Lean Back, Please

Natasha Skoryk
Natasha Skoryk

by Natasha Skoryk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Gender and local government: What needs to change

Nicole Graham, DA, women, councillor
Nicole Graham

By Nicole Graham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Jen Thorpe, feminism, South Africa, feminist
Jen Thorpe

By Jen Thorpe

Read Part 1 here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

[5] The 2011 household survey.

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

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

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

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

By Helen Johnston

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gender, ICT’s and the new hairdresser

Gabriella Razzano
Gabriella Razzano

By Gabriella Razzano

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

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

What does the research say?

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

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

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

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

What happens when women get access to ICTs

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

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

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

What do these usages demonstrate?

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

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

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

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

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


9 August – A poem

Jonathan Smith
Jonathan Smith

By Jonathan Smith

09 August

A day, They say,

We will give them a day.

A day to honour, respect, love:

to show We Care.



Those grey, They say, We recall the grey.

The march, the mettle, the martyrdom

the equality won:

We Care.



But a Day?

They say. A whole Bloody day?

Suppose 364 in ration to 1 will show that

We Care.



More pay!

they say they want equal pay.

Since when is 24 hours not enough;

surely the day proves We Care?




They say, on this day, no talk of rape.

We give you a day, a doek, a talk.

We Care.



We do Care

They say, We gave you a day.

Be happy: now it is time for supper

and bed.

2 year anniversary of the Marikana massacre – watch the film

By Jen Thorpe

For this weekend only, you can watch Miners Shot Down on YouTube. This film is incredible, enraging, painful, but most of all necessary. It is necessary to watch and reflect on our own relations to capital. It is necessary to watch and reflect on culpability, accountability, state violence, and the state of our freedom. Please watch it.

Call For Submission: A Q-zine & OurSpaceIsLove Special Issue

Q-zine is the first pan-African, bilingual art and culture LGBTQI magazine.  In the next edition Q-zine collaborates with OurSpaceIsLove for a special issue exploring the politics and practice of love as a revolutionary force.

OurSpaceIsLove (ourspaceislove.tumblr.com) is an online community platform created by two African feminist friends in order to quench poetic, revolutionary and questioning thirsts. As African women and as feminists, we look to an understanding of love that recognizes the intentional act of embracing people who may be different from us but share the fact of being human. When we say ‘love’ we are talking about a concept beyond romance. We are talking about the feeling emanating from our hearts that seeks to instigate liberation in all that we do – individually and collectively. We are talking about love that inspires the desire to create spaces of peace for people harassed by discrimination and violence. We are talking about a love that motivates us to give, share, risk and speak up in the name of our collective happiness.

Recognizing love as revolutionary and as the guiding principle of our feminist practice and the principle upon which we build our communities, we are interested in exploring what it means for Africans to be connected both in the spirit and practice of ‘revolutionary love.’ We are interested in hearing reflections by Africans scattered across the continent and diaspora who share this ‘revolutionary love’ with and for each other and for the struggle for social transformation.

In this Q-zine special issue, we invite Africans on the continent and in the diaspora to submit opinions, essays, reviews, literature, fashion, art, poems, short stories and audio-visual contributions that explore the theme of ‘Love as Revolutionary Practice.’ As stimulation, submissions could explore:

  • How a politics of love inspires your activism or art as Queer Africans / on your work on LGBTI and human rights for all
  • How varied understandings of love shape your relationships, politics and practice
  • Stories of African queer love, from history, the present and your imaginations
  • Expressions of revolutionary love in building community and working for social justice


Amina Doherty is a young Nigerian feminist and activist living in Kingston, Jamaica.  A ‘curious creative mind’ and ‘restless nomad soul’, Amina brings to her activism a passion for music, art, and poetry.

Jessica Horn is a feminist writer, poet and women’s rights activist with roots in Uganda. Her life’s work focuses on questions of sexuality, health, violence, and embodied liberations.

Please send your submissions to the co-editors, Amina Doherty, Jessica Horn and Q-zine at:OurSpaceIsLove@gmail.com or contact@qayn-center.org

First seen on the AWID website here

Deadline for Submissions: August 10, 2014

Lindiwe Mazibuko and the Politics of Representation

Kameel Premhid
Kameel Premhid

By Kameel Premhid

Lindiwe Mazibuko’s sudden departure from our political life cannot be understated. Notwithstanding her political views (which are open to contestation), the loss of a powerful female voice in an inherently patriarchal political environment is not a good thing. Irrespective of the reasons as to why she may have left, which are heavily disputed, her departure is not good for women’s progress in politics.

