Volume 29, Issue 1, 2015

‘Non-normative’ sexual and gender diversities in Africa

Introduction by Zethu Matebeni and Thabo Msibi

“The problem with English is this: You usually can’t open your mouth and it comes out just like that – first you have to think what you want to say. Then you have to find the words. Then you have to carefully arrange those words in your head. Then you have to say the words quietly to yourself, to make sure you got them okay. And finally, the last step, which is to say the words out loud and have them sound just right. But then because you have to do all this, when you get to the final step, something strange has happened to you and you speak the way a drunk walks. And, because you are speaking like falling, it’s as if you are an idiot, when the truth is that it’s the language and the whole process that’s messed up. And then the problem with those who speak only English is this: they don’t know how to listen; they are busy looking at your falling instead of paying attention to what you are saying.”

NoViolet Bulawayo, 2013, We Need New Names

Speaking to a group of researchers, activists and scholars at a discussion of his memoir One Day I Will Write About This Place, in Nairobi in March 2014, celebrated Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina recounted how he first came across the acronym LGBT. For Wainaina this arrangement of letters was a peculiar new word he read as ‘ligibit’. In his way with words, Wainaina’s vocabulary, even temporarily, brought a new language for some lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the audience. He offered a different way of naming oneself – a word that went beyond an acronym. For that moment, Wainaina made identity categorisation pronounceable.

At the same time, his revelation was at odds with many of the people listening. How was it conceivable that this worldly man, who had recently publicly come out as gay in a ‘lost’ chapter of his book, not know LGBT? It is, after all, an acronym (sometimes with lengthy extensions) used often unquestionably, by many whose sexual and gender identities are at odds with the ‘norm’. Did this mean that Wainaina’s ‘gayness’, unaccompanied by a rights-language, was perhaps dubious? What impossibilities was he making possible through his vocabulary?

Language, naming and words can be deeply political. Writing on African feminisms, Vasu Reddy argues that for some people the word feminist, as a label, “signals exclusion, a foreign concept and has little significance” (2004:4). While some people may carry out feminist work, believe in or practice feminisms, they may avoid the word or being associated with it. In other contexts, as Obioma Nnaemeka’s (2004) reconceptualisation of African feminisms as “nego-feminism” suggests, other terms can stand in for the word feminism to illustrate diversity and unifying values.

Similarly, words have had a significant role in the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people. Discomforts, public health discourses and critiques of identity categories have contributed towards a growing vocabulary of terms about sexual and gender diversities. Words such as msm (men who have sex with men), wsw (women who have sex with women), queer, and many others continue to circulate globally. At the same time words that were once derogatory, such as moffie, queer, dyke, istabane, or tranny, have been reappropriated by the same groups.

In this issue we are interested in extending the debates on non-normative sexual and gender diversities within the African context. This comes at a time when virulent forms of legal, political and social exclusions as well as violent backlashes towards non-normative sexual and gender diversities are on the rise in some African countries or emerging in others. How and in what ways does the current climate influence these debates? In the first instance we signal the multiplicity of sexual or gender diversities. Secondly, in extending current debates, we seek to advance African epistemologies and paradigms in relation to theorising about non-normative sexual desire and gender diversities in Africa. We enter this debate through language because verbal language and ‘language-ing’ (Nyanzi, 2014) have been used as backlash and as forms of excluding sexual and gender non-conforming persons. We seek to go beyond asking who is gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex, pansexual, queer or questioning in Africa today and why. Rather, our interest is in problematising the languages, methods and discourses that veil non-normative sexual and gender diversities in Africa. This begs for a different set of investigations, critical approaches, perspectives and frameworks that go beyond the normative.

Volume 28, Issue 4, 2014

queer & trans Art-iculations: Decolonising gender and sexualities in the global South

Introduction by Haley McEwen & Tommaso M Milani

This special issue has grown out of the exhibition queer & trans Art-iculations: Collaborative Art for Social Change which featured the jointly exhibited works of South African art activists, Zanele Muholi and Gabrielle Le Roux. Without their collaboration, the exhibition and this special issue would not have been possible. We therefore would like to express our deepest gratitude for their involvement and commitment to the project. queer & trans Art-iculations was coordinated by the Wits Centre for Diversity Studies and was held at the Wits Art Museum (WAM) from 31 January to 30 March 2014. The exhibition was made possible with the support of the Heinrich Böll Stiftung Southern Africa and the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg (Wits).

In terms of outreach, queer & trans Art-iculations was attended by over 3 500 visitors, and was also visited by 14 groups of learners from the University of the Witwatersrand and other educational institutions, including secondary schools from the Johannesburg area. There were also adult and family walkabouts as part of the educational programme that WAM offered to the public free of charge. The exhibition intersected with the unfortunate loss of Sally Gross, South Africa’s leading intersex activist who was responsible for the first inclusion of intersex in anti-discrimination law, making it the first national constitution in the world to be fully intersex inclusive.1 A memorial service was held for Sally, coordinated by Gabrielle Le Roux and funded by the Foundation for Human Rights.

Indeed, queer & trans Art-iculations was a successful intervention. But, why a focus on art activism, and queer and trans issues and lived experiences? And, most crucially, why now?

An answer to these questions can be provided through an analysis of the intersections of heteronormativity, gender binary and violence. Heteronormativity can be defined as a complex set of “structures, institutions, relations and actions that promote and produce heterosexuality as natural, self-evident, desirable, privileged and necessary” (Cameron and Kulick, 2003:55). A large body of work within critical heteronormativity research (see eg Motschenbacher, 2011 for an overview) has convincingly demonstrated that the promotion of heterosexuality as ‘normal’ and ‘normative’ is not innocuous, but goes hand in hand with the concomitant devaluing of same-sex desire as ‘deviant’ and ‘unwanted’. No doubt, this is important scholarship that illustrates the processes through which sexualities are imbued with different values, and thereby create power differentials between them. In casting the spotlight on sexuality, however, what remains overshadowed is how heteronormativity is ultimately founded on a problematic treatment of gender as a pair of ‘naturally’ desirable opposites. As Deborah Cameron and Don Kulick remind us, radical feminism can offer an alternative analysis to “the common sense assumption that heterosexuality arises from the natural attraction between pre-existing ‘opposites,’ men and women” (2003:46). For them, heterosexuality is a “political institution [that] requires men and women to be ‘opposites,’ and that is why they are socialized to be as they are – different in very particular ways” (ibid). Of course, such construction of a binary of gender opposites is problematic because it is ultimately geared to reproducing and justifying inequalities along gender lines. It is also problematic because it erases the complexity of gender identification, which is not reducible to a simplistic dualistic model of men/masculinity and women/femininity. In fact, men can also do femininity in as much as women can perform masculinity. Moreover, not everyone identifies in a straightforward way as man or woman, and one might choose to define oneself as “trans” or “intersex”.

Volume 28, Issue 3, 2014

Gender and climate change

Introduction by Urmilla Bob & Agnes Babugura

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations have foregrounded that climate change is a global concern. This phenomenon is a defining challenge of our time, threatening the planet’s social, economic and ecological systems. It has engendered considerable international debates that have dominated the environmental agenda since the mid-1980s and is currently a priority on the international development agenda. While the debates take diverse forms and focus on various aspects of the problem, gender, as an important factor in climate change debates has not been sufficiently addressed. This is mainly attributed to a lack of understanding of the ways in which gender might be a factor in climate change, or how it should be addressed. As noted by Roehr (2007), this is because the gender aspects in climate change are often not self-evident, and there is little data, research, or case studies clarifying and exemplifying the linkages between gender and climate change. In an effort to create understanding, there is a slowly growing body of knowledge that reflects the interest in the topic of gender and climate change.

