CURRENT AFFAIRS, GENDER POLITICS

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.

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Athambile Masola
EDUCATION

A case for gender parity in education

Athambile Masola
Athambile Masola

By Athambile Masola

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.

Athambile Masola
CULTURE

A curious case of the headscarf

Athambile Masola
Athambile Masola

by Athambile Masola

I love wearing headscarves, also known as a doek or iqhiya. The first time I wore a headscarf I must have been about 3 years old. It was part of my bedtime ritual because Mama had plaited my hair and the only way to keep the hair neat overnight was to make sure I wore iqhiya. Going to sleepovers and school camps became very awkward because my white friends couldn’t understand why I slept with something on my head. Sometimes it wouldn’t be iqhiya but my mother’s stockings. This became the source of great shock when I realised that not all women wore headscarves to be as I had been brought up to believe. I would try to explain that apart from wanting to preserve the plaits in my hair, I didn’t want to get the pillows dirty with the hair food I used. Hair food is also known as hair moisturiser-something black women swear by.

When I wasn’t around my white friends the headscarf was the norm. Most of my black friends wore them or the awkward, old stockings that chafed ones hairline (injibhabha) if worn for too long. As teenagers we began teasing each other wondering what would happen one day when we end up in a room with a guy and we are in the heat of having sex or getting ready for bed. Would a headscarf be an appropriate part of that kind of bedtime routine? Would men be able to understand the importance of wearing the headscarf? The joke was always about, what kind of black guy would want to sleep with someone who wears a headscarf to bed; it would remind him of his mother because chances are his mother wears a doek to bed. And woe to the black woman who ended up with a white or coloured guy who may never have grown up with his mother wearing anything on her head at bedtime. Even when I had no hair I still wore a headscarf. For comfort and for the chilliness that comes with having no hair.

Headscarves are not sexy enough for the bedroom. Whatever the bedroom ritual might be for a black woman and her guy, at no point does it allow for you to grab your headscarf just before bedtime. The truth is, the only vision we have of a woman wearing a headscarf is the “Mammy”, the maid. And no-one wants to look like the maid in the bedroom (unless you’re into role playing in the bedroom). I’ve begun to think of the headscarf as one of the symbols that remind us about what is or isn’t beautiful. When watching Hollywood movies and a black woman is lucky enough to be featured, there is no headscarf. Even where the movie has a “black cast”, there are no headscarves, mostly weaves and maybe braids. The image of the woman with a headscarf is reserved for the oppressed Muslim woman who wears a burka.

I also enjoy wearing headscarves during the day, especially in winter or when I’m having a bad hair day. I hear many compliments on the day I wear a headscarf. I’ve even been told “You look so African!” because wearing a headscarf is associated with the quintessential African woman. This representation of African beauty and the headscarf surprised me since images of black woman in any mainstream media don’t have the headscarf (except when headscarves became the rage a few years ago; a rage which was short-lived). Have you ever seen a news reader wearing a headscarf? Have you ever seen an actress wearing a headscarf (and not the one acting the cancer patient)? If it wasn’t for images of the two African women who are presidents, I doubt I would have seen any woman wearing a headscarf on TV.

Growing up, my mother never went to church without covering her head. For her, covering ones head was a sign of modesty. When we moved to the suburbs she made a conscious decision to no longer wear a headscarf during the day, especially when she went to a school function. She didn’t want to be misunderstood for someone coming to the school asking for a job. Living in Cape Town and being surrounded by Muslim women who wear headscarves has brought me some comfort. Granted, they wear their scarves for religious reasons but it’s comforting to know that there are many images of what it means to be a woman and to be beautiful: we don’t all have to aspire for the Hollywood look that aims to make all women look the same-thin, light or white skin with wavy hair- without any variety in our beauty.

Athambile Masola
CURRENT AFFAIRS, POLITICS

Elections Analysis: The African National Congress

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

By Athambile Masola and Shehnaz Cassim-Moosa

It can’t be easy being the political party that was voted in during the country’s euphoria and trying to change a country that has been segregated for centuries. But here we are getting ready for 2014 and wondering what voting for the ANC again would mean for women.

