This article looks at the transition process in South Africa in the early 1990s with a specific focus on the role of COSATU women activists and their involvement in the Women's National Coalition (WNC). I submit that COSATU women's participation in this structure was critical and influential to the gendered outcomes of the South African transition. The article demonstrates that COSATU women's history of struggle for gender equality within the labour movement throughout the apartheid era was fundamental to how they participated in the WNC and the issues they represented within this structure.
Contrary to views held by some feminist writers on the South African transition, this article shows that gender activism and feminist-oriented demands did not necessarily emerge as significant in the early 1990s. Throughout the 1980s, there were vibrant gender demands in the trade unions, though not necessarily framed in conventional feminist terms. Women workers' interests and demands during the transition period were informed by their lived experiences of gender discrimination in the workplace and within the labour movement. COSATU women's representation in the WNC, and their struggles within this structure for their voices to be heard as a working class formation, challenges the perception that the WNC and the gendered outcomes of the South African transition was a process mainly influenced by the 'elite'.