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GUEST EDITORS: LEE STONE, MMATSIE MOOKI & NICHOLENE NXUMALO
In Ndebele’s novel The Cry of Winnie Mandela the phrase ‘angle of approach’ is employed to indicate the absence of a technique or strategy that is able to craft a conclusive or dispositive answer to an issue. South Africa has been grappling with the complex and monumental task of advancing social cohesion and the empowerment of women for over two decades and we are still left in much the same place that we started. Indeed, women’s struggles have invariably been ‘resisted as disruptive to the existing hierarchical order’. Much like colonised territories, women have been penetrated, exploited and subjected to violence. Yet women are not recognised as active participants in liberation struggles against colonial and apartheid oppression. In the wake of decolonisation across the African continent, Birmingham asserts that ‘men walked tall in the new Africa, [but] women did not always find that their aspiration had been recognized’. Stated in more stark terms, Birmingham recounts that:
Their voices had been heard and welcomed in the liberation struggle but when the battle was over they were often expected to return to domestic duties. … When African governments tried to moderate the post-independence conflicts over policy and priority by creating single-party states in which choices would be hammered out behind closed doors, they sometimes created special party sections for women but they rarely gave women real power. Even in countries where women had been mobilized in the armed forces and told that like the liberated women of China they held up half the sky, they were not appointed to ministries of finance or defense but only, at best, to those of welfare or education. The ideology of women’s emancipation did not match the political reality. … African women … found upward mobility difficult and access to education and the professions was very competitive. In countries where agriculture yielded low incomes the majority of women remained farmers, vegetable sellers or traders of ready-cooked foods. But it was women farmers who enabled Africa to survive the famines of decolonization by planting maize around refugee camps, growing tomatoes on the verges of city streets, and walking miles to fetch water in the absence of vehicles or pumps. These women were the invisible heroines of the African revolution.
Expressions such as: ‘why doesn’t that [bitch] shut up?’ permeate the history of prominent women in the struggle for liberation. History is replete with accounts of assertive women being stereotyped as ‘tough, domineering, emasculating, strident and shrill’. Inevitably, they paid for it by being arrested for their involvement in liberation struggles, yet their contributions have been obscured and overshadowed. To be sure, historical accounts of prominent female figures are ‘fragile’ for their incompleteness. A few authors have registered Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s political struggles. Ndebele, du PreezBezdrob and Msimang are but some of these. A less well-known “s-hero” is Thandi Modise who was detained in 1979 for her role as a female commander of uMkhontoweSizwe.Accordingly, achievements by prototypical female figures have been discounted and remain largely invisible. The result is that it has impeded an accurate record of history and undermined cultural identity. What is required is the curation of a historical narrative that reveals an accurate account of prominent women and their contributions to the advancement of social justice and transformation of society.
The combination of symbolic, structural and physical violence associated with colonisation (and its successor, apartheid) has caused deep damage by penetrating the very identity and dignity of South Africans. Confirming this fact, Murungi makes the provocative statement that ‘one does not colonise innocently. Colonialism has two victims: the colonised and the coloniser [with] the right to be human subverted in both’. Emerging from a prolonged period of violent conflict, there is a very real risk of regression and a reversion to violence – that is, violence in all of its manifestations. For this reason, South Africa is on a precipice. There can be no denying that the failure on the part of the state to address the repetitive cycle of violence that subsists in society is impeding the post-apartheid transformation of South Africa. In particular, the culture of violence that has been created as a legacy of colonisation and apartheid has not only given rise to the “lost generation” but continues to manifest in high levels of violent crimes. Violence unambiguously poses a serious risk to South Africa’s fragile democracy. Precisely, South Africa is routinely cited as the state with ‘one of the highest Gini coefficients in the world’. Apartheid’s legacy is advanced marginality and relative deprivation. More nuanced consequences include both physical and structural violence resulting in difficulties with attachment to others expressed through low marriage and relationship frequencies, and child neglect and trauma [as well as] high levels of illiteracy, drug addiction, teenage pregnancies, HIV/AIDS … unemployment and crime.