Available literature (for example, Agwu and Okhimamhe, 2009; Angula, 2010; Arora-Jonsson, 2014; Babugura, 2009; Gaye, 2009; Goh, 2012; Resurrección, 2013; United Nations Development Programme – UNDP, 2013; World Bank, 2011) indicates that climate change is not gender neutral as it affects women and men differently. The literature further reveals that there are complex and dynamic links between gender and climate change not only in terms of vulnerability to the adverse impacts of climate change but also in terms of how to mitigate and adapt to those impacts. Women are specifically seen to be at the centre of the climate change challenge. Due to social inequalities, ascribed social and economic roles, women are disproportionately affected by climate change impacts. In their respective social roles, climate protection and adaptation instruments and measures will also affect women and men differently. Generally the key areas of negative consequences of climate change are strongly connected to gender equality issues (UNDP, 2013). Studies, for example, have found that women’s historic disadvantages such as their limited access to resources, limited access to information, restricted rights and muted voice in shaping decisions, make them highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change (Babugura, 2009; UNDP, 2007).

the key areas of negative consequences of climate change are strongly connected to gender equality issues

It is important to note that the nature of vulnerability varies widely cautioning against generalisation. Furthermore, Resurrección (2013) notes that since the 1980s the women and climate change discourses have been dominated by women-environment linkages that view women as being closer to nature, more knowledgeable about natural resource systems and hardest hit by environmental degradation. She warns that the perpetuation of these discourses is likely to shift the burden of environmental care onto women. Resurrección (2013:33) argues that the main reasons for the continuation of these seductive and influential discourses are:

“first, for gender to muster entry into climate politics, women’s identities are projected as fixed, centred, and uniform — and tied to nature; second, the discourse of climate change vulnerability has proven to be a strategic entry point for feminist advocacy; and finally, inertia associated with past environmental projects has reinstated the women–environment discourse in contemporary climate change discussions and possibly, future interventions.”

As a contribution to the wider effort to promote gender integration in relation to climate change interventions (adaptation, mitigation, development of policies, strategies and action plans), this issue intends to add to the very much-needed body of knowledge on gender and climate change. To ensure gender remains on the climate change agenda, it is essential that policy and decision-makers, climate change actors and practitioners, and various climate change stakeholders are continuously equipped with up-to-date knowledge to inform and support climate change initiatives. This is also an important contribution to on-going debates on gender and climate change. In this context, it is also vital to examine the issues pertaining to gender and climate change in Africa, the continent deemed to be the most vulnerable to climate change impacts.

Volume 28, Issue 2, 2014

Who’s Afraid of Feminism? South African Democracy at 20: An introduction

Introduction by Amanda Gouws & Shireen Hassim

The theme of this 100th issue of Agenda cuts to the heart of the question of whether increasing formal gender equality is sufficient as an indicator of progress. There can be little doubt that women have benefitted in a variety of ways from the opening up of access to State institutions through mechanisms such as quotas, and by implementation of gender targets in a range of public policies. However, gender equality measured in this way captures only one aspect of the historical demands of South African women’s movements.

A deep socialist feminist tradition also emphasised changes in the economic configuration of society, pointing out that relations of production depended on the unpaid care of women and the restriction of women to lower-skilled and lower-paid sectors of the economy. Another more radical strand of women’s collective organising pointed to the ways in which women’s bodies are sites of power relations, and the control of women’s sexuality and reproductive capacities as necessary for the system of patriarchy.

Over the past 20 years the economic and reproductive questions appear to have been edged out by a focus on a thin version of liberal feminism that delinks formal equality from the question of equality outcomes.

Our title is therefore a provocation to use a deeper set of criteria to assess our progress. We are not entirely sure that there is only ‘a good story to tell’. As the articles in this issue indicate, the jury is still out on the progress that we have made with including women as equal citizens.

The articles, perspectives and interviews in this issue tell a story of why the political system and political leaders are resistant to the radical change implied by feminism. Some authors tell stories of their lived experience with gender struggles and institutional engagements as well as gains and losses in the past 20 years. Other authors ask questions about the nature of gendered challenges and expose the intractability of gender-based violence. Collectively the articles help us think through the historical continuities and discontinuities in the struggles for gender equality, the changing nature of activism and the limits of institutional politics.

One glaring finding in the articles is that the institutional turn in gender politics since 1994 has yielded uneven gains. Institutions are embedded in institutional cultures that are male-dominated. Despite the presence of a critical mass of women, Parliament, Cabinet and the civil service show little commitment to robust implementation of gender equality principles. Even the somewhat minimal demand to legislate a gender quota in the electoral system – something that would only formalise a practice already under way in the ANC – has been resisted by political parties.

Activism at its core is political – it seeks to draw attention to some form of injustice for which a political solution is assumed and sought. Politics that deals only with women’s access to State institutions limits feminist activism to a set of issues, and to an arena of action that can result in profound stifling of the imaginative solutions of struggle. Fortunately there are organisations that continue to raise questions of sexuality and gender and link these to an emerging feminist agenda that goes well beyond institutional inclusion and quotas for women.

It will be a long and hard road to construct a deeper democracy, especially in a world that is resistant to radical change. Yet no political good comes without struggle. There is no linear trajectory to democracy, nor should contestation frighten activists. The articles, reports and interviews in this special issue, we hope, will open up the difficult question of where the possibilities lie for a more robust phase of engagement.

Volume 28, Issue 1, 2014

Autobiographies, Biographies & Writing Lives

Introduction by Nyna Amin & Betty Govinden

This special edition of Agenda invited writings of women’s lives from perspectives that capture the multiple and subjective realities of women as one way to counter dominant male depictions of life, of history, of culture, of politics and lived experiences – depictions which not only marginalised women but rendered them invisible. It has sought to correct androcentric and mono-dimensional views of the world, by speaking back to narratives which erased women’s voices. The stories are in some ways about women’s stolen lives, retrieved histories, agentic incursions and evolutionary shifts in the 20th and 21st centuries.

These stories are more than salvation biographies (Beizer, 2009). Cognizant of the critique levelled at feminist writings, we have endeavoured to bring critical reflexivity to various assumptions, theorising, processes and values, to circumvent the violences endemic to ‘male-stream’ narratives. The question of who speaks, and who can speak for whom, has repeatedly emerged as an issue not to be ignored but to be engaged with in this compendium of papers. Concerns about unequal power relationships, not only between women and men but also among different groups of women, is highlighted in the stories.

We cannot ignore the fact that women in the south in general, and Africa in particular, are directly affected by economic globalisation, neoliberal tendencies and increasing conservatism, promoting personal enrichment at the cost of collective politics. The stories portrayed here show resistance to the wave of toxic policies and living practices and to global and local forces on the ways that women live, think and act. These are admirable practices, whether at a personal or communal level, against destructive malevolence.

There is greater awareness now of the contexts from which women write, whether this relates to the north/south or metropole/periphery divide, or to class, race, religion, gender and sexual orientation. The critical work of African feminist thinking and writing has developed and evolved in this burgeoning context. Agenda, as an African feminist project, has consistently encouraged voices from the margins and the production of narratives of women’s struggles in every sphere of existence, in order to promote resistance to gender oppression and victimisation and other forms of inequalities in Africa.

This particular issue of Agenda cast its net widely to haul in different forms of life writing, and gives us a great mix of experiences to ponder over, whether of institutional life, history and historiography, sexual orientation or feminist research methodology. We hope that future calls on this theme will yield life writing on the important subject of reproductive freedom.

We have deliberately resisted discussion of the papers in any form of grouping or theme (an anti-androcentric move). Each piece of writing makes a profound contribution to our understanding of the battles won, of those still being fought and those still needing to identify the battlefront. Each piece is, therefore, given prominence to emphasise its uniqueness, and more importantly, to provide an uncluttered space for the stories to come through.

Volume 27, Issue 4, 2013

Gender and human rights: Biology and bodies

Introduction by Elaine Salo & Benita Moolman

This issue of Agenda explores new developments in contemporary thinking and activism around the critical nexus of cultural meanings about biology and scientific biomedical processes, bodies and human rights in African feminist thinking. The intersections between biology, sex and bodies, and the social and cultural constructions of gender, and how these two arenas are mutually constitutive are important though under-examined in post-apartheid and postcolonial contexts. Feminists have contested the limits and possibilities that patriarchal institutions such as the colonial and apartheid state have set for bodies and gender identities in the arenas of sexuality, affect, reproduction and childcare, that are female, black, homosexual, or are differently abled. Global scientific advances in reproductive technologies, sex change, and biomechanical engineering to expand the capacities of people living with disabilities have enhanced many lives. However these advances have also been utilised by states, religious, educational and health institutions to reproduce new forms of discrimination and exclusion of people considered to possess ‘atypical bodies’ that do not fit with the current or the ideal citizen. Barbara Brown’s seminal paper (1987) examining the apartheid health services’ provision of contraceptives and sterilisation to limit the fertility of black women in South Africa is a poignant reminder how supposedly neutral contraceptive technologies are marshalled for racist and xenophobic intents. Such abuses require feminists to examine the relationship between patriarchal power and biomedical and scientific knowledge about sexuality and reproduction. We have to ask who ‘is allowed to exercise reproductive choice, assert sexual capacities and agency, and who is not, as well as what forms of reproductive or sexual agency, as well as significations of the body, emerge to realise these capacities in contexts of legal, religious, or biomedical constraints.

