but that by no means suggests I have any desire to eat crudités for the rest of my life.
I love my culture, my colour and my people. I love my language, my heritage and my country. Having said that; I will never apologise for my education, nor will I be ashamed of my command of the English language. I am a Xhosa woman from Peddie in the Eastern Cape AND I am a woman that doesn’t pronounce the “c” in schedule.
Last month Premier Zille’s tweets caused yet another outrage across the social networking world. Many took umbrage with her reference to education refugees from the Eastern Cape who have flooded schools in the Western Cape running away from the dismal quality of education.
I did not follow the furore as closely as I should have as I was recovering from my first term of teaching, in the Western Cape. I decided to spend some of my school holiday (at home) in East London and Grahamstown, in the Eastern Cape. Conversations inevitably led to the Premier’s tweet and her defence and justification for using the word refugee. I was moved by the extent of outrage amongst friends and I found myself taking umbrage with all the talk about education and refugees in a democratic country such as South Africa.
Premier Zille’s defence was in the attempt of reclaiming the word refugee for herself and how she understands it in the context of the chaotic education system in South Africa where people are voting with their feet and leaving the Eastern Cape for greener pastures in other provinces. As a teacher and someone from the Eastern Cape, I empathise with those who have had to relocate because their basic right to education in the Eastern Cape is being flagrantly disregarded. I have been asked numerous times why I did not stay in the Eastern Cape and teach in schools where there is the most need.
My reasoning has always been about the practicalities of teaching: the Western Cape Department of Education issued several vacancy lists for teaching posts whereas in the Eastern Cape there were none. Friends who decided to stay in the Eastern Cape and teach have still not been paid their first salary. These conditions amongst many others made it easy for me to consider a teaching post in the Western Cape where I have been paid regularly since January. But above all, I made the choice to move to the Western Cape. As a citizen of this country, the right of movement is one that I value as an individual.
The discourse of displacement and education refugees makes me uncomfortable considering that all citizens have the freedom of movement in this country. I doubt that yuppies would be dubbed as employment refugees when they move to the Western Cape for better employment opportunities (as is the case with many friends who decide to become lawyers and accountants and remain in the Western Cape after they have graduated from local universities). I doubt middle-class learners who move to the Western Cape (and attend private schools and expensive public schools) form part of the group of education refugees. It seems that education refugees refers to learners from poor, working class and marginalised communities. This implies that the freedom of movement is taken for granted for people who have the social capital to move, but those who are poor and in most need, it is problematised.
As a woman whose legacy is about forced removals and carrying the dompas as my grandmother did during apartheid, the freedom of movement and the choice to be able to move where I want to move is one I do not take for granted. It seems bizarre that the freedom to basic education can affect the freedom of movement as we have seen happen in the Eastern Cape. As a teacher who is well aware of the travesty that is taking place in the education system, I wish more people would be enraged by the state of education in the Eastern Cape (and all poor people in this country) rather than deconstructing Premier Zille’s misuse or disuse of the word.
I am a teacher. Part of the joy of teaching is interacting with my learners. I teach in a co-ed high school. I spent 12 years in an all-girls’ school and I come from a matriarchal family so my experience of boys has largely been through interactions in public spaces, friendships and university. However, as a teacher, I now have to interact with teenage boys daily.
The boys I teach are mostly pimple-faced, scrawny-looking and some are shy. Those who aren’t shy are usually the ones with the loudest voices, often get attention from girls easily and don’t mind telling me how charming they are and how girls fall for it. There are also the burly characters who communicate an aggressive demeanour simply by sitting in my classroom. They all wear their insecurities as teenagers in different ways, beneath the “too cool for school” swagger. I’ve already witnessed a fist fight between two boys; however, within two weeks of the fight they were friends.
Gender in education is a minefield filled with many generalisations. Some are as simplistic as which subjects boys and girls show different performance levels in. The assumption is that girls are better at languages and boys are better at maths and science. As a language teacher I was fascinated when I discovered literature about the “feminisation of language instruction”. Educationists suggest that the way language is taught in schools is targeted towards a particular kind of learner: typically one who can sit in the class and listen quietly while the teacher speaks. Because girls are seen as compliant when it comes to classroom behaviour, they often do better in language education. Language classes require learners to be reflexive and this thinking is couched within the assumption that girls are better at this than boys.