What is at stake is human security. Human security is best defined in an inverse fashion: human insecurity is evident when deprivation, poverty, exploitation, and tyranny proliferate. Put differently, human security is undermined when ‘underdevelopment, unequal access to resources, undemocratic governance, and other economic, social and political injustices’ have taken root. It is important to bear in mind that ‘there is an interface between development, security, and governance’. Inevitably, the deprivation accompanying human insecurity results in conflict. What is immediately apparent is that ‘social processes’ are integral to conflict prevention. Therefore, psychosocial and social dimensions such as cohesion, identity, and history should be the starting point. This approach is consistent with the logic that new methods of resolving ‘enduring human problems’ are required in instances where law, economics, politics and even morality have previously failed. The concepts of conflict and peace are undoubtedly ‘complex, iterative, multilayered, and dynamic processes’, requiring re-conceptualisation that is ‘enriched by a nuanced understanding of gender relations’. El-Bushra’s searing remark puts it best: in pursuit of eradicating conflict, the results of studies into complex debates informing the proliferation of conflict are inevitably incongruous because they are reduced to percentages and statistics. We attribute this to an absence of the application of an appropriate strategy. Consequently, all that occurs are short-term interventions that have no discernible results. The priority is to avoid what is known as “conflict traps” (the vicious cycle of conflict). So fundamental is this objective, that in 2013 the UN Secretary-General formally introduced the Human Rights Up Front Initiative. The initiative recognises that the perpetuation of violence, in combination with long-term animosities, presents ‘serious obstacles to the social cohesion needed to restore peace and security’. At this juncture, the invocation of the theoretical framework of the humanisation of international law is apposite. Lowe frames the purpose of international law as ‘to secure the conditions that allow sovereign States … to choose what kind of society will exist within its borders’. Extending this line of thinking, a strong state is characterized by ‘stability, order and prosperity’, political and economic good governance, respect for human rights and respect for the rule of law. Correspondingly, the very ‘survival of the state’ is dependent on human security being manifest.
Recent analytical work exploring the circumstances preceding and succeeding political transformation suggests that a clear and precise cultural identity is essential for adjusting to social change. In the book The Psychology of Social Change, de la Sablonnière, Taylor & Caron-Diotte argue that in order for every member of society to ‘get along and get ahead’, one technique is the construction of historical narratives that focus on ‘historical heroes who changed the course of history for the group, and who personify the behaviours and values that define the group’ so that these can be emulated. Precisely, this serves as a template to guide rational individual behaviour within established social structures. Given that power is a necessary condition for emancipation, it is submitted that by having role models to guide future conduct, women and girls will be exponentially empowered by having a better understanding of themselves. Precisely, it is our contention that the exploration and documentation of the transformative role of women should have the benefit of clarifying our cultural identity.
The literature reveals that dramatic social change obstructs and compromises the clear cultural identity of both individuals and groups. Simultaneously, it cannot be disputed that identity is not a static notion: it is fluid and changing. To be sure, most human beings have multiple identities. In the face of dramatic social change, the effect is insecurity relating to prioritising ‘what goals to strive for, what ones are possible or even realistic, and how to conduct [oneself] on a daily basis’. In short, a ‘cultural vacuum’ may ensue. Essentially, however, the identification of common characteristics and social identity that ‘represent the worthy pursuits in life’ informs one’s cultural identity. Restoration of cultural identity is facilitated by recourse to key historical events and people that ‘reflect the group’s past, present and future’ which re-instill pride and hope. Importantly, this process is dependent on the group having a shared knowledge about the events in which their group has been implicated, and which outgroups represent foes or allies [so that] individuals can derive the mission of their group.
A clear and precise cultural identity is pivotal for higher levels of self-esteem and psychological well-being. Long terms goals can be prioritized based on this cultural identity, and they can be more effectively implemented for goal success. This is especially true for women. South Africa provides an excellent canvas for the restoration of cultural identity when South Africa’s history and society is assessed. We submit that this will provide the requisite platform to encourage interrogation and analysis of the traits and characteristics of prototypical female figures, upon which cultural identity can be based. In parallel with this, a rich historical narrative informing the adversities that prototypical female figures endured–and overcame – will promote the development of clear cultural identity. In this regard, we are cognisant of the fact that exhaustive focus on sexual violence ‘can cast women solely in terms of their sexual identities; as victims and deny their agency’. Our aim is to encourage studies into the violation of women and girls’ rights that are not purely sexual in nature. This knowledge would provide ammunition for more sustained engagement on gender equality and empowerment of women and girls in conflict, as well as post-conflict settings. For example, some women encounter extreme challenges purely on the basis of socially-constructed and binary sexual labels. The plight of Olympic gold medallist Caster Semenya serves to illustrate the indignity and humiliation that gender non-conforming people are subject to. In Semenya’s case the questioning of her sexuality arose due to hyper-androgyny (high testosterone levels). She has endured massive humiliation, public scrutiny and criticism, as well as being forced to undergo invasive gender testing to establish her biological sex by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). Against all odds, her resilient spirit has captured the hearts of South Africans and has earned her titles such as ‘heroine’. This inspirational journey captures how gender and sex have collided to influence acceptable forms of masculinity and femininity in society. The impact of telling the stories of prototypical women such as Semenya highlight the injustice that intersex women and females in sport, continue to suffer and the unrelenting violence they are forced to endure in a society that remains damaged by colonisation and apartheid.