Even as social reproduction has removed barriers to reproduction, that was once seen as being women’s primary biological role, new barriers to gender and sexual equality have arisen and are complicated by the contestation of the meanings of sex and the problematic policing of gender. Donna Haraway (1991) has argued that science and culture are often mutually constitutive. We contend that at least in the South African context, historically, culture and society have selectively utilised science to buttress beliefs and social policy in the field of human reproduction and sexuality. Social assumptions and cultural constructs about biology, bodies, capacities and rights inform our most sacred beliefs about whom we recognise as persons with sexual and reproductive agency. Such beliefs inform nation states’ and citizens’ beliefs about who has the right to reproduce, be sexually active, make decisions about sexuality and reproduction, or who can be responsible parents, raise the next generation of citizens, and form socially legitimate families. Indeed, such beliefs determine who has the right to the social goods that our society can offer, the right to protection of life, the right to decision-making about their reproductive capacities, whether, when and how to bear children, whom to love, to desire, how to clothe our bodies and to claim rights to particular identities. These beliefs also inspire our beliefs about who is considered worthy of the dignity of being considered fully human.

Ever since Linnaeus the 18th century Swedish scientist conducted scientific examinations and classification of indigenous Khoe women’s genitalia and set the stage for the Musée De La Homme’s display of Sara Baartman’s labia, scientific discourse has played a major role in the definition of ‘deviant bodies’, othered, subjected to the gaze of, and defined by its civilising discourse (Abrahams, 2004; Fausto Sterling, 2000). Such scientific discourse has been imbued with cultural understandings of who could be considered a member of the family of Man and accorded the dignity of human rights. In her analysis of Georges Cuvier’s account of Sara Baartman, Ann Fausto Sterling (2000) notes that Cuvier’s dissection of Bartmann (sic) was a natural expansion of European colonialist thinking that shaped scientific language and power. By the same token, Brandes (2004) notes that Baartman’s restoration to South Africa informed the founding and restoration of dignity to a new post-apartheid nation, as her feminine dignity, and her wholeness is restored. Consequently, the post-apartheid nation, re-instantiates a heterosexual binary as a key aspect of its national imagined community (McClintock, 1995; Brandes, 2004).

patriarchal control in the post-apartheid state is emerging, albeit unevenly, through official discourse and practices in the judicial, and health sectors in particular

So what does the newly post-apartheid nation make of its people who in their multiple diversities are differently abled or who cannot or will not support its biological and social reproduction in the expected conventional heterosexual ways? And what do ordinary members of the polity make of bodies whose contours, physical shapes, genital accoutrements and inner psychic states do not quite match the discourse of gender binaries or of heterosexuality? As Elaine Salo and Pumla Gqola (2006) and Elaine Salo (2010) have argued elsewhere, patriarchal control in the post-apartheid state is emerging, albeit unevenly, through official discourse and practices in the judicial, and health sectors in particular, especially in relation to gender based violence against lesbian women, the disparagement of rape victims’ rights for the sake of political expediency1, and the state’s denialist stance in HIV/AIDS in the 1990s. Such practices instantiate male authority, hetero-normative definitions of gender and sexuality, and hold sober implications for these persons’ substantive claims to human rights in contemporary South Africa. The threat to these populations’ rights to assert choice in relation to reproduction and sexuality is reinforced by dominant societal beliefs and norms about their capacities and abilities in these arenas.

Most South Africans and indeed most Africans on this continent do not accept or remain ambivalent that people with disabilities, children and the elderly have active sexualities or that Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sex, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) people should raise children, or form families. We stigmatise women who are unable to bear children, as well as those who choose to remain childless (Davids, 2008); often branding them as cursed or as witches. On the other hand, the very idea of disabled adults possessing sexuality, expressing sexual desire, reproducing, bearing children and parenting them remains a powerful taboo (Barry, 2005). Ordinary citizens remain ambivalent about the women and men who resort to adoptions across the boundaries of difference, as well as biomedical interventions such as In-vitro Fertilisation (IVF), or the use of sperm donors to assist in the biological act of fertilisation, so that social parenting can ensue (Davids, 2008). Careful interrogation of such beliefs reflect how misplaced cultural values do marginalise ambivalent bodies and sexual agencies that don’t conform to the norms of the bio-medical establishments, often setting them up as future subjects of close regulation by the state and society.

The groundbreaking research, over a decade ago, by Anne Fausto Sterling in her book, Sexing the Body Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality (2000), provided physiological evidence to refute the idea that there are only two sexes. Sterling makes the argument that the subtle physiological gradations of human sexualities support the evidence of several sexes in the human population, instead of the binary twosome, male and female. Anthropologists such as Emily Martin (1987/2001) have also argued that our understanding of the body and of biological processes is as informed by our cultural assumptions and biases as it is by assumptions about objectivity in research. In her publication, The Woman in the Body, she argues that the scientific method and discourse used in bio-medicine to describe and analyse biological processes, such as reproduction and sexuality, are shot through with western cultural constructs of sexuality and gender. Sylvia Tamale’s (2011) theorising on sexuality in the African context gives further support to Martin’s perspective. At the same time, a review of anthropological reports by Roscoe and Murray (2001), suggest that historically anthropological methods and anthropologists’ hetero-normative biases have entrenched the myth that homoeroticism and homosexuality are absent or incidental to African societies, when the opposite is true.
Taken together these biological scientists and cultural anthropologists’ research has provided the opportunity to re-visit the disciplinary discourses and practices that examine the complex relationship between biology, bodies and human rights. They also allow us to examine in a careful manner the popular scientific claims that are so hegemonic in everyday assumptions and discourse about the body.

The issue builds on feminist analysis and research published in previous issues of Agenda ‘Sexuality and body image’ (No 63, 2005) and ‘Sexuality in Africa’ (No 62, 2004). These issues explored how the body acts as both the site and language through which positioning is negotiated, and the policing of bodies and the danger of homogenising discourses from the West in the interrogation and exploration of ideas. While acknowledging the transnational nature of women’s oppression it also underlined the need for a freedom from prescriptions in exploring body politics and sexualities in Africa.

Volume 27, Issue 3, 2013

Sex, gender and childhood

Introduction by Jeanne Prinsloo & Relebohile Moletsane

Childhood – a golden time of “trailing clouds of glory” as Wordsworth’s Ode to the Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood suggested some time ago and in a different space! Well, so the story goes, for childhood is generally perceived as a time of innocence and becoming and as the precursor to the myriad concerns and responsibilities of adulthood. It is this version of childhood that has tended to persist and has solidified into an international body of rights for children which informs the policies and laws relating to children in many countries across the world. Certainly in the South African context childhood is constructed in opposition to adulthood both legally and constitutionally. If for example, adults labour, there are laws that disallow children from labouring. Consistent with this position, childhood as ideally a period of innocence is construed largely as outside of sexuality and violence – these being associated with adulthood.

However, childhood has not always been understood in this way. Children have been viewed as essential to the economy of the household in many places in the world. Similarly, the idea of older children as being sexual has been acknowledged variously across time and place. Certainly there are inherent contradictions in viewing childhood and adulthood as distinct, for children are being constantly socialised, or ‘disciplined’ in Foucault’s (1977) terms, in order to become particular kinds of adults. This occurs particularly but certainly not exclusively along the dividing lines of sex and gender. It is the recognition of the contradictions and contestations surrounding childhood as well as their implications that serves as the catalyst for the focus of this edition of Agenda on sex, gender and childhood.

What is striking is how children and teens inhabit environments that propose two opposing imperatives: ‘Be sexy’ (see Durham, 2008, for example) contrasts with ‘No sex, please. You’re still kids’. In relation to the first injunction, the neoliberal restructuring of childhood is argued to have driven commercialisation and commodification much deeper into the daily lives of children, with increased fashion consciousness and the colonisation of the play world (McKendrick, Bradford and Fielder, 2007). As a consequence of the increasing specialisation and diversification of ‘goodies’ made for children, the notion of ‘childhood’ has retained and deepened its status as a space of difference to adulthood. Once again, these are divided along gender lines and are associated with a view of a gendered and sexualised future adulthood. This construction is additionally rehearsed in the popular media produced both for children and adults. In contrast and simultaneously, in line with the second injunction, sexuality as an intrinsic aspect of children’s lives is disavowed. There is a general denial of children’s capacity for sexual desire. This is accompanied by a wide refusal to discuss sex and sexuality between generations in several spaces because of a sense of its inappropriateness or the embarrassment it causes. Such a sense of discomfort has been identified by and among teachers too, the people who are effectively mandated to deal with sexuality education (see Sibonsile Mathe’s Article in this issue).