As the ruling party since 1994 it has an interesting track record when it comes to the role women have played in the party and the policies that have been made pertaining to women. On paper the ANC supports women wholeheartedly, it even created a ministry for Women, children and people with Disabilities (which it later referred to as the vulnerable group). The ANC is a perfect example of policy that does not always translate into real life changes for many in South Africa.

The manifesto 

The manifesto for next year’s election will hopefully released later this year. The delay has to do with the “people-centred” manifesto election campaign which ran until mid-October. The ANC wishes to use this opportunity to keep in touch with communities and return to their belief the “the people shall govern”. Perhaps this indicates that the ANC is nervous about losing touch with “ordinary citizens” hence their focus on community meetings. If women are considered as “part of communities” they should be part of writing up this manifesto.

If we were to go by the previous manifesto, we can see that the ANC has always been invested in “women’s issues” and it would have no reason to change in 2014. The manifesto acknowledges that more needs to be done and I’m sure we’ll see the same sentiments for next year’s election:

“Unemployment is unacceptably high among our people. There is a special challenge amongst African women, rural persons and young people.”

This acknowledgment is as far as it goes for women, especially working class women. In addition, there is silence on the need of addressing the rights of the LGBTI community. It seems corrective rape and violence against gay and lesbian people is subsumed under and issue of safety and security.

Representation

If it were purely a matter of statistics and meeting quotas, no one could fault the ANC on their female representation in Parliament, or on the number of women who belong to the organisation. It is however not just the numbers which matter, women in the upper echelons of the ANC don’t seem to have much of a presence, or stand out as political leaders. The challenge with the ANC and the representation of women, where there have been female ministers in the party, we’ve seen corruption (Thanks Dina Pule, Bathabile Dlamini) and homophobia (remember Lulu Xingwana’s faux pas?).

National Executive Council

The top three most notable women who serve on the National Executive Council are Baleka Mbete, Jesse Duarte and Ruth Nozabelo Bhengu. (Baleka Mbete is currently being investigated on bribery and corruption charges.)

The ANC shares an election platform with the SACP and COSATU. It is also noteworthy that neither of these organisation, have women at the helm or in senior positions. The most senior women on both executives serve as treasurers, they are Fresa Osothuysen for COSATU and Joyce Moloi-Moropa for the SACP.  

Parliament

There are a number of women who serve as Portfolio Committee and Select Committee chairs, covering a range of issues.

Portfolio Committees:

  • Mrs Elsie Coleman- Econnomic Development
  • Ms Ruth Nozabelo Bhengu –Transport
  • Mrs Beauty Dambuza- Human Settlements
  • Ms Joanmariae- Trade and Industry
  • Mrs Helen Malgas- Basic Education
  • Mrs Margaret Maunye- Home Affairs
  • Mrs Joyce Moloi-Moropa- Public Services and Administration
  • Ms Goodness Nhlengethwa- Co-operative governance and traditional affairs
  • Mrs Mapula Ramodibe- Women, children and people with disabilities
  • Ms Thandile Sunduza- Arts and Culture

Select Committees:

  • Ms Mamosoeu Wendy Makgate – Education and recreation
  • Ms Malesane Priscilla Themba – Labour and public enterprises
  • Ms Agnes Noluthando Daphne Qikani – Land and environmental affairs
  • Ms Rachel Nomonde Rasmeni – Social services
  • Ms Bertha Peace Mabe – Women, children and people with disabilities

In her speech on heritage day, Hon. Ramodibe, Chairperson of the PC on Women, Children and People with Disabilities pointed to the ongoing struggle for equality between the sexes and the social and economic problems that continue to plague the country.

Women continue to face the challenge of gender-based abuse, a practice which persists stubbornly despite numerous legislative and programmatic interventions by the ANC government. The people of South Africa must together refuse to allow this scourge to be a part of their heritage. We must, together use all the constitutional instruments at our disposal to fight gender based violence. A necessary part of the struggle against patriarchy and gender based violence is to continue engage in the struggle to bring about the national democratic society as envisioned by the ANC.”