The Numbers

Of the 13 parties that will be represented in Parliament only 3 are led by women. But, that does not guarantee that party leaders will necessarily sit in Parliament (as we have seen before, such as when Athol Trollip was the DA’s leader in Parliament but Helen Zille remained outside of it).  While the caucus demographics of the next Parliament is yet to be finalised, as final seat allocations are still underway, the average percentage of seats held by women from 1997 – 2010 is 28.4%. That is the case despite the fact that women were the majority of the population for that period – and still are the majority today.

Why the Gap?

There are several reasons that explain why women have been kept or stay out of politics. The first has to do with gendered understandings of the roles women and men have in society. Women were – are – considered to be the ones to manage the domestic environment. Cook, clean, look after the babies. Even among different social classes, this deeply conservative idea of women persists. Even though economic necessity – especially after WWII – may have changed that irrevocably and women’s movements have championed the cause of equal access and pay, patriarchy runs deep. Some men see women as only being there in name – not as equals. Frighteningly, some women do too. Patriarchy, like most forms of social prejudice, can be so strong that it even convinces its intended victims of its supposed veracity. Talk about Stockholm Syndrome.

South Africa is no different. Even though women played a significant role in the struggle, for example, the ‘women’s agenda’ was largely ignored in favour of (formal) equality and freedom. Given, however, that women were – and have been – made to be more vulnerable because of the institutional and cultural design which operated against them, formal equality, it can be argued, continues to benefit men more than it does women. While the struggle for substantive equality between black and white people still continues – the struggle for true sex parity still lags far behind. The progress made is not enough. Women are largely underrepresented in the professional class and are even scarcer at the top level of the spectrum.

The slow progress that women have been able to make is, in part, attributable to how co-option works. After the fall of Apartheid, it was not black women that were being welcomed into previously all-male white boardrooms, it was black men. While the colour composition of our country may have improved, its gender balance has not. Politics is no different. Neither is economics. Provided that strong vested interests do just enough to seem as though transformation is being achieved, they have been able to escape true societal scrutiny. And so the cause of a sex-balance is lost.

And that has an impact on the way women can integrate into these environments. Putting the systemic obstacles aside, the institutional culture of these places remains largely male-oriented. Whether that has to do with flexible working hours, sanitary facilities or institutional culture, the ability for women to break through the ‘glass ceiling’ and remain there is inordinately more difficult than it is for their male counterparts. Much like how black professionals have to work doubly hard than their white ones in order to avoid the ‘token appointment’ label, so too must women.

The Politics of Representation

That is why Mazibuko’s departure is worrisome. Her presence in Parliament and in our collective consciousness achieved the two aims of transformation: on one hand, it created an immediate and physical embodiment of the desired change and, on the other, it represented that the ingrained modes of exclusion were being challenged. The two are linked and it bears merit exploring.

Whether Mazibuko liked it or not, she was a standard bearer for women, and young black women especially. Margaret Thatcher once infamously quipped that she owed nothing to ‘feminism’ because, I suspect, she saw herself as an equal (or in her case, superior) to men. That she was born a woman was secondary. But, Thatcher’s comment belies her misunderstanding that even if she thought she owed nothing special to being a woman, millions of women, and men, respected her for that: she rose above the predetermined trajectory for those of her sex. And in so doing she made it possible that others may do so too. The same is true with Mazibuko.

It is understandable why prominent women like to ‘downplay’ that they are women in positions of power. Because, ironically, by praising them for that we engage in a process of reductionism that does not see beyond biological sex. The same applies with, for example, race and gender. It is a danger that we must be careful of. But it is also a feat that we cannot ignore. Having a woman at the table counts. But thinking that the only reason she got there is because she is a woman is as unacceptable as excluding her for her sex.

And, the fact that Mazibuko was not just present at the table but, to a large extent, determining what was discussed at it is worthy of praise too. Her role was a demonstrable positive example set to millions of other (young) women that sex parity is possible. The nuance she brought to the discussion of issues, within the DA and outside of it, means that the all-male culture of the institutions in which she served was affronted. Admittedly, when such conservativism is confronted, it can either harden (despite a women being present) or give way to something better. While it is too early to tell whether Parliament – and parliamentary caucuses – will go back to being ‘old boy’s’ clubs remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is that in being true to herself and taking it all on Mazibuko has inspired other women, and men, to take up the cudgels and shake sexism – wherever it may exist – to its very core. And when she returns, I am sure she will do the same.