While childhood might be construed generally as a time of innocence, the reality of children’s lives is certainly very different in many southern African locations. On one hand, in a review of literature on teenage pregnancy, Willan (2013) cites emerging research which suggests that the onset of sexual activity is consistent across the world, and that in African countries, sexual debut is at ages 17-20. In South Africa in particular, she cites Pettifor et al’s (2009) study, which found that sexual debut for both girls and boys ranges between 16-18 with some variations according to age and sample, as well as Jewkes, Morrell and Christofides’ (2009) study which reports half of all teenagers as sexually active by age 17. On the other hand, Willan’s review also finds that many women and girls report their first sexual encounter as coerced. For example, for Pettifor et al (2009: 87 quoted in Willan, 2013) while only 7% of 15-19 year olds in their sample reported their first sex as coerced, when asked “whether they had been willing participants in their first sex” two in five reported that they were coerced. Willan quotes them as concluding that:

“Young women who had had their first sexual debut at an early age were more likely than other women to report that their first partner had ever physically forced them to have sex” (ibid).

Such coerced sexual encounters are often by older men who clearly see young girls as sexual. In addition, there is a shocking degree of violence and misogyny as is evident in the news coverage and popular discussions of young teens, themselves minors, taking part in gang rape and group sex, where the girls are sometimes judged to engage consensually. For example, the notorious Jules High School case where three learners (two boys aged 14 and 16 and a girl aged 15) were recorded on mobile phones having sex and while the girl initially reported that she had been drugged and raped, all three were charged with underage consensual penetration. In this regard, an IoL News report by Michelle Jones (‘School sex video “just tip of the iceberg”’, November 26, 2010) stated:

The 15-year-old girl and one of the boys, a 14-year-old, were charged with consensual sexual penetration. The second boy, 16, was charged with statutory rape. All three have also been charged under the Sexual Offences and Film and Publication Act”.

Linked to this case and others is the relatively recent practice of recording such sexual encounters on mobile phones to share with others. These behaviours are popularly met with judgmental attitudes around sexually active children. For example, the children involved in the Jules High School case above were charged with contravening the Sexual Offences as well as the Film and Publication Act. Again, Michelle Jones quotes the Chief executive of the Film and Publications Board Yoliswa Makhasi as charging that:

“Regardless of their age or role in the incident, the children may be charged with the creation, production, distribution or possession of child pornography, as this is illegal” (ibid).

Devina Perumal’s Article in this issue of Agenda helps to unpack the law and its regulation of consensual sex among adolescents. In this context, sexually active young people are either considered promiscuous or they are responded to with pity as it is assumed they (as a child) must have been abused by an adult. Issues of sexual desire are seldom factored into such responses. These reactions also tend to be gendered, with sexually active girls being considered as sluts or little Lolitas, while boys remain asexual and innocent for longer, or when sexually active, being viewed as manly or just ‘being boys’ (see Priscilla Boshoff and Jeanne Prinsloo’s Article in this issue). Central to these discussions is also deep concern about the sexual health of children in the face of the HIV and AIDS pandemic, with certain initiatives seeking to foster sexual abstinence as the first line of defence, notably within the ABC (Abstain, Be Faithful, Condomise) campaigns.

Our intention here is to broadly frame the issues of sexuality and the sexualisation of children with reference to certain bodies of theory pertaining to the topic. This is a particular feminist theoretical framework which we consider productive for understanding the historically and socially contingent nature of childhood. We first address childhood as a social construct and recognise that different constructions occur. Those accounts that render childhood as homogeneous are structuralist in that they explain childhood in relation to larger social processes such as socialisation within specific settings. Yet, the contributions in this edition tend to recognise the heterogeneity of childhood and thus are informed implicitly or explicitly by poststructural approaches that recognise that gendered subjective identities are socially constructed and discursively produced, and are therefore not rigid. We set out to identify certain concerns pertaining to childhood, sexuality and gender in order to make explicit the dilemmas we encounter and which the contributions in this edition help to address and develop deeper understandings pertaining to childhood sexuality.

Volume 27, Issue 2, 2013

Love: gender, sexuality and power

Introduction by Deevia Bhana

April 15, 1976

My dearest Winnie,

Your beautiful photo still stands about two feet above my left shoulder as I write this note. I dust it carefully every morning, for to do so gives me the pleasant feeling that I’m caressing you as in the old days. I even touch your nose with mine to recapture the electric current that used to flush through my blood whenever I did so …

(Letters to Winnie, in Fatima Meer’s authorised biography of Nelson Mandela, Higher Than Hope, 1988: 339).

Love in Africa is everywhere. It connects people in the emotional act of intimacy (Zelizer, 2005). It is present in sight and sound, in the everyday sighs, gasps, thrills and excitements, binding people in bonds of affection and bonds of power (Cole and Thomas, 2009). Love is often associated with sexual pleasure; sometimes it is defined as lust. It involves intimacy, excitement, connection, suffering, cheating, betrayal, violence, heartbreak and loss, as well as transformations and is deeply gendered, making love a complex phenomenon (Hirsch, 2003). In a letter to Winnie, an everyday story of African love lays bare this complexity associating despair, simultaneously with desire, heartbreak and passion. Love is ‘slippery’, ‘elusive’ and transformative. As we read the letter to Winnie dated April 1976, across space and time, we understand too that love is ambiguous, fluid and fragile. Yet, for all of its complexity, affective experiences in gender relations are often not acknowledged in African research and scholarship (Cole and Thomas, 2009).

In introducing the letter to Winnie, this issue of Agenda, seeks to break from the tendency that ignores the bonds of affection in intimate relations. Through the ways men and women navigate, negotiate and invest in intimacy under varying social conditions, this issue, hopes to reconfigure research on gender and sexuality that mirror love’s ‘electric current’, as a critical part of African life. In doing so, the issue pays attention to aspects of intimacy in everyday social life, where gender and sexuality are necessarily implicated, integrating the experience of love, under varying conditions, to interrogate the exercise of power.

Feminists have long argued that the emotional ties that bind men and women in romantic love is a critical site for the reproduction of unequal relations of power, making the focus of love and feminism uneasy (Holland et al, 1992). It is argued that romantic love subjects women into a realm of fantasy in the service of male sexual prerogatives and power. In critiquing the reduction of love to inequality, Thomas and Cole (2009: 25) ask:

“if … love is as detrimental to women’s interests as these feminists claim, then why have so many women embraced its ideals …?”

In reconfiguring the sexual landscape, however, research has demonstrated that the exercise of power within intimate relations are highly contested domains where gender relations are negotiated, resisted, struggled over as they are reproduced, making the focus on love important to consider (Hirsch and Wardlow, 2006). Thus, the issue seeks to open up the category of love as an analytical problem. The intent here is not simply to show how love is worked upon by men and women, but to demonstrate how love is given meaning; the value attached to it and the gendered experiences in relation to broader social and material circumstances. Like Hirsch (2003), to think of relations only in terms of the exercise of male power is to miss the fact that both men and women, as gendered persons, also express love, invest heavily in it whilst simultaneously involved in daily battles over power. As Hunter (2010) and others (Cole and Thomas, 2009) have argued, the discourses and practices of love are highly charged emotional arenas, shaped not only by cultural contexts but by material structures of power.

In addressing both power and affect, the issue seeks to arrive at a way of rendering love knowable that will make us mindful of its critical value in building a fuller account of gender and sexual relations on the continent, of inequalities, of contestations, and ‘higher than hope’ the possibility of egalitarian gender relations. Thus this issue asks: What constitutes love in Africa? Where do our ideas of love come from? How is gender manifest in the expressions of love and desire? How is power embedded? How is love used as a tool, a strategy to contest and resist gender roles? What are the particular cultural and social forces that shape love and through which love is expressed?

much scholarship has remained concerned with structural inequalities and economic misery shaping the dominant view of a suffering sexuality

In the next sections of this Introduction, the question of why there is so little scholarship on love in Africa is addressed (it must be noted that while there is an expansive body of African literature on love, these are not described in this Introduction [for a fuller analysis see Cole and Thomas, 2009]. This is followed by three areas of concern in relation to love and affection: the continuities of gender inequalities and small transformations, the question of money and ‘denied homosexual love’. Whilst research has begun to illuminate these conundrums of love (Hunter, 2010; Bhana and Pattman, 2011; Cole and Thomas, 2009), this issue of Agenda serves to contribute to the emerging vocabulary of research on love in Africa whilst opening up our understanding of love as an analytical category, a resource and strategy in negotiating and reproducing gender inequalities.

