South Africa’s news and information leader, SAFM Radio, casts a spotlight on the second feminist dialogue. Listen to the full interview here.

FEMINIST DIALOGUE SERIES 2012

Report on Agenda Feminist Dialogue 2

The aim of the Agenda Feminist Media (AFM) Feminist Dialogues is to provide a space for the sharing of information in order that the every day experiences and challenges of women’s organisations inform feminist research, the outcomes of which can, in turn, feed back into the practice of these organisations. The sharing of knowledge and of daily experiences during the dialogues facilitates the process of naming the problem/challenge, understanding successes and failures, and exploring avenues/strategies to tackle obstacles to gender equality. Outcomes of the dialogues inform the work of the Agenda journal in terms of theme selection.

This dialogue, held on 31 March 2012 at SICA Guesthouse, Durban, explored the issue of what challenges, opportunities and strategies for actively advocating for gender equality in our 18 year-old democracy in South Africa exist. How are organisations organising, and how are they engaging with issues of concern? There are different forms of activism in different sectors, and the AFM dialogues play a role in supporting women to share this information with each other.

The dialogue followed the following process:

Nothile Ngwane from the Domestic Violence Assistance Programme, (an example of an organisation actively involved in advancing women’s rights in the context of gender violence), described their work and the nature of the challenges that they face in advancing the protection of women from domestic abuse and other gender based violence.

Zanele Ludidi, from the KZN Legislature Portfolio Committee on Women and Youth – Women’s Multiparty Caucus outlined the origins of the caucus and discussed the ways in which it could work with organisations of civil society to promote the rights of women.

Sanja Bornman, from the Women’s Legal Centre, Cape Town, explained how the Centre is actively involved in litigation and advocacy for the rights of women as entrenched in South African legislation and in the Constitution

Janine Hicks, Chair of the Agenda AFM Board, chairing the session, summarised the important points emerging from the session. The three organisations spoke about their work in a particular context in South Africa defined by:

• A conservative and patriarchal environment as evidenced by attitudes on the part of customary leaders, religious leaders, officers in the courts, officers in government structures
• Inadequate state responses and service delivery, where civil society organisations then step in
• Unequal power relationships in the social fabric
• Gaps in the use of technology
• Poor representation of women in leadership positions
• Groups of men who feel threatened when women do organise together

Given these forces that are operating in our environment, women’s organisations have chosen multiple strategies to challenge discrimination:

• Legal interventions to ensure that women have access to their rights
• The provision of a cluster of services to women – whether legal, counseling, health, general support
• Using advocacy to call officials to account
• Training and building women’s capacity
• Engaging with a broad range of stakeholders – traditional and religious leaders, Chapter 9 institutions, and with positive forces and actors within government
• Creating support networks and safe places where women can share their experiences
• Awareness raising and education so that women become more aware of their rights and recognise discrimination
• Monitoring state performance
• Using tools like quotas to push for increased women’s representation

Common challenges remain,

• Shortage of resources both in terms of capacity and finances
• The demand is greater than the scope of our work
• Resistance in our communities and our political parties
• The backlash of conservatism
• Much of our work hinges on the energies and commitment of individual women (champions) and is not well systematised

 

Important lessons and insights arising from the presentations and discussions thus far have included:

• The powerful insight of recognising the struggles that women face in different spaces, whether they are operating in the government/political sector, or in the civil society sector, and respecting the contributions that fellow women are making
• The power of leadership, and the value of champions
• The value of linkages, support networks and collaboration to map out routes to channel instances of discrimination
• The importance of using Chapter 9 institutions to leverage changes.

The launch of the Agenda journal’s latest edition – Teenage Fertility and Desire – took place during the dialogue before the lunch break. Asha Moodley, from chair, introduced the guest editor of the journal, Nolwazi Mkhwanazi and one of the contributors to the issue, Erin Stern. She explained how privileged Agenda is to work with guest editors, given their expertise in their field of specialisation, and their contact with a broad spectrum of writers and researchers.