MPs in Parliament should be based on the experiences of their constituents. Questions posed to the Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities in Parliament are rarely about programmes instituted by the Ministry or about discussions around solving issues facing women in the country. Many of the questions focus on staffing and the budget including questions on relating to money spent on cars and events. As the Department that is tasked with furthering women’s rights, it is disappointing that oversight is not about issues.

Legislation – the good, the bad, the ugly

The ANC has always maintained that it is a party based on non-racialism and non-sexism. Indeed, the ANC has supported progressive legislation during its time as the ruling party. The South African Constitution is the envy of every law professor. The Constitution serves as the guiding light to our law-makers and very few could ever fault the human rights based legislation of the land. The ANC was at the forefront of much of this legislation, and though these laws are very important as they form the backbone of our nation, our political leaders and public servants need to make the legislation come to life by making these laws relevant to the population, and by conducting thorough oversight of the Departments tasked with implementing them. 

A few examples of legislation that further women’s right to be free from violence include the Sexual Offences Act (2007) which established statutory sexual offices, special protection for children and those with mental disabilities; the Domestic Violence Act (1998) which makes for provision for victims of domestic abuse to seek protection orders and the Protection from Harassment Act (2011) which provides legal resource for those who are victims of direct and even indirect harassment via the internet and social media platforms like Facebook and Mxit. In addition, the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act (1996) enabled women to have access to abortion – something that was incredibly progressive for a largely conservative society.

However, it hasn’t been all good. Recently, legislation such as the Traditional Courts Bill has begun to reverse progress made. The Bill has been under the spotlight as a law that is doing women no favours, alienating women from political power structures, and entrenching the patriarchal system of Traditional Courts in rural areas. A substantial amount has been written about the flaws with this piece of legislation, but in essence it is a clear example of choosing political power over women’s rights. The Bill was sent back to the Provinces late this year despite very little support for it. 

The Women’s League

The ANC Women’s league (ANCWL) is by far one of the most infamous organisations for women in South Africa. Until President Zuma’s rape trial in 2006 the organisation had largely been quiet and associated with Women’s Day celebrations. A quick scan of the website images evokes nostalgia with images of organisation stalwarts such as Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Helen Joseph, Ray Alexander, Lillian Ngoyi, Dorothy Nyembe.

The Women’s League defines its objectives as follows:

“to defend and advance the rights of women, both inside and outside the ANC, against all forms of national, social and gender oppression and to ensure that women play a full role in the life of the organisation, in the people’s struggle and in national life.”

The press statements on the website are focused on current issues related to “women’s issues”. The most interesting section on the website has the title “The ANCWL is calling for…” This is an interesting list that one could consider as the standpoint of the ANCWL and first on the list is “an all out eradication of drugs in society” and only third on the list women’s issues are raised.

The ANCWL’s list on the website speaks to the “politics of respectability”. The refers to the idea that in order for women to deserve their rights they ought to behave in a certain way. Prescriptions of how women should act are worrying at the best of times. Perhaps this is a suggestion that the ANCWL knows that it is safer for their member to be mere commentators on issues rather than being renegades and making real demands for government to address gender equality. Indeed, the silences from the ANCWL are more interesting than when the league chooses to speak. As an example, the league was silent in the face of Zwelinzima Vavi’s rape scandal. Their silence on the complexity of the experience of being a woman in South Africa suggests that the ANCWL is only interested in women’s issues insofar as they are within the “politics of respectability”. The politics of respectability speak to the idea that in order to be valued citizens women must endure certain representation in order for their voices to be heard.*

Until the gang rape of the young girl in Dobsonville in 2012 where the ANCWL made a statement voicing their outrage on the issue, the ANCWL could have been described as Zuma’s cheerleaders, or the back up singers to the masculine discourse of the ANC and the tripartite alliance. In 2007 the ANCWL nominated Jacob Zuma as the presidential candidate, dismissing the rape charges against him. At the time many commentators expressed concern at this kind of support from the ANCWL as it was seen as being hostile and in denial that rape is a fundamental matter of equality even when the president-to-be of a country is involved. The ANCWL showed solidarity with an alleged rapist instead of the woman who was involved in the case.

