GENDER POLITICS, Uncategorized

Women’s worth is not in their reproduction – a response to Jay Naidoo

By Jen Thorpe

Jay Naidoo’s recent article I thought I was a feminist – until I heard their stories’ requires a response.

Whilst Naidoo’s article starts out with considered space being given to the stories of the women who shared accounts of their abuse, and is positive in its reflections on what men can do to support women, there is one paragraph in particular that gets under my feminist skin. I’ll unpack it.

August – Month of No Violence Against Women, a government-inspired programme, is a shocking indictment when those in power continue to abuse the trust of women with impunity. I am tired of platitudes. We need every day to be a day of respecting women.”

I am tired of platitudes too. We do need every day to be a day of respecting women.

August, aka ‘women’s month’ makes most South African feminists want to puke. It’s characterised by random events hosted by the Department of Women – a Department that has, since inception, rarely been able to meet its own targets to improve women’s lives, regularly spends irregularly, and is, in my humble opinion, a significant obstacle to gender equality within government programmes and departments.

Departments spend women’s month lauding their own excellence and launching reports, when what they should be doing is sitting down with treasury and allocating some money to implementing services for women. Those in government, we have seen time and time again, continue to abuse women, never mind their trust, with impunity. 

Whilst it’s clear from the general gist of his article that Naidoo is trying to give women the respect that he mentions in the previous sentence, I would like to challenge him on his explanation for the need for this respect.

Women are sacred.

I like the language of ‘women have human rights’ better, but that’s probably just personal preference. It’s the next bit that is problematic.

They give us life.

 Could this be the modern usage of the term, like I’ve seen the young feminists say ‘Zadie Smith gives me life?’ Perhaps. In which case, I agree. Women give me life too. Every damn day. But, the next sentence makes me think this statement is a bit more literal than this.

Where would we be as a human species if women disappeared? Extinct! It is our mothers who carry our children, who give birth to new life, who breastfeed our children and who nurture and raise our children.

 This might be biologically accurate (until scientists grow us in labs), but it is so politically problematic.

Women do perform these tasks, and they are hard and worthy of acknowledgement. But what if, perhaps, we thought about challenging the narrative that this is the only reason that women have value?

Women are not the sum of their reproductive abilities, and they are not just there to raise the kids while the men do all the ‘real work’. This passage also ignores the men who nurture and raise children, and who were part of the reproductive process too.

In addition, it’s clear that we as a society don’t really value these reproductive traits anyway. Whilst we do have maternity leave, it’s not compulsory for the employer to pay a woman during this time. Many mothers are at home on maternity leave stressing about raising human life and about whether they can afford to eat or pay the bills or have the health checks they need post pregnancy to ensure they are healthy.

We don’t have legislated paternity leave, which tells women that not only don’t we value their labour equally to men, but we want them to raise the children all on their own because it is their sacred job and men have real work to do.

This narrative is not helpful. It is harmful and it reinforces an unequal burden of care, and the undervaluing of women’s work and of the many roles that women play in society outside of motherhood. It’s not feminist. Not even a little.

Unfortunately, the rest of the paragraph also lets us down in many ways.

Women are the heart, the love, compassion, generosity and peace that we want in the world.

There are many women I know that are as nice as this makes us sound. But, there is also a problem with socialising and endorsing women as ‘nice’.

First, it means women are afraid to speak up during abusive situations, like those Naidoo describes, because they don’t want to be seen as ‘not nice’. This narrative of women’s niceness is especially harmful for young women, who are told to say yes and be polite and never to say no. Not to unwelcome hugs and kisses from family members. Not to their sexual partner’s advances. Not to sex. Not to harassment. Not to their teacher dismissing them.

Second, too often we teach girls to be peaceful, and kind, and nice and compassionate and those are such valuable characteristics to have in life. But we don’t teach boys the same thing. We teach them to be brave, and fierce, and determined, and never to take no for an answer. We don’t support kind boys and we don’t support fierce girls.

We teach girls to accept and boys to keep trying until they make it. Can you see how this links to a culture of violence against women?

By violating women, we as men violate ourselves.

I agree that violence involves dehumanisation both of the victim and the perpetrator. Gender inequality is bad for both men and women. If I’m reading this right, Naidoo is trying to speak to men here, and tell them that respecting women allows a healthier and more equal reality. But any essence of this potential reading is diminished by the next sentence.

