Thirty years of feminist publishing: a retrospective
Agenda Feminist Media (AFM) proudly celebrates its thirtieth year and three decades of consistent feminist publishing since 1987, through this Virtual Special Issue (VSI). The VSI features a selection of thirty republished pieces written originally for AFM’s flagship product – its quarterly journal. These reflect the feminist preoccupations, issues and influences, both local and global, that shaped the journal and found voice in each of the three decades since its inception.
The VSI enables a revisit of AFM’s early herstory and women’s writings which its founders, a small group of gender activists and feminists, felt had to be broadcast to stamp the real politics of women’s lives into the national consciousness and male-dominated political discourses that marked South Africa on the eve of democracy. These early contributions critiqued gender neutral policies, demanded accountability, and questioned women’s inequality in every sector of life, ranging from the economy, land, women’s work and its precarity in the labour market, women’s health, and the role of religion, culture and tradition and education in women’s subjugation. This new space also allowed for the subversion of traditional body and sexual politics which would find fuller expression almost two decades later!
Robust national debates and criticism from black feminists and researchers on issues of representation marked the end of the first decade, and featured strongly in AFM’s journals. Whether white women writers and researchers could write about black women’s experiences and more critically, who should speak on their behalf were burning issues within the broader politics of inequality and privilege in South Africa, amongst South African women and within feminist knowledge production in the country.
These were the harbingers of discourses on differences, identity, and intersectionality which AFM captured in the early journals of the second decade. At this stage, the journals had changed from being a miscellany of articles on diverse subjects, into thematic issues which provided a dedicated platform for speaking to the changes taking place within the country. Writers captured this new era of constitutionalism and democracy and its import for women, in sharp critiques of the Constitution, the critical Equality Clause in its Bill of Rights, the new gender-machinery, and women-friendly legislation which entrenched women’s right to abortion, offered avenues of relief for violence against women and the denial of rights and equity under customary marriages.
At the same time, the tragedy of HIV/AIDS for women especially, loomed large: AFM published several issues on this crisis, providing a feminist analysis of the pandemic, challenging the fiction that women were vectors of the disease, disclosing the unequal and inadequate treatment available to them, and advocating women’s activism to challenge the prejudice against them in this area.
Equally pressing was the unprecedented rise in violence against women. AFM published a trilogy on this scourge, which sought to highlight the unequal power relations underpinning gender-based violence and the need to break its social acceptance in both the private and public spheres. Writers emphasised the need to deconstruct damaging stereotypes around masculinities and femininities, calling also, for men’s activism and research to stop violence against women.
It is impossible to cover the very broad range of themes that the journal has featured. AFM’s Editorial Collective has traditionally chosen themes that are responsive to the issues of their times, as part of a broader project of equity for women, within a framework of unequal race, class, and gender relations intertwined with other vectors of discrimination and inequality.
Towards the end of the second decade of our work, AFM also responded to the new political and economic threats to women’s equity, especially in countries of the South, posed by global neo-liberal policies. Six special issues on African Feminisms at this time, mark AFM’s decision to access a wider African feminist scholarship and audience which would provide a continental picture and theoretical understanding of feminist concerns and activism in Africa. A significant advance by African feminists who embraced the politics of identity and difference, was to move beyond the triad of race, class and gender in exploring feminist politics. Lesbian, gay and trans identities became a critical political area of equity debates, challenging dominant heteronormative meanings of both gender and sex.
These debates are continuities, occupying much journal space in our third decade of publishing, and speak to the activism of the LGBTIQ sector. We have flagged everyday sexual politics – the affective, social constructions of love, marriage and the family. We have also presented new issues such as information and communications technologies and bio-politics and the possibilities and threats they pose for women’s advancement. New focus areas have been women and rurality, disability, ageing and intergenerationality, women in prisons, the girl-child and girl-led interventions to challenge sexual and other forms of violence against them and young women at schools and campuses of tertiary institutions.
The imperative to publish a feminist journal that provides women a forum to publish their ideas and advance the meanings of gender inequality has not diminished. If anything it has grown stronger. The retrospective includes articles which we trust reflect a body of feminist thinking and knowledge production that will contribute to building African feminist theorisation and practice as well as organising on the ground among feminist and gender activists.
Asha Moodley and Lou Haysom on behalf of Agenda Feminist Media.