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  • Does South Africa attend to issues which affect women the most? A reflection1
  • Thenjiwe Meyiwa (bio)

In this reflection I pose this question and thus reiterate a concern that has been raised by different scholars writing on gender and social justice. This question has been posed from a variety of angles to list a few: by scholars writing on HIV and AIDS (Mswela 2009, Muthree and Maharaj 2010), women’s inability to enforce the use of condoms (Boonzaier and de la Rey 2003, Mash et al 2010), and intimate partner violence (Fox 2007, Norman 2010). Despite highlighting these concerns, there are a number of human rights gains that South Africa and the world at large can list with regard to the emancipation of women. A significant decade for women was the 1980s and the policies that emanated from the Beijing conference. Resulting from this landmark conference, numerous discussions and a number of programmes aimed at improving women’s lives have been spearheaded by the UN and some sovereign countries, including South Africa. Invariably, a call for the recognition of women as equal citizens is made by Hassim, Metelerkamp and Todes (1987), Bennettt (1993) and Meintjes (1996). Concerned about issues that affect women the most, these subjects are insistently probed by these authors both as social and institutional issues and at an individual level. Whilst on one hand, as a social and institutional issue, it is at the level of the political struggle, education, government and labour, on the other hand it is at an individual level too, and relates to various kinds of violence and abuse that women face. On the whole, the interest of these authors is in the practicalities of designing and facilitating structures or organisational interventions that accord unyielding respect for women. [End Page 116]

In the article ‘“A bit on the side?”: Gender struggles in the politics of transformation in South Africa’, Hassim, Metelerkamp and Todes (1987:4) question the disappearance of women’s struggle under national struggles. They call for a middle ground, arguing that women’s demands will neither be solely met within a strong radical women’s movement nor within an all-encompassing organisation that is blind to the politics of gender. It is to this end that these authors say the context in which women’s struggles occur is not only important but that issues that differentially affect men and women need to be articulated by people that experience them directly. Hence, prior to discussing any policy formulation, both genders should be involved as ‘gender struggles are important in determining the nature and implementation of policy’ (1987:6). For Hassim, Metelerkamp and Todes women continue to be treated as less important and so are their struggles. This realisation brings them to the conclusion that women’s status will only be fully recognised when there is acknowledgement that varied facets of women’s struggles exist at international, national, and personal levels. Further, this paper draws attention to the manner in which women have contributed towards bringing about peace during various conflicts in their communities. It notes that although ‘women lacked the confidence and the skills to address large gatherings’ (1987:14), they engaged best in peace mediating processes, equally bearing their wifehood, motherhood and other identities – a contribution that has not been given much prominence and yet an area that has been defined by some scholars (for example Moore 1994, Mama 1997, Ortner 1997 and Hassim 2005) as a significant issue that affects women the most.

In similar vein, from a legal point of view, Tom Bennettt (1993), through a discussion on human rights and the African traditional culture ponders on the debates that have been advanced in support of both communal or individual rights, and their value for gender equality. His discussion on the subject begins by questioning the relegation of women’s rights and matters of significance to women whilst loyalty to cultural common interests is propounded. Cultural relativism is found by Bennettt as an excuse for failing to advance and be accountable for gender equality. Employing an array of sources, he argues that the African cultural tradition has been defined as a linear, homogenous phenomenon that had always had...


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pp. 116-121
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