And we crush our real role – of being protectors of what is sacred.

 What this sentence does to the previous one is important. It says that men violating women are doing the wrong thing, not because violating another human is wrong in and of itself, but because they aren’t sticking to their gendered responsibilities of protection.

Women as the protected, men as the protectors. A million theses written in a million gender studies courses worldwide have already dealt with the harm that this narrative causes in rendering women the weaker category of person, requiring men’s help and protection in order to live their lives.

This is patronising and sexist. If you yearn to protect then spend time talking to men about sexism and patriarchy and get them to stop being so violent. Protection doesn’t change the status quo, it maintains it.

Naidoo adds later in his piece,

We men have to learn to listen, with empathy. We have to respect sacred spaces where women can tell their stories. Just listen. Feel. Understand. Not to drown out the voices of our Mothers, Wives, Sisters and Daughters. Just shut up and change

Agree. And as someone who is not a mother, wife, sister, or daughter to Jay Naidoo, I’d like to ask, as the current president might, listen properly.

If women deserve respect, then we deserve that respect for our humanity, our abilities, and our resilience, not simply for our biology or our importance or relationship to men. We are so much more, we always have been.


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.



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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Statement signed by:

Centre for Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR)

Eastern Cape Rape Crisis

Ecumenical Service for Socio-Economic Transformation (ESSET)

Justice and Women


Sonke Gender Justice

People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA)

Project Empower

Thohoyandou Victim Empowerment Programme (TVEP)

Tswaranang Legal Advice Centre

For media inquiries, please contact:

Jabu Tugwana, POWA


Jen Thorpe

Should men contribute to FeministsSA

Jen Thorpe
Jen Thorpe

By Jen Thorpe

I’ve seen a few images lately that got me thinking about whether FeministsSA should continue to publish posts by men.

I agree that men can be committed to the values of feminism and gender equality. I agree, that they have valuable insights about the way that men can address patriarchy and inequality. What I’m not so sure about is giving them the space to do it here, on FeministsSA, when they should be doing it out there in the world where it actually has more potential to make men uncomfortable. I started thinking about this in relation to this picture.


What it made me think about was the fact that men writing about feminism on are essentially preaching to the choir. We’re all going to agree and be receptive to what they’re saying. In essence, it doesn’t disrupt. It doesn’t challenge the chauvinists that are out there on more mainstream websites.

Of course the same goes for women writers writing about feminism. But, FeministsSA was also started to make more space online for women writers to have their say, in an internet that is filled with articles written by men. If FeministsSA becomes a space that gives more space to male writers, is it living up to its aims? I’m not sure it does.

I also thought a lot about this picture.



Feminism does certainly hold that men are capable of more than rampant harassment and sexual denigration. It holds that men can and should do better, and that gender equality will be better for both men and women. The question I wonder about then is ‘If men are only trying to do better in women’s spaces, is that enough?’

I guess what I have started to become uncomfortable with is the ‘exceptional’ essence of what men on feministssa become. They become the good men that are the exceptions, right? They become the men we accept and support. But, are they also saying this stuff to other men? This is what I’m asking. I see that contributors like Gcobani Qambela, Thorne Godinho, and Kameel Premhid are also writing about these issues on other sites like Thoughtleader and News24. This is, I think, more valuable than men contributing to FeministsSA. Because it opens them up to the possibility of challenge and debate from other men – and it is other men that male feminists need to challenge most.

Part of this thinking also stemmed from the #notallmen hashtag and how common it is for men to come to feminist gatherings and feminist spaces and to continue to be the first person to put up their hands or speak the loudest. How they are desperate to assert that they are a ‘good guy’, the exception, and they just want to dominate the space to make sure we as women know how much they support us.  The bottom tweet in this last image sums it up.

notallmen 2

It got me thinking about whether these good guys, and I really do believe that they are good, are also having the difficult discussions in other public spaces about what it means to be a good guy. And whether, by giving male feminists, the good guys, a space on FeministsSA means that they don’t have to do that.