Silver Lining

Although Mazibuko is departing, there are women who remain involved in politics that can do what she did. And one hopes that they do. But, all is not lost. Mazibuko’s securing a place at Harvard University’s prestigious Kennedy School of Government to read for a Master’s in Public Administration is not only indicative of her impressive intellect and profile but, again, an inspiration to many others. It is rarely the case that when one exits the political stage they do so on a high. Enoch Powell once quipped that all political careers end in tears. Whether Mazibuko cried when she resigned I am not sure. If she did, I hope they were tears of joy. Harvard is a unique achievement that not many, let alone those from South Africa, will achieve. And I for one sincerely hope that upon her return she will continue trail-blazing as she so memorably did.

This article was first published here:  http://voices.news24.com/kameel-premhid/2014/05/lindiwe-mazibuko-politics-representation/ (News24 Voices)

ANC Manifesto: Unsurprisingly unfeminist


Shehnaz Cassim-Moosa
Shehnaz Cassim-Moosa
Athambile Masola
Athambile Masola

By Shehnaz Cassim-Moosa and Athambile Masola

The ANC manifesto was launched in January 2014. There is nothing in the 2014 manifesto that is remarkably different to what has come before. The ANC has recommitted itself to implementing the National Development Plan and as can be expected in such an unequal country, the economy and job creation is at the heart of the manifesto.

Gender equality gets a neat paragraph in the manifesto but again there is nothing new or startling:

In democratic South Africa, women’s voices are heard and women’s issues are seriously addressed. Institutional mechanisms have been established to protect women’s rights and dignity. Progress has been made in freeing women from customs and practices that undermine their rights. Progress in meeting basic needs such as housing and access to water has especially benefited women, redressing past inequalities. More girls are in school and tertiary institutions than ever before and more women are in employment. Women continue to benefit from economic empowerment programmes and they are the major recipients of social security programmes.

Without this paragraph in the manifesto we would have had to concede that the ANC is not interested in women. It would seem that the ANC has adopted an approach of gender mainstreaming, and as such do not address the women as a constituency directly. Gender mainstreaming thus has had the strange effect of making the party gender-blind.

Jobs are an issue for women as much as they are for men yet women are not clearly identified as a category that warrants particular attention. This is despite the fact that unemployment levels are higher for women than they are for men according to the Quarterly Labour Force Surveys over the last four quarters. Skills development is central to women’s lives therefore one can argue that the ANC is concerned about women’s lives by making jobs central to its manifesto. Though South Africa has very progressive legislation on equal pay, a report by the world economic forum, gender gap, reveals that women earn less than men in South Africa. In fact, stats released on FeministsSA this month point to the fact that the average female-headed household in 2011 earned only slightly more than the average male-headed household did in 2001.

This is one among a number of issues that are of concern to women. Gender based violence, is another issue which is addressed by a mention of domestic violence in their section on fighting crime. They suggest that the ANC will

“continue to prioritise incidents of domestic violence and crimes against women and children by further strengthening the Sexual Offences and Community Affairs Unit and pursuing a multi-disciplinary approach in our fight against violence against women and children.”

The suggestion that an ANC-led government has prioritized domestic violence is debatable given the fact that incidents of non-compliance with the Domestic Violence Act are rarely addressed, that no statistics on domestic violence are reported on by the SAPS despite the requirement that each incident is recorded in a domestic violence register, and despite the fact that the state has continued to dis-invest in domestic violence shelters with the result that many women who leave violent relationships have nowhere else to go.

The ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) marched in Pretoria to commemorate the death of Reeva Steenkamp a few months ago. This was a rare public event for the ANCWL. Even skeptics would be forgiven for labeling the march as nothing more than a publicity stunt during an election year. The ANCWL did not take to the streets when the teenager Anene Booysen was brutally raped and murdered, though they did launch a campaign in her name. The ANCWL joining forces with the National Youth Development Agency on the ‘corrective rape’ of lesbians  was one way to mark this challenge. Another, more effective way might have been placing pressure on the Department of Justice to push forward with the National Task Team on LGBTI  violence, or pinpointing the failings in the judicial system. An even more effective one would have been lobbying for better budgeting for women-orientated services. Marching to commemorate the death of celebrity, doesn’t seem genuine given what the crime means in the broader context.