I have tried to relate this to my lessons and I have noticed that beyond the behavioural problems I often have in my classes, the boys I teach simply want to play outside, where learning is about sport (life is a party and “boys will be boys”). Their writing is often not as verbose as the girls’. This is not to say they do not perform as well as the girls, but they are also more inclined to drift and lose concentration when I teach.
Apart from the academic aspect of teaching, I have tried to create space for conversation in my classroom. Where there are any sexist incidences, I try using these for further conversation and teaching. I recently witnessed a boy “tap” one of the girls in my class (on her butt). The girl’s response was that of any woman whose body has been made a toy: she retaliated by slapping the boy.
Anyone else may have suggested that this is the nature of teenagers who have raging hormones so I shouldn’t worry myself too much. When I intervened, the boy seemed confused. This is a common joke amongst boys and girls at school, but the girl was firm that she felt disrespected. I tried to ask why he thought it was an acceptable joke that he can “tap” girls and he simply saw this as a game.
My focus on boys in my classroom (and the school as a whole) is that there are enough positive images directed at girls for how they can be in the world. But I find there aren’t nearly as many positive messages indicating a different way of being for boys. It is accepted that teenage boys are violent, permanently horny, and disinterested in anything that might provoke any thinking. There are also underlying messages for what it means being a boy in a poor community and the norms that are expected in that social setting.
I have no doubt the challenges young boys are facing and the pressures to become “manly men”, but being a young feminist teacher I do not want to be the teacher that harangues boys about the gender question. When the gender debate emerges in class, boys are inclined to get defensive which isn’t a surprise because they are young boys growing up in a sexist society.
I don’t want to be the person who tells the boys who or what they should be, but I do wish I could engage them about the invisible sexism they perform daily without even realising it. And I would like them to seriously consider what it means being a man without dominating space or women.
This is a conversation for both girls and boys, it’s about being human. But between teaching grammar and “characteristics of a short story” it’s not that easy.
The other day I was given a free copy of the January issue of a popular women’s magazine. One of the articles was on ways to stick to your New Year’s resolutions. Of course, they mention that diet you promised to start or the quantities of alcohol you decided to cut down on. While these resolutions are all well and good, I think that there are more important issues that we can address through the promises we make to ourselves. If there is one thing my mother has emphasised throughout my life, it’s that independence is your greatest asset. Perhaps it is this independence of mind and body which has brought me closer to being a feminist than anything else. So this is a new set of resolutions for anyone who is a budding feminist.
Get educated: The greatest asset you possess is your brain. An education is the one thing that can never be taken away from you. It also leads to both intellectual and financial independence. If you can’t afford to get a formal education, your local library is free. Get reading.
Learn to say “no!”: Whether you need to say no to some guy who is pressuring you into have sex, or speaking up about something you don’t agree with, or even saying no to another chocolate bar, there is power in a simple “no”.
Re-negotiate sex: Take some time out to think about what you’re comfortable with, what more you need to in your sexual relationship to make you happy, the circumstances in which you are willing to have sex, or do any of those other things that come with it sexual relationships between people, and then stick to the decisions you make.
Take a self-defence class: South Africa is not a safe country. If the opportunity comes up, take a self-defence class and learn how to protect yourself.
Join a women’s support group: Women in South Africa need the support of other women. Domestic violence and rape are rife. We need to support the survivors, protest about what is happening and grow together as a new generation of feminists.
Contribute to a bursary for a female student: Giving a young girl the gift of education is a contribution that lasts a lifetime. You could contribute to a family’s wellbeing and help to break the cycle of poverty.
Get knowledgeable: This is not the same as getting educated. This involves learning how to change a tyre, check your oil and water, use a drill, tune a TV, change a plug and braai a steak (amongst other things). There is no greater thrill in life than doing something for yourself; especially if you always ask the nearest male to do these things for you.