I’m not decided. And so for this week I’d like you to tweet back to FeministsSA using the hashtag #feministssamen and let me know what you think. You can also comment on the blog, or post on the Facebook Page (see the link on the right of the page). Let’s discuss this. Or, vote in the poll at the bottom of the page. And that means you too men.

feminism vs misandry





Daniel Sincuba

Billboards and chit chat won’t stop street harassment


Daniel Sincuba
Daniel Sincuba

By Daniel Sincuba

In 2014, street harassment remains (along with other outlets for patriarchy) a social problem globally. It remains largely under-dealt with and under-publicised. Sexual prejudice and oppression are still a thing as patriarchy is force fed down our throats. This is a serious vigil in the face of the age of information and other liberations.

It transpires that there is next to nothing being done about ending street harassment in South Africa. Recently, I was in a conversation about the idea that billboards instructing men on appropriate and inappropriate behaviour would help. I argued that while it was good thinking, the reaction has to be in scale with the offence, which is as big as we know it to be but bigger than what our reaction to it would suggest. Let me explain.

Whenever I speak to people about poverty or corruption or racism I say that you can’t simply erase a problem by looking at the surface of it. One needs to look after the cause and the cause of the cause and the cause of that and then positive results will look after themselves. Usually it is right to say that the problem is a by-product of society, not a gross departure from it. Therefore it is elements in society and social conventions/systems that need changing.

In this case, one cannot simply say “stop touching peoples’ butts on the street!” and expect anything to happen. Our nemeses are mindset, history, compliance, conventions etc. I think that a billboard or an advert or a discussion among innocent people is largely an exercise in futility. You can never get the message across in that space/time to someone who still has the wrong attitude in 2014. I think you need more time and intimacy.

We often say, as black South Africans, that colonialism/white supremacy/apartheid etc acted against the interests of people of colour for about 350 years and that we can’t expect that 20 years of freedom (and I use that term very, very loosely) will reverse all of that. So how can silence, conversation or an advert remove an outlet of patriarchy?

To be clear, I don’t have an issue with the idea of billboards, but I don’t think they’d be that effective, especially with something so deep rooted. I just think it takes way more. It appears to me as a case where teaching is needed as the people have been told, or the why of the what. How many people are likely to pass a billboard or a street ad and exclaim in shock: “Oh my God, a billboard, now I can change my attitude towards women. This was all I needed?”

Also, people have to buy into it first. People buy into patriarchy because they were walked into it by convention and a social system that is blatantly patriarchal. So without the appropriate respect for women, a billboard advertising something with the use of female sexuality is acceptable. Or when you have no respect for a TV show, a billboard about it holds no interest to you. Also, it’s easy and comfy on our selfishness. We weren’t told: “OK, it’s time to be patriarchal,” we were trained and continue to be trained on a daily (hourly even?) basis. That is what has to happen in reverse to reverse the curse.

In any case, are we not undermining the intelligence of the people by assuming that they don’t know that it’s wrong to harass other humans? Are we saying that they have had no way of telling that the ‘harassees’ have misgivings about their actions? It would seem to me that this is case of arrogance, conformism, laziness, cowardice, opportunism, being normal and stupidity. Not ignorance.

Furthermore, we are currently being afforded the opportunity to look away from our weakness. We don’t have to confront the current level of noise on patriarchy because it just isn’t forceful. Even if one finds him/herself engaged in a conversation it is easy to wait a few days to convince yourself that it never happened or that it was just one person’s opinion. It is also the natural reaction to get defensive and feel hard done by when your stupidity is confronted, as I did in my conversation. You scapegoat feminism in the heat of trying to remove yourself from the blame.

In the aforementioned conversation (which led me to writing this,) I suggested that the troops over at were on the right track. They hold talks to teach people about street harassment. The other person in the conversation said that harassers who are poorer (street vendors, builders, domestic workers etc) would not have access to these talks. But what if we don’t go to them as vendors but as residents of their communities at the community school/hall? Or if we go to them while they are school kids or if teachers do it once or twice a week. Not just on street harassment but sexual respect and equality and more.

There are free workshops to teach people how to run businesses, free tertiary education, free religious services and workshops, free sport workshops and more. Do we not have the time or will for the safety and respect of humans?

In any event, I think the real question is the following: why is it that most of us (including yours truly) are only talking about this and speculating instead of doing things to cull the flow of bullshit?