Before the candidate list was revealed there was a briefing flagging the deployment of women in the party and that the list would have 50/50 gender parity. This is expected because as we revealed in our previous analysis, you cannot fault the ANC on paper when it comes to the gender parity issue. Upon release of the list in March, there was little mention about the gender question in the party but rather a focus on the factions in the ANC. The list became about “who of the Zuma-camp have remained?”. The power struggle within the ANC dominated the candidate list of the party.

There were certain women in the party who declined nomination (for example Dr Nkosazana Zuma because of her post with the AU) and placed on the reserve list. While listening to Jesse Duarte on SAfm on the day the list was released it was clear that the process of choosing the list is a complex one that goes through various levels of the party structures (regional, provincial and national) and because of the politics involved at all these levels, it seems that the most important point of contention is factionalism rather than gender parity on the list.

The idea of representation and inclusion is central to the life a democracy. Women make up an estimated 51% of the population, and although women are divided along class and racial lines, the opinions and concerns of women should reverberate at different levels of government, business and civil society. In fact, as of 2013, more women than men were registered to vote.

An important question to unpack is, “are women’s voices really heard within the ruling party.” If we look at the face of the ANC it manages to escape looking like a boys club because people like Naledi Pandor, Bathabile Dlamini, Lindiwe Sisulu, Angie Motshekga, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Ngqakula, Thoko Didiza and Baleka Mbete form the top twenty of the list and Jesse Duarte often speaks on behalf of the ANC. But if one looks closely at the content of what is said, Gwede Mantashe and Cyril Ramaphosa dominate discussion on “issues that matter”. Yes, their positions grant them the honour of being the “face of the ANC” but if the voice of the party is represented in a male body every time it engages with the public on policy issues, should we not be concerned about the women in the party?

There are only three women in the top ten of the ANC list. Naledi Pandor, Bathabile Dlamini, and Lindiwe Sisulu.

When the ANCWL said the ANC was not ready for a female president, women in the party were defensive. There were no dissenting voices, either from the ANC or the ANCWL. This speaks volumes about the future of women in the party. The discourse in the ANC remains masculine and a benevolent patriarchy runs the show; a patriarchy that can say it takes the leadership of women seriously but remains to have men leading the conversation on behalf of the party. This is not a manifesto issue but rather an issue of the culture of the ANC that we should bear in mind when dealing with the ANC.

Men have quite often dominated liberation movements throughout the world, in part because at the time many of these movements came into being, traditional gender roles inhibited women from participating in politics and secondly because of the nature of resistance which at times were violent, men were often more involved in the overthrow of colonial regimes. This has spilled over into a democratic era, where men continue to dominate the political landscape. This is certainly the case with the ANC and it will take a collective and coordinated effort to address this within the ruling party.

Say #NOWEGE – Civil society organisations reject Government’s draft law on women

Today in Parliament the Portfolio Committee on Women, Children and People with Disabilities will be receiving oral submissions regarding the Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality (WEGE) Bill. This is a Bill that aims at fulfilling Chapter 9 of the Constitution by giving life to equality for women. It is a Bill that many have been waiting for.

BUT, the Bill currently duplicates existing legislation without addressing implementation challenges, ignores marginalised groups such as sex workers and members of the LGBTI, narrowly defines substantive equality, gives too much power to the Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities, and focuses primarily on women who already have access to employment.


The last thing women in South Africa need is another rubber stamp piece of legislation that does nothing to change their lived realities.

FeministsSA suggests you support the protest today. See the press release below



Released by the following organisations:

1. Community Law Centre, University of the Western Cape

2. New World Foundation

3. Sex Worker’s Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT)

4. Sonke Gender Justice Network

5. Triangle Project

6. Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre (TLAC)

7. Western Cape Network on Violence Against Women (WCNVAW)


On 29 January 2014, the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Women, Children and People with

Disabilities will commence with public hearings on the Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality bill.

Civil society organisations including large national NGOs and locally based CBOs working on gender issues and women’s rights around the country strongly support developments for women’s empowerment and gender equality, but have come out strongly to reject the bill in its current form. At civil society workshops held in November last year, there was agreement that women in South Africa don’t need another piece of legislation that won’t be implemented, government’s priority should be enforcing existing laws.

“In this form, it’s not going to bring substantive change in the lives of women, that’s the bottom line.” Stated Shireen Motara, director of the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre.