Volume 27, Issue 1, 2013

Men and Violence

Introduction by Lisa Vetten & Kopano Ratele

The last time Agenda devoted its attention to men specifically was in 1998, making this special issue on men and violence long overdue. The timeliness of such a focus has also been underscored by recent events. First, in scenes reminiscent of the height of apartheid, was the shooting at Marikana of 38 miners by the police on 16 August 2012. On 2 February 2013 Anene Booysen died in hospital of the terrible injuries inflicted on her following a brutal gang rape and then, less than two weeks later on 14 February, Reeva Steenkamp was shot dead by her boyfriend, the athlete Oscar Pistorius. While the antecedents of each incident differ, as do their individual contexts, they nonetheless all point to the same question: why is the problem of violence largely a problem of men? This is not to position “men as ‘the problem’”, as Lindsay Clowes (p 14) rightly notes in her Perspective, but to ask instead both why violence is so gendered, and in what ways is men’s violence gendered. As the contributions in this Issue of Agenda indicate, men are differentially positioned by, and in relation to, violence.

In conceptualising this issue of Agenda we sought to explore this question from a range of vantage points and called “for theory-driven research and case studies that sharpen, enrich and nuance our understanding of different forms of men’s violence against women, children, and other men” (Vetten and Ratele, 2012). While violence is caused by a multiplicity of factors and cannot be explained by any single determinant we nonetheless hoped for “articles that would critically examine interventions that address this nexus of masculinity and violence, whether at the level of programme or policy” (ibid). Above all, we wanted work that sought “to promote critical thinking and programming around the relationship between men and violence that will move South Africa forward in drastically reducing its levels of violence” (ibid). As is generally the case in life, we did not quite get what we wanted and, as a result, the journal is largely silent on homophobic violence and does not engage significantly with policy addressing men and violence. The programming highlighted in this issue is also not without its limitations and we engage with it accordingly. These efforts to prevent violence are however, still very much in their infancy in South Africa so we hope this volume will be read as an invitation to continue and extend existing debates.

The extent of men’s violence in South Africa

The violence, first of colonisation and then apartheid, has created a particular context in which violence has been made a major element in the management of social relations and conflict in South Africa. Thus while the democratic transition may have brought much of the political violence enflaming the country to an end in 1994, this has not been the case for interpersonal violence, specifically gender-based violence.

In 1999 South Africa’s female homicide rate was six times that of the global average, with half of these deaths caused by women’s intimate male partners (Seedat et al, 2009). Only a year earlier, in 1998, one in four (25%) women in the provinces of Limpopo, Mpumalanga and the Eastern Cape reported being physically assaulted by a male partner over the course of their lifetimes, while one in ten (10%) had experienced such violence in the past year (Jewkes et al, 2001). These exceptional figures did not decline significantly with time. Indeed, their ubiquity was only confirmed by the national South African Stress and Health (SASH) survey where domestic violence emerged as the most common form of violence experienced by women – and one reported by 13.8% of women as opposed to 1.3% of men (Kaminer et al, 2008). Most recently, in 2010, just under one in five (18.13%) women in Gauteng reported an incident of violence by an intimate partner (Machisa et al, 2010). And while the prevalence of intimate femicide (or men’s killing of their intimate female partners) decreased from 8.8/100 000 in 1999, to 5.6/100 000 in 2009, this rate did not decrease as rapidly as the proportion of non-intimate homicides, with the result that intimate femicide is now the leading cause of female homicides (Abrahams et al, 2013).

South Africa’s figures for reported rape are also high, a total of 56 272 cases recorded in the South African Police Service’s (SAPS) 2011/12 Annual Report. Yet even this number is but a fraction of the true extent of rape. Researchers have calculated that only one in nine women who had been raped and also had physical force used against them subsequently reported the attack to the police (Jewkes and Abrahams, 2002). An even more disturbing picture of the widespread prevalence of sexual violence emerges from a two province, community-based survey of adult men where 27.6% of those interviewed admitted to having raped at least once in the course of their lifetimes (Jewkes et al, 2009). The extent of South African men’s violence towards one another is no less alarming. Even though there has been a decline in rates of reported violence in the country, the 2011/12 SAPS Annual Report indicates a total of 15 609 murders (30.9/100 000), 14 859 attempted murders (29.4/100 000), 192 651 assaults with the intent to inflict grievous bodily harm (380.8/100 000), and 181 670 common assaults (359.1/100 000) (SAPS, 2012). While this data is not sex-disaggregated it is well-accepted that fatal violence is largely a masculine undertaking conducted by males against other males and, more specifically, by and against young black (including coloured) males. The Global Study on Homicide states that:

“South Africa, a country with a high homicide rate, displays a pattern of lethal male violence similar to the Americas, with (the) highest shares of homicide victims in the age groups between 20 and 39. This is a pattern of male violence that owes much to the types of risk-seeking behaviour in which certain disadvantaged groups in South African society routinely engage” (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2011: 68).

Overall, South African male homicide is approximately seven to eight higher than female homicide, with young black and coloured men bearing the burden of homicidal violence (Ratele, 2013).

It is well-accepted that fatal violence is largely a masculine undertaking conducted by males against other males

How are we to account for these statistics?

Volume 26, Issue 4, 2012

Gender, Ageing & Intergenerationality

Introduction by Vasu Reddy & Nadia Sanger

There is something deeply autobiographical to this issue. Crisscrossing a number of intersecting pathways, we believe this edition is reflective of personal histories, social responses to life course matters, and institutional changes in the social life cycle. But at its core this issue is a feminist and gendered view of the subject of ageing and intergenerationality. If we extend the metaphor, Agenda itself is an institution that is ageing. Having celebrated a quarter of a century this year, and growing from humble beginnings with the dedication of a small group of feminists in Durban, the journal now has continental coverage and is slowly and steadfastly approaching adulthood even though we are still in a youthful phase. At another level, the theme had a long gestation period since when it was first mooted. This edition grew out of a discussion among Editorial Advisory Board members several years ago about the need to interrogate, more closely, the prospect of ageing (and intergenerationality, precisely because of the temporal linkage to matters of biology and the life course) within the pages of Agenda. It is timely that we foreground the theme in a milestone year of the history of the journal. At another level, for the editors – and we assume most editors would probably say the same – it is also representative of how we too take into account our own ageing process in relation to facets of our own life course. Ageing, we realise, means much more than numbers. While Vasu and Nadia are by time-lines separated generationally, we are also simultaneously aware of the meaning, function, symbolism, and significance of the fact that age, and its attendant processes do not simply rely solely on biology and chronological time, but also on our complex interaction as individuals between society, culture and history.

Ageing is a necessary and indeed inescapable experience of being human. Also as a personal and societal problem, it sparks complex debates about assets and deficits. In fact, the deficit model of ageing as a dull, dreary dead-end is not the view we want to forge with this volume, but that rather through some of the gaps and problems that accrue, we want to also emphasise the possibility of agency and change. To this end, in this cluster issue, our focus on two interrelated themes, ageing and intergenerationality, are deliberately brought into the fold precisely because both have much to say about the fact that there is still much that we do not know, that is unexamined and indeed riddled with taboo, stigma and denial. An African focus in this edition suggests themes that offer coverage of the material context of Africa and the South by engaging some of the critical scholarship in the field.

our focus on two interrelated themes, ageing and intergenerationality, are deliberately brought into the fold precisely because both have much to say about the fact that there is still much that we do not know, that is unexamined

Ageing and intergenerationality bring particular modalities and challenges in this edition that are implicit to its aim. First, we hope that it will stimulate and open up the meanings of age, ageing and intergenerationality as relevant topics; second, to enable writers to engage the complexities of these concepts in relation to the social dynamics of life course matters; and third; to give attention to new ways of thinking that may account for what may be minimised and lost should we deny and miscrecognise these issues.