Their reaction was situated within a deep-seated cultural discourse that entrenched the idea that a man has a right to a woman’s body. Their responses entrenched dangerous rape myths that suggest that women frequently lie about rape, and they defended Zuma’s remarks that the complainant’s dress code had something to do with the incident. The ANCWL did not support the woman in this case. They supported the powerful man.

The current leader of the ANCWL is Angie Motshekga. Is it fair to judge her leadership in education as a symptom of why the ANCWL has a questionable voice in South Africa’s political discourse? If so, she’s in trouble. The nature of the political game suggests that Minister Motshekga was given the position (and was not removed in the re-shuffle in July) because the ANCWL supported President Zuma in Polokwane.

A number of questions remain. Can the women’s league be considered as a real voice for women in the ANC? Is it an entity of its own that the ANC should be threatened by? It seems that the ANC needs the ANCWL as a crutch rather than a threat. And being the only political party with an active and visible women’s league, the ANC is going to use this to capture as many women’s votes as possible. Yet, the decision to maintain a women’s league does not seem to be motivated by the need to give women’s issues a voice in the political game, rather women and their support are a means to an end in the political game.

Presidency

In 2012 the ANC celebrated their centenary. It is interesting to note that in the 100 years that the organisation has been around, it has never once elected a woman as its President. In recent weeks the leader of the ANC Women’s league caused quite a stir when she mentioned that the ANC isn’t ready for a female president. Her comment, though disappointing, is not wholly unexpected due to patronage and factions within the ANC.  Sisonke Msimang penned an opinion piece on Motshekga’s comments. In her piece she also makes reference to internal structures and the different camps within the ANC. She is of the belief that the ANCWL made the right choice by backing President Zuma.  In her article in the Daily Maverick, she says,

Women’s League made the right call and that the organisation continues to carefully balance internal party politics with its mandate of promoting gender equality in wider society.”

This raises interesting questions about the position of women in the organisation and whether the supposed influence and leadership of the women’s league is just for show.

Social security for ‘the vulnerable groups’

One of the major issues for the poor and the marginalised (often black women and youth in South Africa) has been the issue of social security. Black women (often grandmothers) are the greatest beneficiaries to the social grant system which government seeks to improve and the ANC has used this as an example of their success of addressing poverty and in meeting the needs of the vulnerable.

Is this a sufficient measure of ensuring that those who depend on social grants can escape the cycle of poverty in light of the burgeoning middle class whose taxes support the livelihood of the poor? This is not to suggest that there’s anything wrong with being a welfare state as redress needs to happen, but if it is happening in a climate where the only way to support poor people is by offering them grants rather than improving the quality of education, then the ANC is failing.

Teen pregnancy is an issue that should concern the ANC. The alarmist response to this issue is one we need to pay close attention to as it both a gendered and classist issue. The ANC’s response has been giving schools carte blanche over the decisions of whether the girls should be allowed to stay in schools. These issues tend to be mired by conservative debate about whether a social grant is encouraging young girls to get pregnant. This is a gendered issue that has been handed over to Minister Angie Motsekga’s office. She we be worried?

Is there hope?

Although there are some strong female leaders within the ANC, it seems like for the most part women within the ANC are quiet and men take the lead and set the agenda for both the ANC and the country at large. It is worrying that the Women’s league chooses not to harness their power to promote a female candidate, after 100 years it really is unfathomable that a woman has never been elected to lead the organization.

It seems that party politics and the aftermath of Mangaung mean that the ANC is more concerned with internal politics and staying afloat while gearing up for the elections next year rather than shifting the discourse in the party for a change of leadership, particularly a woman as a the leader of the ANC.

EDITORS NOTE: At the time of publishing this piece the ANC Women’s League Website appeared to be down. 