Sisonke Msimang, the Senior Programme Specialist at the Sonke Gender Justice Network adds that “throwing new laws at problems, rather than addressing them through stronger service delivery and better community engagement has been a constant shortcoming of government’s response to the situation of women in South Africa.”

Reporting on the civil society meetings held last year, Samantha Waterhouse, Parliamentary Programme Coordinator at the Community Law Centre, UWC, indicated that:

“Delegates expressed strong frustration and anger, that after 20 years of law and policy reform on issues affecting women’s lives there’s been little change. In some instances things are worse. Women are subjected to pervasive violence coupled with weak – and at times non-existent – access to justice. Health, land tenure, access to housing, discrimination in the workplace, education and childcare remain high on the list of issues that undermine social justice for most women.”

Nosipho Vidima, National Lobbyist with Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce and Sisonke stressed that certain women are more likely than other’s to face barriers:

“Black women, rural women, women with disabilities, sex workers, women exposed to gang violence, and gender non-conforming people continue to experience far greater barriers than white, urban and middleclass counterparts. Growing economic inequality is entrenching these discriminations and there’s no light at the end of the tunnel at this point.”

Vivienne Mentor-Lalu Coordinator of the Shukumisa Campaign notes that the underlying issues that prevent transformation are not being addressed:

“We have many laws, but they are not having the impact they should. Patriarchal values, where women are valued less than men, remain unchallenged and are often promoted by political leaders. There’s no strong political will, budgets and spending on these areas is poor, and most importantly, there’s an almost complete lack of accountability from the state on these issues.”

The main problems with this bill include:

  • Although claiming to make substantial changes to the situation of women, and covering a number of important areas for reform, the bill’s provisions on these fail. They are vague and unfocussed and would require greater detail and substance to have impact.
  • This bill, and government policy generally, fails to engage with the underlying and pervasive patriarchal systems that undermine transformation for women’s equality.
  • The bill uses a narrow definition of gender, excluding lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) and other gender non-conforming people also impacted on by patriarchal systems.
  • The bill’s most substantial clauses relate to 50% representation of women in leadership and management positions across sectors. But, the enforcement clauses in this bill are weak and how accountability would be ensured is unclear. Importantly, these repeat much of what’s in existing law.
  • These clauses for representation at senior level, will have little impact on the majority of women in this country, particularly working class and unemployed women.
  • The provision for gender mainstreaming in government may have potential, but it has previously been tried and failed. The bill gives little hope to suggest that it can work better this time around. On its own, its potential to create the essential shifts in women’s lives is weak.

Some ideas for alternatives:

  • Consultation, in partnership with civil society, with women across the country to hear directly from women to understand their lived realities and to identify the critical areas for reform and programming.
  • Dedicated and realistic ‘women’s budgets’ in all departments across government that are reported on annually.
  • A review of the barriers to implementation of the current legal and policy framework relating to women’s lives. This must result in a resourced plan to promote implementation. This plan must extend beyond education on content to challenge the budget allocations to these, and to strengthen the systems for monitoring implementation. Most importantly, the mechanisms and systems to ensure the accountability of government officials at every level must be prioritised. These include implementation of laws on sexual and domestic violence, promotion of equality and maintenance amongst many others.
  • Critical pieces of proposed law have languished, in some cases for longer than ten years, yet we are now faced with a new law that doesn’t address these key issues. The processing and finalisation of laws relating to Muslim marriages, sex work, hate crimes and rural women’s security of land tenure are but some examples.
  • Embedded patriarchy must be challenged, this will not be a short term or easy project, government leadership and commitment to a national programme relating to this is essential.


For information or comment please contact:

  • Nosipho Vidima, SWEAT, 076 782 0812
  • Sam Waterhouse, Community Law Centre, UWC, 084 522 9646
  • Shireen Motara, TLAC, 071 272 8245
  • Lungiswa Memela, WCNVAW, 082 323 0001
  • Ingrid Lynch, Triangle Project, 071 492 9800


Twitter: #nowege

Elections analysis: Agang

Jen Thorpe
Jen Thorpe

By Jen Thorpe

South Africa has more women in parliament than any other country in Africa, with the exception of Rwanda, and more women in cabinet than any other country in the world, again except Rwanda and Scandinavia. “Yet we have a pandemic of gender-based violence in this country,” Ramphele told the crowd. “Why? Because we didn’t do the work that enabled men to live with strong women and for strong women to bring up strong men and for women to stand up.” – Sourced from this article on the Daily Maverick 

Woman at the top, but woman for women?