Learn to ask “why?”: Just because something has always been done a certain way does not mean that it is right. Questioning why something is the way it is will allow you to see how little of what we do has reason. Women these days no longer have to get married, or have children, or even date men. We have these freedoms; now we just need to acknowledge them.
Dump your baggage: Holding onto a grudge, or refusing to forgive someone for the hurt they caused, can ruin your future relationships and make you more unhappy. Baggage also comes in the human shape. If you have a friendship or relationship which makes you unhappy, dump it.
Masturbate: Yes, you heard me. I tell all my friends to do this. Now I am telling you.
Now, after all of that, you may still find time to try a new diet, spend more “me-time” with yourself, find some time for nature, get a new gym membership or do any of those other things which women’s magazines suggest.
I am always amazed at how much time people spend on their mobile phones doing that which I call Thumbing. I have watched the sms phenomenon unfold in my family and larger social network. A few years ago my mom and aunts had no idea how to use the sms functions on their phones, recently all of them are Texting, Tweeting, Whatsapping, Skype chatting and BBMing (Blackberry messenger). I now receive endless sms’ from the older women in my life about mundane domestic things, something that would have required a phone call or face to face conversation five years ago.
These days my young cousins and their friends (and even my friends) spend a large share of their day on their cellphones engaging in this phenomenon called Thumbing. For me thumbing describes the use of our thumbs to type on our QWERTY keypads and touch screens. People are profusely thumbing messages to each other and sometimes people are in the same room sending messages to each other instead of having a real face-to-face conversation.
Sadly, this phenomenon has also crept into my love life. My partner and I now wake up and roll over towards our cellphones to Facebook, Whatsapp or check trends on Twitter. We instant message each other back and forth while we lie next to each other on the same bed. The instant messages are usually us telling each other stupid things that are happening in the “world” outside our bed. Is this the end of intimacy as we know it? That is a topic for another day, all I can say is that we are progressively becoming mute and are freely relinquishing our ability to “voice” things to those around us.
Don’t get me wrong, I see the value of all of these platforms when there is a distance and cost factor involved. It’s cheaper and easier to send texts to my sister in Germany. It’s more convenient for my mom to sms me the shopping list instead of calling me about it. It’s cheaper for my aunt to Whatsapp me responses when she is in a meeting. It’s better for all my friends on BBM to BBM me messages when they are in another city or country. It’s better to send status updates on Twitter and Facebook when you are trying to tell many people where you are and what you are doing or what you are thinking.
What I don’t get is people who share a house or office, are in the same room, on the same bed but are opting to thumb their messages instead of having a real conversation. To add to that, they no longer use grammatically correct and complete sentences, now we get things like: brb (be right back), GR8 (great), L8 (late),OMG (oh my gosh),G2G (got to go), WTH (what the hell) and a variation of others. My all-time favourite is LOL (laugh of loud), what happened to actually laughing out loud?
Are we all thumbing our way into arthritis in our fingers? Are we dumbing down our children by allowing them to have access to cellphones and social networking sites? Are we turning into a mute society? A society that only communicates via the cyberspace? What happened to good old conversation between people?
In the case of my mom and aunts, they are a generation that went through a harsh schooling system which taught them to read and write grammatically correct sentences. Their advantage is that they have recently entered into this thumbing world and thus send coherent and correctly spelt and punctuated sentences when they Thumb.
However, the younger generation are growing up in this age of super Thumbing. Their use of shortened words, abbreviations and overly exaggerated punctuations leaves them at a great disadvantage and state of illiteracy. Thumbing seems to have created a whole new vocabulary that is exclusively theirs.
The frail education system is not equipped to produce “fully” literate people and we further compound the burden by allowing young people to immerse themselves into their mobile phones and texting. We are breeding a generation that will be illiterate, mute, socially inept, lack interpersonal skills and ultimately have crippled thumbs. What are the implications of this in advancing young women and men in South Africa? If education is the key to success, what does a generation of illiterate people mean for South Africa’s global competiveness? How are women going to be empowered out of poverty if they cannot read or write properly? These are some of questions that plague me right now.