Ageing and intergenerationality in the South (African context) remains remarkably under-studied except for a few texts that speak to the issue (and many ungendered) from a social policy perspective in South Africa’s Eastern Cape (Sagner, 2000), the development agenda and ageing in sub-Saharan Africa (Aboderin and Ferreira, 2008), demographic (Van Dullemen, 2006), housing in South Africa (Kotze, 2006), as a pathology in respect of the institutional production of care (Myburgh, 2010), linguistics perspectives (Makoni and Stroecken, 2002), anthropological considerations on famine in rural Africa (Cligget, 2005), poverty and ageing in Uganda (Williams, 2003), intergenerational solidarity in the social security system for unemployed youth (Møller, 2010), a postmodern exploration of intergenerational practices in Africa (Hoffman, 2004), and the impact of urbanisation, impoverishment and AIDS in intergenerational relations (Geissler, Alber and Whyte, 2007). Ironically there exists a plethora of texts in northern scholarship that straddles a rich breadth of topics, issues and concepts and indeed, not without its controversy too. Remarkably it was especially some ageing northern feminists who took up the cudgels about the absence of ageing in discussions within the feminist project (notably Cruikshank, 2009; MacDonald and Rich, 2001; Copper, 1988). There is, however, a growing interest in ageing and intergenerationality, also as a feminist and a gender issue (Bernard, Phillips, Machin, Davies, 2000; Bengtson and Achenbaum, 1993; Izahura, 2010). Ageing and intergenerationality directs attention to relations and life course matters that rely not just on chronology or biology, but are part of a complex interaction between individual, society, culture and history (Sokolovsky, 2009; Andersson, 2002). The gender dimension of ageing, for example, is not simply confined to the “elderly” in a population, but clearly has differential implications on the life course of men and women within the broader context of class, disability, ethnicity, race and sexuality (United Nations, 2000).


Volume 26, Issue 3, 2012

Women’s sexuality and pornography

Introduction by Lou Haysom

Pinning down the understandings of current feminist debates on pornography may be long overdue for South African feminists and feminism/s, the subject having not attracted much attention since the 1990s. In South Africa post-1994, feminists paused for a moment to reflect on what the new freedom of expression meant under the new Constitution, and how the emergence of pornography from the underground where it had been illegal under apartheid, possibly related to women’s rights and freedom. The agenda for liberation certainly had not emphasised sexual licence imported from the North, but women’s long-fought emancipation and a non-racial and non-sexist participation in the nation as equal citizens.

The diversion and possible subversion of ‘freedom’ of expression, as a celebration of the right to possess pornography and for local consumption and production to take place without the threat of censorship and criminal penalty, was interpreted at the time as an opportunistic use of democratic freedom by the pornography industry that would operate at the individual level, and not enter the sphere of the body politic (Loots, 1996). The struggle for the recognition of gender difference, freedom of sexual choice and the diversity of sexual identity were yet to be fought in earnest using the Constitution’s Equality Clause. The possible implications for harm to women (and of course children and men) by pornography were not included in regulation as some feminists and church groups would have liked. So while the impact, meaning and practices of the pornography industry have been seen as peripheral, we may have misplaced the importance of the shifting meanings attached to the term itself, of sex and of the growing proliferation of pornography.

Recently, we have seen the suppression of our freedom to access of information, and we have also seen a national outcry over the explicit sexual depiction of the President, and women holding ‘slut’ marches to demand the right to wear what they choose and asserting control over their own bodies and sexuality. So some of the certainty over assertions around what may fall within the body politic for national debate may need more probing and unsettling, not least because we have also seen the rise of the disturbing murder of gays and lesbians and transsexuals – because of their exercise of sexual choice and difference. Sex and sexuality and who has the freedom to make the decisions around sex, in the last 18 years have arguably become increasingly contested. We cannot also ignore that pornography can be easily and possibly incorrectly implicated in moral degeneration, the spread of HIV/AIDS, the rise in teenage pregnancies and toll on women through gender violence. Thus, in framing an issue on ‘Women’s sexuality and pornography’ it may not be sufficient to state simply that pornography is a site of sexual entertainment, that as in the North, it has also offered a source of empowered sexual agency for women and men and that a high proportion of women are employed in its production and are its consumers globally. Instead, it may be productive to question the place and existence of pornography as a genre, its gender ideologies, its conventions of production and how as an industry it uses sexism and racism, particularly as an ubiquitous and widely used form of sexual entertainment in 2012. More than that, we can ask who pornography’s main consumers are, how pornography is read and understood, and lastly, we could also acknowledge the unknown dimensions of the sex industry and the problem of the precarious conditions of its workers.

After all pornography has been a troubled area fraught with opposing ideas as to how women should relate to the industry that has commodified and objectified and exploited women’s bodies for the vicarious viewing of sex for profit. Hard-line northern feminists in the 60s and 70s (for example Andrea Dworkin) took pornography as the patriarchal legitimation of violence against women: an industry that created sexually explicit material for audiences that would harm women. When video technology entered the picture it gave porn a vastly expanded platform for production and consumption in the 60s and 70s. More recently the globalisation of culture, the media’s highway into ordinary lives, including porn, through internet, cellphone and mobile technologies have made the almost instant availability of sexually explicit material to viewers a different kind of dilemma, as it falls outside of regulation, exposing society to dangers which some have argued calls for control and monitoring. Pornography is pervasive, easy to find for those who want it and is no longer new. In the semi-public space created by mobile technologies what ‘goes viral’ reaches audiences exponentially, taking porn out of a private domain, where individual freedom of expression and right to privacy is protected.

Even though the impact, and practices related to pornography (as part of a sex industry) have not been either a critical feminist political issue on the ground, or on the agenda for development, we may profitably revisit the subject.

Northern feminists’ contestation of pornography has largely shaped the terms and responses to porn today, leaving us with an armoury of possible defences to fight patriarchy. While radical feminists’ opposition to the sex industry positioned it as the eroticisation and objectification of women’s repression, the pro-sex feminists seized women’s sexuality as an important if not critical platform for women’s activism that needed to be taken out of men’s control. At the same time liberal feminists sought to introduce regulation and censorship of violent porn. The terrain of sex and sexuality, at the heart of the different positions that were adopted, are a critically important area for women’s sexual equality, not least because these have often been the first area where women’s bodies have been subject to state control, policed, where voices have been censored and marginalised and moved out of sight of the mainstream of public debate. So for most feminists winning the battle for sexual freedom in the private sphere was not unrelated to the agenda for reproductive rights, the right to contraception, women’s right to have an orgasm, understanding of their bodies and the recognition of sexual difference. Women’s participation in the sex industry – including pornography – under the defiant slogan ‘our bodies our choice’ was perhaps not such a contradictory consequence of the achievement of sexual freedom. Neo-liberal capitalism and individual freedom had given women the licence to take part in production and consumption of pornography, an alliance that has also seen women earn some of the best salaries earned in any industry – and at the same time working in some of the most precarious and vulnerable work conditions. As unprotected work sex workers’ organisation has raised the legal rights of sex workers and the profile of sex work in the public and political spheres.

In a globalised world we have been exposed to and affected not only by the alliance of neo-liberal capitalism and its positioning of women’s individual freedom as primarily the sexual freedom won in the North, but also seen its values adopted uncritically and inappropriately without tracing its relevance to an African and developing context.

This issue of Agenda opens up the possibility of debate in the context of vulnerable and contested sexualities and whether pornography contributes to perpetuating wider disempowerment. There has been little attempt to reconcile a single coherent position on pornography by feminists. Yet as a well contested feminist subject, it is not to be underestimated as it divided feminists into two sides in an ideological war, and it has similarly attracted feminists from different and opposing positions in South Africa. Ironically, radical feminist opposition on the basis that pornography is directly linked to gender violence has seen an uncomfortable alliance with the rightwing censorship and moral majority camp that is responsible for opposing contraception, freedom of choice on abortion, and for homophobia. Indeed, the reputed crimes of pornography, as pro-sex feminist Wendy Mcelroy (1995) has argued, may need to be argued, researched and indeed be guided by the activism of sex workers themselves, for serious consideration. The genre, she notes, may be responsible for creating some of the worst forms of ‘literature’ or media that depicts sex for audiences, because of its low budgets, its treatment and exploitation of sex as its subject, and its historical status as forbidden, illicit and off-limits. Moral panic around pornography, needless to say, frequently raises the spectre of danger, disease and trafficking of women – but these may more often than not have served agendas that are not ready to engage the possibility that sex work should be decriminalised or to advocate for women’s right to sexual and reproductive rights and control (see for example the paper on the moral panic drummed up around trafficking and sex work during the FIFA World Cup in Agenda [Gould, 2010]).