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.

Women’s role

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. 



Khanyi Dhlomo is a victim of the NEF’s selective funding

Masutane Modjadji
Masutane Modjadji

By Masutane Modjadji

I am one of those women who grew up looking up to Khanyi Dhlomo. I’ve been following her since her days at SABC. I still find her to be a great inspiration to me and many other women out there.

It’s been a while since Khanyi has made it. Maybe it is possible that she’s reached that point in life where she can look back and laugh at all obstacles she never thought she overcome in life.

I respect and admire her business acumen as a woman. I applaud her for taking time to do live chats with many of her admirers through Destiny Magazine connect online. With all her achievements she has held onto her humility and warmth which comes through even in her voice.

This week I listened to her radio interview on 702 with John Robbie following the granting of millions for her Luminance luxury store.  Many people are very unhappy for different reasons about the funding of this project by the National Empowerment Fund. In her interview Khanyi said she was disappointed at the uproar this has caused. Like I said before, it’s been a while since she’s made it. Her realities are very different from many South African entrepreneurs.

I am an entrepreneur myself having founded and running Rain Queen House full-time now. I am very far from Khanyi’s league but we have our passion, drive and determination in common, along with many outstanding women entrepreneurs I interact with on a daily basis. Just like Khanyi many of these women have track records that speak on their behalf and achieved big things all on their own. Although they tick many boxes correct and meet financial assistance criteria, they struggle to get even a R1 from the NEF.

Khanyi hasn’t done anything irregular. She was granted what she asked from a business financing agency and she qualifies. The issue here seems to be the fact that she was granted the entire budget of this agency and selectively. She might be disappointed at the way the public has received this news but I am not expecting her to understand that she is a victim of selective funding by government agencies. The issue is how the NEF approaches the issue of who it chooses to grand funding. Hopefully this will be explained when it is dealt with by Parliament.

The selective funding perception was not created overnight by the NEF’s decision. Seemingly the NYDA, SEDA and local government SMMEs funding agencies have been doing it for years. Last month the NYDA was criticized for spending nearly R20 million to buy equipment for a company belonging to famous DJs. Recently Reserve Bank Governor, Gill Marcus, was reported to have begged firms to employ young people. Youth unemployment is this country is at an unacceptable level at 50%. It would be great to have one government minister advocating for SMMEs and youth entrepreneurial initiatives. Future employment depends on the survival of small enterprises and creation of entrepreneurship.

The name of Khanyi Dlhomo is a power brand. The scales were largely tipped in her favour as soon as her name was put forward on the application for this fund. Perhaps after this experience she can workshop with women entrepreneurs on how one successfully bids for business funding. Maybe this will dispel the notion many of us have of South African business funding. Exhausting business funding agencies’ budgets on those who have already established themselves only create jobs for very few people. We need commitment from government to start investing in potential and focus on empowering promising entrepreneurs.

What if marriage wasn’t anti-feminism?

Athambile Masola
Athambile Masola

By Athambile Masola

I’ve been contemplating marriage. Not as an abstract idea but as someone who has come face to face with the prospect of marriage. My partner and I have always spoken openly about marriage and after running away from the relationship for five years I’ve decided to consider marriage. While trying to make sense of the women who has taken over my body and having conversations about marriage on my behalf, I’ve been reading Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex: one of the most groundbreaking texts about the position of women. De Beauvoir articulates the plight of women by looking closely at the historical context making a case for feminism in the 1940s, when the book was first published. Central to de Beauvoir’s treatise is an exploration of marriage and the role it has played as a social practice that is an example of patriarchy.

It’s impossible to write a book about the liberation of women without talking about marriage. And it’s impossible to identify as a feminist and not wonder about the institution of marriage. I realise that there are many feminists who have overcome this angst and decided on marriage in spite of the naysayers who simply denounce marriage as an example of why patriarchy still exists. It’s too easy to say that marriage is absolutely bad for women. When women are no longer property, moving from their fathers to their husbands, the terms and conditions of marriage must change because a woman is choosing to be with someone in spite of the social expectations.

