Agenda feminist journal, started in 1986 and now in its 25th year, is launching two issues which speak to firstly, the contexts of contemporary feminist struggles against gender oppression and gender inequality, and secondly, the complexities and conditions of women’s marginalisation in the rural context.

The two issues include research and scholarly articles by over 20 writers that speak to the critical understanding of gender inequality in the post-apartheid democratic project of South Africa. Agenda journal, a Durban-based publishing initiative by  gender activists and feminist scholars, recognises the role of knowledge production and women’s critical capacity to research, speak, debate, question, and write about their problems and to challenge women’s oppression and gender inequalities.

Men mobilise with women to stop the further erosion of women’s rights

Deevia Bhana and Shirley Sommers, guest editors of the Agenda issue “Feminisms today”, write that in spite of the commitment to gender equality by the State and in the Constitution, women in South Africa confront a contracting and increasingly hostile public sphere and women’s inequality is often enmeshed in an uncritical acceptance of patriarchy. In an interview in the issue Bhana speaks to Mbuyiselo Botha, Senior Programme Advisor at Sonke Gender Justice Network about the obstacles to overcoming social prejudice against women and why a group of men see it as imperative to work to change the pervasive attitudes on gender violence that have made the lives of South African women among the most unsafe in the world. Botha believes that men must question the unjust use of power and that sexual and other forms of gender violence cannot be condoned, particularly when men in positions of leadership are concerned.

The national project of achieving gender equality through the creation of gender machinery has become characterised by a ‘top down’ approach to power which has removed the potential for transformation out of many women’s reach. Women’s organisations and oppositional feminist voices that may be critical of government in seeking to improve their own conditions are on their own and often out in the cold.  Amanda Gouws, writing in the issue, recalls the struggles prior to 1994 achievement of democracy by women to ensure women were not only on the agenda but often in the forefront for a future non-sexist non-racist democratic project that served all citizens, especially black women whose previous disenfranchisement was in the foreground. She argues for the government created ‘gender machinery’ established to
to build the conditions of gender equality in the Constitution, to respect the feminist goals of openness, accountability and receptivity so that gender equality can become meaningful for all women and not just a few who are positioned in power.

Feminist research and writing in this issue highlights the experience of feminism in another Africa country, Senegal, the critical need to identify women’s particular priorities in the Climate Change negotiations at local and national and international levels. Writers speak to the crisis posed by unwarranted violence against women in the context of sexual identity. Criminal violence against black lesbian women in townships must be condemned. The right to chose sexual preference is enshrined in the Constitution and the intolerance and violence must be stopped.

Also featured in the issue is new research on how constructs of black masculinity and identity by school-going youth in Wentworth can lead to a questioning of sexism, how teenage pregnancy can be understood from girls’ perspective and why women’s sexuality in the age of HIV/AIDS is critical to understanding the context of HIV/AIDS prevention for women who are more vulnerable than men to infection.

Agenda puts the rural condition under the spotlight

Guest editors Relebohile Moletsane and Sithabile Ntombela write that in this issue of Agenda “Gender and rurality” they attempt to contribute to feminist and gender scholarship on the different understandings of the complex interactions of socio-cultural factors in the lives of women and girls in rural contexts. They point out that rurality, even though it is central to development and poverty alleviation, is not always understood as gendered. How the experience of rural women is shaped by gender-specific and particular obstacles and inequalities is neglected even though  rural women constitute amongst the poorest in society and lead lives that are most often characterised by lack of infrastructure, services and amenities such as water and electricity.

The first set of contributions take up how families, schools and communities socialise children and youth in terms of gender role expectations and how gender is constructed in unequal ways. Research focuses on a primary school context and the gender construction of rural youth and their experience of gender inequities in a community in KwaZulu-Natal.

The second set of research in the issue seeks to examine some of the negative impacts of socialisation. Important dimensions of the under-researched rural context spotlight the quantification and analysis of rural household poverty and the different levels of wellbeing experienced by men and women, a review of the Amnesty International report on the extent of HIV and AIDS and human rights abuses in rural communities where women experience more abuse than their male counterparts, and research on the intergenerational experiences of rural women in childbirth and rearing.

The third set of writings in the journal contribute to debate on possibilities for developing and implementing interventions and approaches that might address the challenges presented in the gendered human condition in rural contexts. These include a collaborative research project that used arts-based approach in a rural schooling context to transform gender regimes in schools among learners. The livelihood strategies of rural women come under the spotlight to reflect the relative farm and non-farm asset poverty of women relative to men. Numerically there are more women farmers than men and policy interventions are called for to transition rural women-headed households to secure and sustainable livelihoods. Further research on rural farming livelihoods present a strong argument for the engendering of technology and programmes that meet “the requirements, roles and responsibilities of rural women”.

Researchers in the issue repeat the argument that women need to be at the centre of programmes that seek to empower them, reporting on a farming intervention that was designed to benefit rural women but which instead failed to deliver on its promise leaving them as poor as before. Finally the conflict of rural custom and law with gender equality is discussed in the context of succession to position of chief. The case involving Shilubana & Others vs Nwamitwa (2009) was heard in the Constitutional Court has implications for women’s equality in all aspects of society, particularly women’s leadership. The Constitutional Court did not accept the rule that a male heir may automatically succeed in the place of an eligible older woman who stands in line to succeed as chief and has broken new ground for women’s equal rights with men under customary law.