Volume 26, Issue 2, 2012

The politics of women’s health in South Africa

Introduction by Mandisa Mbali & Sethembiso Mthembu

There are several interrelated crises in women’s health in contemporary South Africa. Since the 1990s, HIV/AIDS has been considered foremost among these and it has posed a demographic, health, social and cultural catastrophe for South African women. HIV has become the leading cause of maternal mortality in South Africa, according to the government’s own statistics (Ramogale et al, 2007). Women’s social and health statuses are also being blighted by the high rates of intimate partner violence and sexual assault in the country. A recent global perception poll of the ‘best and worst’ group of 20 countries for women canvassed the views of 370 gender experts from five continents (Thomson Reuters Foundation, 2012b). South Africa was ranked 16th out of the group of 20 countries, right above Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and India, because it has “Some of the highest rates of sexual and gender-based violence in the world, a blight on a country where women are well represented in politics” (Thomson Reuter Foundation, 2012b). This concern has been echoed by Interpol which recently dubbed South Africa ‘the world’s rape capital’, where a woman is sexually assaulted every 17 seconds (SABC, ‘South Africa world’s rape capital: Interpol’, 19 May 2012).

In this Agenda special issue we have gathered pieces from an emerging literature on issues related to the politics of women’s health in post-Mbeki-era South Africa. In our call for papers, we indicated our desire to provide a forum to deepen and widen scholarly and activist conversations on women’s health issues in this country: we wanted to find papers which would provide fresh analyses in relation to well-documented issues such as maternal mortality and domestic violence and also bring to the fore new work on under-examined issues such as cervical cancer and coercive sterilisation, especially as these affect women living with HIV.

We think that the scholarship and activist writing we have gathered will not merely be of interest to gender specialists, but will be pertinent to all who follow development and governance in this country. The basis for our assertion is that, as this special issue indicates, South African feminist scholars and activists are highlighting both the gendered, redistributive limitations of the post-apartheid state and challenges facing the women’s advocacy organisations in our country.

The Politics of Women’s Health in South Africa: The role of the state

At the core of the rationale behind this special issue is the idea that there is a discernible ‘politics of women’s health’, which is expressed in women’s experiences of state service-delivery in relation to their sexual and reproductive health. We chose this focus for two reasons. Firstly, because South Africa is living through a serious and entrenched AIDS epidemic which disproportionately affects women. Secondly, because women in this country cannot routinely implement their sexual and reproductive decisions in a safe manner, even when they attend state health facilities.

To turn to how the papers conceptualise the politics of women’s health: when we designed the theme, we thought about it in the feminist sense – one which holds that the private sphere of the family, the home and our intimate relationships have historically been, and still are, infused with power (Bozzoli, 1983; Fraser, 1992).1 Moreover, we wanted to indicate our affinity with the thinking of feminists who have argued for state intervention into this ‘private space’ to combat problems such as intimate partner violence and defend women’s rights to make autonomous sexual and reproductive choices (Vetten and Motelow, 2004; Albertyn, 2007). Conversely, it would be meaningless to talk about the politics of women’s health divorced from public contestations for control of the state, or policy making, or budgetary allocation. So, therefore, we decided to use the term politics in both senses, that is to describe how power is distributed and contested in both the public and private sphere and the implications for women’s rights and activist organising around them.

As a consequence of feminist advocacy, South Africa’s Constitution refers to sexual and reproductive rights in three places:

  • The equality clause (s.9.3), which forbids discrimination on grounds of sex, gender and sexual orientation;
  • Section 27. 1. A, which states that “Everyone has the right to have access to health care services, including reproductive health care”, and
  • Section 12 dealing with “freedom and security of the person”.

These rights in relation to sexual and reproductive health include the rights to access to information (frequently manifest in health professionals obtaining informed consent for medical procedures following adequate counselling), education, dignity, and for our bodily integrity to be respected. Everyone in South Africa has the rights to choose to engage in pleasurable safer sexual experiences free from violence and to choose whether they would like to reproduce and if so, the number of offspring they would like to have. This is also the Department of Health’s formal understanding of the concept, as outlined in its contraception policies and the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act, No 92 of 1996. But to fully realise women’s rights in South Africa today there is a need for the government to develop a comprehensive sexual and reproductive health policy which would address women’s health in its totality. This would enable civil servants in the Department of Health to develop detailed plans to roll-out services in line with international best practices and press the treasury to finance such interventions. It would also aid civil society in holding the government accountable in terms of whether it is taking concrete steps to improve sexual and reproductive health services in line with emerging international evidence.

Volume 26, Issue 1, 2012

Meeting the challenges of the Millennium Development Goals

Introduction by Liepollo Lebohang Pheko

Women’s movements that have been engaged with the United Nations at all levels around the United Nations (UN) Conferences of the 1990s, working on both gender equality and social and economic justice, approach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) with mixed feelings. On the one hand, these goals recognise the centrality of gender equality in the development agenda, and set measurable, time-bound goals on ‘commitments’ with the support of the international community. On the other hand, there is great concern that they sideline key gains made in Beijing, Cairo and other UN conferences1, set a minimalist agenda and fail to integrate gender perspectives into all eight goals. The MDGs have been central to debates on development, political and economic discourses since 2000 and commit global governments to reduce poverty by 2015 by liberating humanity from hunger, lack of education, exclusion from political representation, sickness, environmental degradation and to promote women’s empowerment.

This edition of Agenda presents us a plethora of contributions on issues that are not always tangible within MDG and feminist debates, including: a gendered debate on human security, access to land and food security, famine as both a social construct and a livelihood crisis, the location of masculinity within feminist debates, feminisation of energy poverty, domestic worker’s rights within development approaches, limitations of indicators to measure the extent of gender based violence (GBV) and violence against women (VAW), cultural and religious complexities that may constrict women’s advancement, South Africa’s uneven progress on gender equality using the MDG indices and the experiences of women farmers in rural KwaZulu-Natal.

the MDGs have been central to debates on development, political and economic discourses since 2000

The writers present us with the opportunity to explore the multi-layered discourses that the MDGs present as well as discuss some of their limitations, particularly in the Afrikan context.

Feminist perspectives of the MDGs

The thoughtful narratives offered by the writers point to and reference several current debates about the MDGs. One opinion is that the MDGs drastically limit the scope of their attention, and set a minimalist agenda. This is partly because they were developed within the UN system without the broad participatory processes of UN conferences. As a result, civil society organisations may not have a sense of ownership in this agenda (Kindervatter, 2004). The result is a technocratic effort to solve systemic political issues that are related to the global distribution of power and wealth between and within nations.

Two of the writers, Wendy Issacs-Martin and Dejo Olowu, explore the North-centric articulation of the MDG targets, arguing that they are insufficient. The MDGs have probably omitted much of the Beijing and Cairo agendas (as well as the outcomes of other key UN conferences), and restrict their understanding of gender equality, including it in only one of the eight goals. Absent is the overall Cairo goal of universal access to sexual and reproductive health for all by 2015. This vastly reduces government accountability on the broad range of women’s human rights and obscures key issues such as violence, labour, reproductive rights, and women’s unpaid labour. A gender-based review of national MDG reports produced by the United Nations in 2003 found that discussions on gender were limited to Goal 3 (gender equality), Goal 5 (maternal mortality) and Goal 6 (HIV/AIDS), illustrating a ‘ghettoisation’ of gender issues within women-specific sectors (Kalyani Menon-Sen quoted in UNDP, 2003). “The faces of women in the MDGs are predominantly those of a ‘girl child’, a ‘pregnant woman’, and a ‘mother’” (Painter, 2004:21).

the feminist movement has argued that the MDGs follow a particular growth model, via macro-economic policies that conform to the Washington Consensus, as the means to eradicate poverty

In this issue of Agenda, Naadira Nadasen argues that the MDGs do not sufficiently use the human rights framework of the Millennium Declaration, which gives primacy to international law, including affirmation of the Convention for the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The human rights framework sees people as ‘rights-holders’ who can mobilise to demand the realisation of their rights, rather than ‘stakeholders’. While economic development goals are often seen as targets to be achieved when possible, a rights framework sees health or education as inherent rights to be claimed by all. If the MDGs are not considered as integral to existing human rights commitments, they could actually undermine international human rights law by setting lower standards than human rights treaty obligations (Painter, 2004)

Volume 25, Issue 4, 2011

Gender, sexuality and commodity culture

Introduction by Desiree Lewis & Mary Hames

In their discussion of the messianic promise and character of capitalism at the start of the new millennium, Jean and John Comaroff (2001) draw attention to the contradictory impulses of commodity culture during the last decade: on one hand, it has seemed to usher in limitless opportunities for individual and collective transformation through the acquisition of “things”, of resources, technology and information; on the other, it has both entrenched and exacerbated long-established power relations of race, gender and sexuality. They therefore pose the rhetorical questions:

“Could it be that these characteristics of millennial capitalism – by which we mean both capitalism and the millennium and capitalism in its messianic, salvific, even magical manifestations – are connected … with other, more mundane features of the contemporary historical moment? Like the increasing relevance of consumption … in shaping selfhood, society, identity, even epi-stemic reality? … Like the “crises”, widely observed across the globe, of reproduction and community, youth and masculinity? Like the burgeoning importance of generation, race and gender as principles of difference, identity and mobilization?” (2001:2).