Is marriage fundamentally anti-feminism? My partner and I haven’t answered this question. We think of ourselves as feminists. We are also products of our cultural backgrounds: I’m Xhosa and he is Zulu. In talking about marriage we have come to the following conclusions: I will not change my surname, there will be no lobola, I have decided against having children and we will not have an elaborate wedding (I will not wear a white dress, we will not profess any fancy vows about me submitting to him as his wife). Ours will hopefully be a marriage of two minds who are seeking companionship rather than a slave for a wife and a hunter-gatherer for a husband. And yes, ours will be a monogamous marriage.

My parents got divorced when I was young. As a result of this I was not keen on marriage until recently. My partner and I are constantly contemplating what it means putting our lives together. He doesn’t want a traditional wife and I have no desires of being a traditional wife (whatever that might mean). We’ve spoken openly about our fears given the broken marriages we’ve seen and lived through. There are few examples of marriages or partnerships where two people do not compromise too much of who they are, but can exist in a relationship that is meaningful. Friends have asked me, “Why marry at all? Why not simply live together?”. My sister is surprised that I am seriously contemplating marriage at all given that I’m a feminist. I still can’t fully grasp why I would consider marriage (the legal and the social contract) except that I’m a romantic: I ran out of reasons not to be with him and I want to grow old with him. I’ve had to deal with the voices in my head that have told me I have no place in marriage. Black women who are educated are often seen as a threat to the institution of marriage because we’ve been accused of bringing our politics into the bedroom.

But is it that simple? Is it enough to jettison the performances of marriage but still enter into a marriage with an awareness of the complexities of a marriage? Marriage is both a private and social agreement. For Xhosa and Zulu people it is also a contract between two families. The real questions about equality, fidelity and sharing the responsibilities of housekeeping (cooking, cleaning, paying the bills) are not cast in stone. There are some non-negotiables: fidelity. But it seems everything else in a marriage is about negotiating and learning what it means to love another person without losing yourself in the process. I’ve been surprised at the level of communication my partner and I have had (coupled with a long distance courtship) and thus far we’ve been able to put everything on the table. And perhaps de Beauvoir would be disappointed to know that many decades later feminists such as my boyfriend and I are still contemplating marriage.

We’ll probably go through with it: move in together, get married and hopefully live happily ever after. Choosing to give into a social and legal contract like marriage has heightened my awareness of choice. For centuries, marriage was never about choice but for me it is. I’m choosing monogamy. And the fact that I am choosing monogamy as opposed to having my parents make the choice for  me has to count for something rather than make me appear as a bad feminist.

Don’t Fool Yourself – You Need Feminism

Amy Jephta
Amy Jephta

By Amy Jephta

Hey you, woman reading this. I know you’ve got your girl power anthems and your independent woman mantras and you’ve pretty much convinced yourself you run the world. That’s really great, I admire your confidence, and let me be the first to convince you that you can do anything you set your mind to. But you don’t want to call yourself a feminist, and that makes me sad. Or if you do, you feel like you need to justify it, qualify it, tag on a ‘but’. “I’m a feminist, but not THAT kind of feminist”. “I’m a feminist, but I love men.” Because that word is so extreme, so backwards, smells of man-hating and street-shouting and not-shaving and the 80’s. Women in the 80’s needed feminism, when they were Melanie Griffith in Working Girl and men treated them like children and they had to behave and be ladies. Our grandmothers needed feminism in the 50’s, when they marched to the Union Buildings where there was a real enemy to fight. This is 2013, we have nothing standing in our way – let’s move on already.

But deep down you’re angry, right? You’re angry about the fact that the ideal woman, according to most of the English-speaking world, is thin, white and beautiful. You’re angry about the war being waged daily on women’s bodies: by the media telling us how thin we should be, by men who think they have the right to comment on your ass because you’re walking on the street. You’re angry, aren’t you, about the fact that women are being burned to death in Kenya because they’re suspected to be witches? That in your very country, two men can get off on R200 bail for raping six girls? You’re angry, aren’t you, that most religions, governments, sporting codes, cultural activities and social systems value men, believe that it’s the men who should make the choices, decide the way the world runs, have most of the power, even though the majority of the world consists of women? That men and boys don’t have to keep proving themselves (that they’re good enough, smart enough, physically and mentally strong enough) but you, as a woman, do? That anger makes you a feminist.

