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.


Sign on NOW to support sexual orientation and gender identity rights

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

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

At the Human Rights Council in Geneva

Now/This week

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

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

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

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

Updates will be posted there and discussion and analysis will be underway for this week and
into the next.

COLLECTIVE letter TO minister DIRCO sogie SEPT 2014


Gender Justice Uncovered Awards: Vote Now!

The Gender Justice Uncovered Awards were created by the international organization Women’s Link Worldwide because in all countries, regardless of their political system or religious beliefs and traditions, what judges and courts say have a tremendous influence on the sense of justice and in the day to day lives of people.

Your vote in the GENDER JUSTICE UNCOVERED AWARDS can make the difference.


By voting, you send a message that the human rights of women and girls around the world must be respected.

Go to our web site and get to know the cases.

Vote for a case that you think should win the GAVEL award because it advanced equality and improved the lives of women and girls.


You can also vote against sexist decisions. Choose a case that you think should receive the BLUDGEON award for failing to respect human rights.

Vote for as many cases as you want. You can vote once a day for each case.

Share your vote on Facebook and Twitter and let us know your opinions about the nominations. Remember to use #JusticeGenderAwards.

First Seen on the AWID website here