Dr Hersheela Narsee presented a paper in Pietermaritizburg on 30 August 2016 as part of the Department of Arts and Culture event in celebration of Women’s month.
She spoke about the resurgence of women’s activism and cited examples of the recent University students’ call for # Patriarchy Must fall. She said that this was an indication that South African women were no longer prepared to remain silent about the rape culture plaguing Universities and the entire South African society. Women are mobilised to attend rape trials, speak out against rape and to visit and encourage victims to report and not shy away from court action.
The second example was when young school girls from a Pretoria High School recently demonstrated against racism and asserted their cultural rights in respect of their hair.
Turning to the history of women’s struggle in SA, she recalled the countless South African women who risked and sacrificed their lives in the fight against apartheid. They fought for a “free, non-racial non-sexist and democratic country….(and) made a huge contribution to our lives and continue to inspire us as we work towards building a better life for all.” said Narsee. Observing that women mounted campaigns “against issues that formed the basis of their oppression” She recalled the many demonstrations mounted against the pass laws from as early as 1913. Narsee highlighted the minority status of women under apartheid laws which resulted in them being under a guardian’s control effectively resulting in not being able to enter into contracts, own immovable property, sue or be sued or even act as guardians of their children. Narsee concluded that this in effect was “designed to ensure a largely docile, subservient reserve army of labour to be brought into capitalist production when it is needed, discarded when not.”
In 1954 the non-racial Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW) was launched and the women’s charter was adopted. While these women challenged the traditional role of women as being in the home, Narsee observed that “some academics argue that in spite of the historic struggles of women, specifically gender questions have not had the salience and rage that seem to be reserved for race issues.”
She emphasised, “As wives and mothers it falls upon us to make small wages stretch a long way. It is we who feel the cries of our children when they are hungry and sick. We know the burden of looking after children and land when our husbands are away in the mines, on the farms, and in the towns earning our daily bread. We know what it is to keep family life going in pondokkies and shanties We know the bitterness of children taken to lawless ways, of daughters becoming unmarried mothers whilst still at school, Poor and Rich are evils that need not exist.. They exist because there are privileges for the few, discrimination and harsh treatment for the many.”
Natal Organisation of Women
During the turbulent period of the 70’s and 80’s the Durban Women’s Group was formed and it evolved into Natal Organisation of Women. They decided to observe National Women’s Day but the 1st event was banned and so the members converted it to a photographic exhibition amid the unwelcome intrusion of security forces. NOW was formally launched in 1982 with Phumzile Mlambo (now heading UN Women’s desk) as the first chairperson followed by Victoria Mxenge when Mlambo went into exile and the last chairperson was Nozizwe Madlala Routledge after Mxenge was brutally murdered by the security forces of SA.
Thousands of women from branches all over Natal joined NOW. In 1983 it became part of the United Democratic Front. While seeking to empower women and prepare them to step into leadership roles, NOW also engaged in the numerous campaigns of the people against the tricameral and homeland systems and the many socio economic problems faced by the people.
With the declaration of the State of Emergency in 1986 and the mass detentions and restrictions on the UDF, NOW activists found themselves filling the leadership vacuum in Natal. They spearheaded a number of UDF campaigns such as interventions when the UDF/Inkatha violence broke out and took care of the victims. NOW disbanded in 1990 with most members joining the ANC Women’s League.
But the work done by women resulted in the many rights of women being included in the constitution. Narsee concluded, “As long as women are bound by poverty and as long as they are looked down upon, human rights will lack substance. As long as outmoded ways of thinking prevent women from making a meaningful contribution to society, progress will be slow. As long as the nation refuses to acknowledge the equal role of more than half of itself, it is doomed to failure”
After 2014 general elections,
women occupy 43% Cabinet posts,
46% Deputy Minister Positions,
41% of parliamentary seats.
SA has largest antiretroviral (ARV) programme in the world, with 3 million people on ARVs Significant reduction in mother to child transmission.
Vaccine campaign against cervical cancer targets girl-children aged between nine and 12 years old and aims to vaccinate an estimated 500 000 girls in 17 000 schools.
A campaign to provide free sanitary pads for girls
30% of all judges are women
National Maintenance Campaign was implemented by Government
Ukuthwala is now a criminal offence
42% of households in SA are headed by women
Women still own only 1% of the land in South Africa
Women receive 7% of the agricultural extension services and less than 10% of the credit offered to small-scale farmers
Women and girls make up 56% of the HIV/AIDS population, which is nearly 3.5 million. Women remain severely under-represented in degree programmes for engineering, physics and computer science.
An estimated one in six South African women is being abused by their male partner.
The predominance of the system of patriarchy across Africa has meant that women are still perceived of and treated as subordinate to men;
Intimate partner violence accounts for 40% to 70% of female murder victims .
Over one third of women in KwaZulu-Natal have experienced some form of violence.
In 1999 the Judiciary established the Sexual Offences and Community Affairs (SOCA) Unit and the Sexual Offences Courts were created to address sexual offences cases.