* The idea has been revisited by Melissa Harris-Perry in her book Sister-Citizen: shame, stereotype and Black women in America

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Athambile Masola
CULTURE, GENDER POLITICS

Becoming a woman in my black skin

Athambile Masola
Athambile Masola

By Athambile Masola

Athambile reflects upon the resistence amongst African-American women in the 1800s and how this influences the struggles of black women today.
I’ve been reading a book by Paula Giddings, Where and When I enter: the impact of Blackwomen on race and sex in America. Reading a book about the history of African-American women led me to consider my own narrative of what it has meant becoming a woman at a time when people are rushing towards a post racist society as though history had no bearing on our present.
I first encountered the narrative of resistance amongst African-American women when I read Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a woman”. It’s a stirring piece from a speech she made in 1851. It was the first evidence I saw that slaves in America didn’t accept their fate at the hands of slave owners. They resisted. Understanding the resistance of black women through a slave narrative has widened my perspective on the importance of being a woman and I how I make the rights I have a real life experience. Once upon a time women were at the bottom of the food chain where they were mere objects that could be bought and sold. The children they bore were not their own but they became part of a system where they were sold before they were even born. The assault on women’s bodies has a history beyond what we see in the form of rape and domestic violence today.
When I read about the resistance of black women in Africa, especially South Africa I was moved when I realised that once upon a time black women in South Africa had the status of minors. Their movements and inheritance were dependent upon the sons and male relatives they had in their lives. Prioritising the education of black women has a brief history in relation to how white women were protected and often benefited from systems that oppressed black women.
Knowing what I know about black women who have challenged the limitations placed on them because of their class, gender and race I realise I am not a renegade, I just happen to have read and met other black women who are comfortable in their own skin and know that I can live my life as though I were dancing to the rhythm of my own music. Beyond my home of many mothers (my mother, my aunts and grandmother) who were working class women, loud, big, crass but economically oppressed in a system of apartheid, it wasn’t until high school that I began to realise that there’s another narrative for being black and female in the world. When I started high school I encountered a group of senior girls who set the standard for what it meant to be a “cool black girl”. They oozed confidence and set the standard for what it meant to be a black girl at a time where Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera became popular or black women who resembled the petite femininity we saw on TV that did not reflect what we saw in the mirror.
The senior girls in my school were not the prototype. They were opinionated, smart (they cared about not only passing academically but forming an opinion about what mattered), they laughed out loud, very loud and didn’t listen when teachers told them they were being loud they didn’t toe the line. They were big girls, tall and they had presence when they walked around the school (I didn’t think of them as bullies, except for maybe Soso who had a stinging sense of humour). I moved aside for them in the passage not out of fear because they were seniors but mostly out of awe. And when they spoke to me as though I mattered I became a star-struck junior. They also had wonderful names that were distinct: Navabe (who was many years ahead of me but became infamous for starting a trend of wearing her socks differently and her girdle on her hips much to the teachers’ chagrin) Zoya, Vangile, Ghana (who had the most eccentric dress sense I’d ever seen), Duda (this was actually her surname), Thulani and many others who gave me a different representation of what it means to be black and female in the new South Africa. They were often in trouble for sneaking out of the hostel and drinking when they should have been. They dared to break the rules.
Zoya had dreadlocks even though the school had colonial rules about how we were supposed to wear our hair. They became my example of what it means not to be the norm and to be comfortable in that category. They were nobody’s darlings. I think about them when I read about the resistance of black women in South Africa and African-American women in America and realise that a different resistance took place in my high school. The representation of black female bodies has always been under siege but I am lucky to live in a time where this is being challenged. It’s okay to be loud, opinionated or not. It’s okay to consider being a wife or not. It’s okay to be who I want to be on what I think of as my terms. And when I think about this reality I am drawn to Anne Julia Cooper‘s words: “Only a black woman can say ‘where and when I enter in the quiet undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without suing or special patronage, then and there the whole…race enters with me”. She said these words in 1892 when black women in America for fighting for equal rights and ending slavery. These words remind me of the importance of what it means being a black women and the gains that have been made and are yet to be made. Liberating women, in this case black women who are still oppressed, is not about eliminating anyone else. It’s about liberating the human race from sexist, racist, classist ideas that are dangerous for now and future generations. When we consider the history of black women, it’s not enough to consider it through one lens but multiple eyes and consider the complexity of gender, race, sexual orientation and class and recognise the privileges I have: the privilege of being comfortable in my own skin.