And you, sir, fooled by the media into thinking that feminism is a ‘woman’s problem’, that it isn’t your business, that it has nothing to do with you. Here’s a newsflash: it’s ALL about you. Until you stop brushing it aside as something women have to deal with and figure out, nothing will change. Until you stop belittling it by labelling feminism as a woman’s thing, as hysteria, as PMS and overreacting, and start talking about it, the men who need to listen won’t listen. Men listen to other men. Right now, the power scales tip in your favour. Use it to your advantage. Be a feminist.

One more thing: feminism isn’t absolute. There are no rules. You don’t have to subscribe to the academics, believe in all the politics, follow the propaganda, burn your bra, or be angry all the time. You don’t have to hate men, rant every chance you get, or not like pink dresses and lipstick. You can shape feminism into what you need to it be; it’s flexible, you can adopt it and own it and make it yours. All you have to do is keep asking questions. To paraphrase the cliché: feminism is the radical notion that women are people. Believe that. Call yourself a feminist today.

Becoming a feminist

Sona Mahendra
Sona Mahendra

By Sona Mahendra

While texting a very good friend of mine with whom I was catching up, I confided in her something that I had started to discover about myself and so I had randomly added these words at the end of the message: “Also, I think I might be a feminist”, to which she replied, “…you only realised that now?”

After hearing the word ‘Feminist’ more often than usual in the last couple of months, from the shocking stories of the Delhi bus gang rape in India to the deplorable rape of 17-year-old Anene Booysen in South Africa, as well as the worldwide One Billion Rising Campaign, and reading into the history of Feminism more thoroughly than the precursory IEB history lesson, I have now started to consciously identify myself as feminist in the making.

In all honesty, I don’t understand how a young adult, especially a woman, in a still sexist and prejudiced society in the 21st century, could be anything but drawn to a movement that not only champions gender equality, but actively addresses all issues that directly affect us as women while attempting to ensure positive change takes place with regards to women’s rights worldwide. As an “average” 18-year-old girl, the more I read about the plight of millions of women (especially in my age category) who face gender based discrimination and violence on a daily basis, I feel appalled and feel that my life as a privileged member of society was a result of sheer luck.

From reading about nuanced sexism in the workplace to outright shameless sexual harassment on the streets, rape, honour killings, domestic violence, child marriage, deprivation of education and every other situation hindering a woman to live her life to the fullest, I find it very difficult to ignore feminism.

I was particularly shocked (and a little annoyed) to realise that there seemed opposition to the feminist movement not only from misogynists, but from women who were sincerely ignorant and oblivious as to why feminism is much needed in today’s world.

One such comment which prompted me to write this article was posted on FeministsSA.com itself, dated November 22, 2012 by a lady who described herself as a ‘very successful, thirty something, happily married business exec’. See the comment from Carine here.

After re-gaining my power of speech I realised that she did make one valid point. Women ARE definitely different from their male counterparts but regardless, should be considered equal.

But, surely after mentioning the many dangers that women face (in the previous paragraphs), how can one still be comfortable saying that we don’t need to ‘stand-up and be heard’? How do you attempt to explain the basis for all the mentioned crimes against women, without looking at the deep –rooted patriarchy and sexism that still is very prevalent in society?

The thing is you can’t.

By now, to the reader, I must have clearly and successfully fulfilled the stereotype of feminists as angry beings (and because I hate stereotypes, I find myself getting only angrier at thought of this) but I don’t logically understand opposition to feminism, especially from females. How can you disregard feminism as unimportant and unnecessary, something that you have so much to be thankful for:

  • Access to contraceptive measures
  • Access to abortion
  • Right to work
  • Right to education
  • Right to vote

The unity of women is vital for the success of feminism and we should look deep within ourselves to identify with this movement and read more avidly on the state of affairs regarding women. It should be a priority to educate ourselves and to keep reminding ourselves as to why feminism is important. I genuinely believe that feminism is needed now more than ever especially since we have seemed to have sunk into this complacent state after our basic human rights were fulfilled.

Ignoring feminism is too high a price to pay to accommodate our blissful lives that might have been less harmed by prejudiced practices. I believe that as an educated and privileged member of society, we have a responsibility towards other women who face the daily dilemma of discrimination. If we don’t stand up for ourselves and each other and speak up on issues that affect us, well, no one else will.

Oh, and a response to the silly ‘gender jokes’ and how feminists need to ‘lighten up’: it’s not about being too uptight to laugh at them or having a very poor sense of humour. The fact is, they aren’t particularly funny, especially since most of them are based almost entirely on stereotypes.

And like I said earlier, I hate stereotypes.