01. Introduction and Context
It was in the heyday of political activism in the 1980s that a group of inspired young women came together to play their role in the struggle towards freedom in South Africa. These young feminists set out to bring the fight against women’s oppression into the political equation. And they did! AGENDA originated as a child of this context.
02. First Steps
AGENDA aimed to bring together discussions in academic and activists’ environments around women’s liberation that still revolved around class and race issues into the active women’s movement playing a concerted role in the 1980s. As a group of voluntary activists, the collective dedicated their time and energy to developing the concept of the AGENDA journal. They took feminist issues into women’s groups. They brought out women’s issues in an organized manner via workshops and forums, initiating debate, and demanding that women’s rights be fully incorporated into the struggle agenda.
03. Contemporary Challenges
Now, 17 years on, from South Africa’s first democratic election, the voice and influence of socially conservative and nationalist groupings within government, as well as the general public, seems to be strengthening. These ideologies are inimical to transformative women’s rights agendas.
The rise of these social forces within government devoid of strong, feminist voices makes the challenge much greater. At the same time, structures intended to advance women’s rights are few in number and weak. Dwindling funding makes it more difficult to start or sustain women’s organizations. Therefore, the women’s sector is also fragmented and rarely functions as a large and cohesive movement. Strategic, long-term planning and action are made very difficult under these circumstances.
04. Generally, some of the socio-political changes in South Africa’s gender landscape can be summarised as:
- The state’s introduction of extensive gender machinery gives the impression that gender equity is on track – targets are set and receive bureaucratic tick-offs (‘state feminism’). In contrast, the reality appears that gender mainstreaming and budgeting for comprehensive programmatic intervention are neglected. There are, for instance, not enough shelters for abused women and children, the role of maintenance investigative offers hasn’t been fully developed yet, the newly set up Department for Women, children and people with disabilities haven’t done any substantial work yet.
- The struggle for gender justice has become fragmented into sectors, such as sexual violence, legal issues, and the land reform sector. There is no unified voice.
- Fragmentation of gender activism has led to technical problem solving and no longer dealing with the whole person – the personal is no longer political.
- An increase in professionalization in dealing with women’s concerns has contributed to the fact that there is no unified movement anymore.
- The majority of South African women (rural and black) are still getting the worst socio-economic deal. Although they make up the bulk of new social movements such as land and informal settlement dwellers, these movements are dominated by male leadership.
- There is a movement and consciousness level out there, but it is issue-driven and not sustained. This can be positively exploited for organizing women’s concerns on a more sustainable basis.