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C h a p t e r 7 Shades of Dignity: Equality and Nondiscrimination The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread. —Anatole France, Le Lys Rouge, 1849 The position of women will not be improved as long as the underlying causes of discrimination against women, and of their inequality, are not effectively addressed. The lives of women and men must be considered in a contextual way, and measures adopted towards a real transformation of opportunities, institutions and systems so that they are no longer grounded in historically determined male paradigms of power and life patterns. —UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, 2004 I met Nomkhosi’s mother, Zondi, in 2013, in an impoverished, semirural area of KwaZulu-Natal province in South Africa. KwaZulu-Natal is the birthplace of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and Zondi lived not far from some of the battles and massacres that had taken place in the early 1990s between the IFP and African National Congress (ANC) members. Political violence in the region, referred to as the “unofficial war” between the IFP and ANC, killed an estimated 20,000 people between the mid-1980s and the late 1990s. The violence had a drastic impact on the everyday lives of the people living in KwaZulu-Natal and is a reality often overlooked in the sometimes overly Shades of Dignity 181 plasticized versions of South Africa’s peaceful transition from apartheid to democracy.1 Zondi was sixty-two when I interviewed her; she supplemented her pension by selling sweets and chips at a local school. When I came to interview her at her house, we met her along the way. She moved slowly and deliberately on the hilly, unpaved road, her heavy body showing some of the toll that her difficult life had taken. Her daughter, Nomkhosi, had died a senseless death caused by childbirth complications. Seven years after Nomkhosi’s death, Zondi’s husband had been gruesomely murdered—his body mutilated and parts removed in what the family believed to be a ritual muti killing, not uncommon in certain parts of rural South Africa.2 Zondi was left to raise her granddaughter alone, in addition to caring for other children. There was no accountability for her husband’s murder or even the slightest official acknowledgment of the senselessness of her daughter’s death. In a life lived largely under apartheid, however, Zondi seemed well-accustomed to impunity. Nomkhosi had appeared to be healthy at birth; she started to crawl at a normal age and was beginning to walk at close to a year. But the muscles in one of her legs did not function properly, making that leg drag behind her when she walked and preventing her from running normally. When she was a toddler, her parents sent her to a government hospital for six months, and she returned with special shoes and crutches that allowed her to get around. But there was no improvement in the underlying condition, and her parents were never given a formal diagnosis. Despite her disability, Nomkhosi was by all accounts very active. She cooked and did the washing and, according to Zondi, was the most helpful of her children in doing household chores. Nomkhosi’s disability resulted in her getting little education. Because Zondi and her husband were worried about Nomkhosi navigating along the hilly dirt roads and through the traffic to get to the school, she started her studies only as a teenager and she got only three and a half years of schooling . School cannot have been easy for Nomkhosi, physically or emotionally. Starting so late had placed her at an enormous disadvantage. And, by all accounts, the other kids at school teased and bullied her relentlessly because of her disability and comparatively older age. Her mother said she was able to protect herself when the other kids physically tormented her, but no doubt the daily dose of cruelty took an emotional toll. Yet when Nomkhosi became pregnant, the decision to drop out was not her own. In South Africa, it was not official policy that pregnant girls could 182 Applying Human Rights Frameworks to Health not attend school, as it is in many neighboring African countries.3 However, Nomkhosi’s parents, like many others, stopped her from going to school, fearing stigma and further marginalization. Zondi didn’t know, or didn’t want to say...


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