Our aim is to tell the stories of prolific women throughout Africa, those in the limelight and those working diligently in the background. It seeks to embrace their multifaceted character, especially considering the milestones that have brought South Africa into the democratic dispensation. Essentially, it locates the contribution of women within collective movements for social justice in their respective spheres and credits them as innovators, pioneers and history makers.
Anon-exhaustive list of particular themes that we would like to interrogate in this edition are:
- The correlation between peace-building, social cohesion, and empowerment of young women
- How violence is perpetuated by the suppression (denial, even) of women’s historical struggles
- Identities: challenging and negating purely sexual identities as well as binary sexual labels by exploring the women’s movement
- Feminism for social change: revisiting domestic themes such as paid care-work and changes in parenting
- No such thing as ‘out-of-bounds’ for women: remodelling the world of work and breaking through concrete ceilings
- Women as nominal leaders and the need for critical reflection on the role of women in “nation building”: does the concept of “nation building” alienate and exclude women, thus perpetuating patriarchy?
- Women as king makers, behind the thrones, as deputies and first ladies of states
- The instrumental role of the media in telling women’s stories
- Correcting historical accounts of women’s contributions
- Discourses of women in culture
- Women in politics
- Unsung s-heros
- The evolution of the status of women
Agenda invites contributions from feminist and gender scholars, activists, researchers, policymakers, professionals, educators, community workers, students and members of womxn’s organizations and organizations interested in and concerned with gender issues. Contributions are accepted in any form, prose (both theoretical and practical), poetry, narrative, interviews, and visual arts. Agenda also invites the submission of poems on the topic of womxn’s rights and gender.
Submissions should contribute to developing new thinking and fresh debate on womxn’s rights and gender equality in Africa and other developing countries.
Writers need to:
Write in an accessible and understandable style;
Inform, educate or raise debate;
Try to pin down reasons for contradictions and point out differences of opinion;
Provide analysis and an argument;
Be sensitive to but not uncritical of how gender, class, and race affect the reporting of an event;
Ensure the introduction encapsulates the contents of the piece and that it attracts the reader’s attention by either making a controversial statement,providing a thought-provoking or new insight into the subject;
Utilize a gender or feminist lens.
We publish articles in various formats, which range from 6 000 words for more theorized articles, which form the main reference pieces in an issue, to shorter pieces with a minimum of 1 500 words.
Formats of Contributions
- Article (6 000 words max) should be based on new research and contain analysis and argument
- Briefing is an adaptable format for writing on a wide range of subjects (2 500 – 4 000 words)
- Focus examines an aspect of a chosen theme in detail (4 500 words max)
- Profile looks in detail at an organisation, project, legislation, or a person (2 500 – 3 500 words)
- Report-back covers reports on meetings, conferences, workshops, etc. (1 500 – 4 000 words)
- Review typically reviews books or films (1 500 – 3 000 words)
- Interview can record a conversation among a group of people or a one-on-one interview in which the writer asks the interviewee/s questions on a subject (1 500 – 3 000 words)
- Open Forum is a vehicle for debate and argument, or pieces which deal with argument and difference of opinion on a subject/issue (2 500 – 4 000 words)
- Perspective is an adaptable format in which writers are able to use a more personal reflective, narrative style (1 500 – 3 000 words)
Contributions should be submitted in the following format:
File type: Microsoft Word
Size: 10 pt
Line spacing: Single
Referencing: Harvard style
All submissions should have the following:
Abstract: 200 – 300 words
Keywords: approx 5 keywords
Bio: 100 – word author biography, including email address
Bio picture: head-and-shoulders photo in 300 dpi jpeg format
Contributors are encouraged to provide photos and/or graphics to illustrate their submission.
Selection and Editing Process
All submissions are peer-reviewed. Articles, briefing, and focus pieces go through a double-blind peer-review process, while all other contributions are reviewed by at least one member of Agenda’s Editorial Advisory Group.
Reviewers comment on the suitability of a text for publication in the Agenda journal, as well as provide comments to help develop the piece further for publication if required. Contributors will be asked to rework the paper accordingly.
On resubmission, the piece will be assessed by the Agenda editors and a final decision made regarding its publication in the journal.
Please note that Agenda reserves the right to edit contributions with regard to length and accessibility or reject contributions that are not suitable or of poor standard.
Please note, as per Agenda’s policy, writers who have published in the journal within the last two years WILL NOT BE ALLOWED to publish – to allow new writers to publish in Agenda.