Nolwazi spoke to the theme of the journal, and pointed out its importance in the South African context where there is concern about the youth as regards sexuality, drug abuse and violence. The lives of young people are complex, and under researched. What we do know is usually tainted, and little focus has been placed on what the desires and aspirations of groups of young people actually are. The contributions in Teenage Fertility and Desire address these issues – whether via articles, photo essays, poems or interviews. Themes on breast reduction surgery, teenage fertility and pregnancy, the aspirations of teenage mothers returning to school are explored. The outcomes often vary widely from commonly held stereotypes, and acknowledge young women’s agency in making their own responsible decisions.

In the afternoon, Lubna Nadvi, Sbongile Nhlapho and Sizane Ngubane as representatives from the KZN Social Movements Indaba, the Progressive Women’s Movement and the Rural Women’s Movement respectively formed a panel for discussions around the role and strategies of social movements in contemporary South Africa. The panel discussion was chaired by Lee Stone (Agenda Board).

Discussion after the presentations focused on five themes.

The need to be vigilant about processes around the Traditional Courts Bill: Rural development has become locked in by the conservative and patriarchal positions of traditional leaders, and the power that they wield in their areas. The proposed Traditional Courts Bill is firmly located within patriarchal tradition, and will take us backwards in terms of women’s rights. The public hearing process is being organised by the Department of Cooperative and Traditional Affairs who fully supports the Bill as it stands, thus calling for more vigilance. We need to engage both nationally and provincially through a series of submissions, as the RWM is doing. Yet advocacy against this Bill should be broader. There is a provision in the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act that says that all decisions taken by traditional leaders are unchallengeable. Strategically if we want our challenge to the Bill to be successful, then we need to take cognizance of loopholes in other pieces of legislation as well. This includes those pieces of legislation that still contain remnants of Apartheid legislation. We need to pose the general question of “where are we going with our policies?”

Gender challenges within social movements: Not all social movements take the voices of women seriously. Lip service is paid to empowering women, yet when it comes to decision making and policies moving forward, there is not full participation. This might be partially due to some reluctance on the part of some women to come to the forefront; women not wanting to “outshine their men”; women not being familiar with legal and policy frameworks. This, however, does not pertain to all social movements. The RWM, for example, is women powered and members are fully vocal in their challenges to traditional conservatism

Women’s representation in political and civil society structures: What are women doing to change the gender power dynamic? How do we break the block to women’s voices? Why, for example, are issues like gender based violence and violence against women and the high levels of rape not on the agendas of social movements? How do we ensure that women set the agenda and drive the process themselves? The consensus during the discussion was that we can develop answers through intensifying efforts to train women about their rights, through intensifying efforts to link more systematically with each other on specific issues; through strengthening our collaboration with each other

Who leads the struggle?: What is the role of well resourced middle-class women in movements that concern issues faced by the rural woman, the poor woman, the young woman? During our discourse, we continue to talk about “them” and “us” – we say that “we” need to capacitate “them”, for example.

The interfacing of forms of discrimination: We should acknowledge that all forms of oppression – racist, sexist, class based – are interlinked and not view them as different struggles. Viewing oppression in this way will impact on the strategies that we choose to fight it.

Lebo Moletsane Relebohile, on behalf of the Agenda Board, concluded this Feminist Dialogue with a summary of the way forward, and with a vote of thanks to all who participated.

Dialogues are often held without producing tangible outcomes. The way forward from this dialogue includes:

1. Taking the pertinent issues raised during the dialogue into the Agenda journal and its new media programmes
2. Working on our networks so that they become professional and feminist and thus serve as a strong tool to generate change
3. Creating a balance in our dialogue with women politicians – between voicing a critique of current government policies, and showing respect and support for the work that they are doing within male dominated structures
4. Involving young people as important role players in our work in order that their issues remain visible

A live tweet out of issues raised during the Feminist Dialogue was held to share with virtual social networks and supporters.

A full report on the Feminist Dialogue will be published in Agenda.