Contributions to this issue of Agenda deal both with these globalised patterns, and with the distinct desires, possibilities and obstacles linked to commodity capitalism in contemporary South Africa. Writing in the late 1990s, Eddie Webster and Glenn Adler (1999) identified South Africa’s “double transition”, marked by the demise of apartheid and emerging neo-liberalism, which replaced the socialistic Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) with the launch of the neo-liberal Growth, Economic Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) strategy. Almost two decades after the overthrow of apartheid, we would like to propose South Africa’s confrontation of multiple transitions, including both Webster’s and Adler’s “double transitions” and others that amplify and confound these. These complicating transitions would include sexual rights and feminist struggles leading to increased freedoms for certain women, transgendered people, gays and lesbians; a backlash against social transformation launched by the ‘new right’ in the form of, for example, the moral regeneration programme and conservative discourses of ‘culture’; spiraling consumerism and the explosion of corporate capitalism – as reflected in the replacement of South African retailing companies with the American retailer, Walmart; the revolutionary impact of rapidly flourishing ICTs; and the growing robustness of youth and popular cultures. It is this context of possibilities, hopes, gains and ongoing challenges that makes the subject of gender, sexuality and commodity culture extremely ambiguous and complex. Since the sixties, with the rise of consolidated feminist writing on gender and sexuality, feminists have concentrated on the pernicious allure of patriarchal capitalism in explaining how gendered subjects have been entrapped in cycles of desire, compulsion and oppression.

The Janus-faced quality of capitalism has been an abiding concern for feminist scholars. Since the sixties, with the rise of consolidated feminist writing on gender and sexuality, feminists have concentrated on the pernicious allure of patriarchal capitalism in explaining how subjects have been entrapped in cycles of desire compulsion and oppression. The nexus of gender, sexuality and capitalism, therefore, has long been a major focus for global feminist scholarship and activism. Some of this research, still highly significant today, examines how capitalism generates distinct relations of production and labour. Dealing with the feminisation of labour, certain scholars have shown how women’s reproductive and productive capacity is mobilised in the service of rapacious capitalist exploitation and deepening relations of class, race and region (see Caraway, 2007; Bank-Muñoz, 2008). In this issue of Agenda, this theme is interestingly explored in Nadia Sanger’s review essay of a relatively neglected South African film. Sanger shows how a working-class (but unemployed) woman living in a historically coloured area in the Western Cape is ensnared by intersecting systems of consumption, disempowerment, reproductive labour and mothering in relation to her disabled son, sites of conspicuous consumption, such as well-known South African stores, and an ineffectual welfare system that presumes to help her.

Probably even more prominent than the themes of women’s roles in labour and production in past and current feminist scholarship is the emphasis on women as consumers. Second-wave feminist writers have stressed the oppressiveness of patriarchal capitalism in inculcating many women’s constant desires for perfection, acceptance and socially desirable femininities. While attention has been paid to various commodity items, feminists homed in especially on the bodily alteration of women, drawing attention to what Germaine Greer has called, “man-made women” (1999). In The Female Eunuch (1970), her iconic feminist book published much earlier, Greer argued that women do not know how much men hate them, and how much women are taught to hate themselves, with their learnt fixation with male-centred recognition (a fixation leading to the compulsive consumption of fashion and resources for bodily alteration) generating a profound alienation from their bodies and themselves.

It is significant that, in recent years, this strand within feminist scholarship has been re-activated, especially within more popular forms of knowledge. For example documentaries such as Over the Hill (Bergman, 2007) and Missrepresentation (Newsom, 2011), both screened at recent South African documentary film festivals, show how media images of photo-shopped women create ideals of fantastical perfection, with cosmetic surgery and the marketing and sale of clothes, for example, exploiting many women’s feelings of insecurity and generating the syndromes we so often see in the present day: self-loathing that culminates in anorexia, body dysmorphic disorder, depression, addictions and many other symptoms.

Documentaries such as these clearly respond to the overwhelming deluge of commodities that flood our contemporary world. Today, media images promoting beauty and bodily perfection, advertisements guaranteeing impossibly opulent life-styles, the concerted marketing and sale of cosmetics through multination corporations such as Unilever, dominate our world in ubiquitous and unrelenting ways. It is therefore unsurprising that popularised knowledge about women and commodity capitalism seems to be revisiting an early consciousness-raising feminist tradition by dwelling on the deep damage done to women, especially young women, by the current obsession with commodities through which women transform their bodies and themselves. As the two documentaries and many other sources indicate, both visual images and written text in the mass media have shaped the hegemony of popularised images of femininity. The insights of Crystal Orderson, a feminist journalist working at the South African Broadcasting Company (SABC), is extremely revealing about misogynistic media landscapes and their effects. Dealing with ways in which mainstream media is saturated with masculinist meanings and patriarchal dominance in South Africa (as is the case elsewhere), Orderson provides a graphic account of her personal navigation of a media world that routinely disparages women’s knowledge, bodies, and agencies.

black women were often constructed as compliant and passive consumers

Nicolette Ferreira’s contribution, a historical study of the mass media in South Africa, develops Orderson’s insights by exploring the nexus of race, class and gender in a mass media shaped by capitalism and apartheid. Showing how black women were often constructed as compliant and passive consumers of products such as Marmite and Pitco tea, her study of black women’s magazines in the sixties shows how extensively mass media can be enlisted in the service of particular capitalist and patriarchal agendas. While Ferreira seeks to explore women’s negotiated agencies (and the writerly and oppositional positions they acquired even within the confines of racism and capitalist exploitation in the sixties), she shows clearly how racially marked, classed and gendered subjects were constructed as consumers of racist values, conservative politics and engendering commodities.

earlier feminist work dwelt on coerced femininities, a testimony of the new emphasis on performative acts is the attention being paid to masculinities

The wave of feminist critiques of patriarchal capitalism has been and continues to be important in explaining the reproduction of patriarchal values, images and desires through commodity capitalism both in South Africa and elsewhere. However, more recent attention to gender, sexuality and commodity capitalism has focused on complex forms of power, resistance and subversion. Central to this shift is the theoretical work of scholars who deepen attention to the social construction of gender with their emphasis on dominant discourses and languages in shaping subjectivity, gender and sexuality. Within such work, Judith Butler’s emphasis on performance (1993; 2004) has been especially important. It clearly signals that the focus of critical analytical work on gender and sexuality should be, not so much the ‘real’ bodies and identities of women and men, but the discursive and performative ways in which bodies and identities are enacted within a matrix of social institutions, relations and discourses. As submissions to this issue demonstrate, performance and performativity have therefore been key to recent exploration of sexuality and gender under “millennial capitalism” (see Camoroff & Camoroff, 2001). New interdisciplinary research from scholars in psychology (Kopano Ratele), literary and cultural studies (Nicolette Ferreira and Carole Boyce Davies) and anthropology (Sakhumzi Mfecane and Kharnita Mohamed), as well as the artistic and creative work of photographers such as Ingrid Masondo, explore context-specific ways in which subjects navigate a bewildering array of commodity items, meanings and processes in order to perform, among other identifications, gender, race and class in ways that are either recognisable to others or that subvert what has been socially sanctioned. This emphasis, then, has led writers to deal not only with the subordination of social subjects within dominant discourses and practices of gender and sexuality, but also with how they intricately unsettle, subvert and confound dominant performances and meanings. The wealth and range of this theoretical preoccupation is well-demonstrated in contributions to this issue.

Volume 25, Issue 3, 2011

Teenage fertility and desire

Introduction by Nolwazi Mkhwanazi

‘Teenage-hood’ has acquired the status of a universally applicable category of human development, with the experience of ‘teenage-hood’ contingent on one’s circumstances and adoption of certain values. In its popular usage, the term ‘teenager’ refers to a person who is neither child nor adult. In this liminal space between childhood and adulthood, teenage-hood is encouraged to be and characterised as a time of self-discovery, anxiety, experimentation, instability and vulnerability. A teenager’s journey towards adulthood takes them through important biological and socio-legal milestones – puberty, sexual debut, and legal recognition of being able to make decisions regarding one’s body and conduct, including consent to engage in sexual relationships. Contributions selected for this volume discuss the world inhabited by teenagers, and encourage us to develop and expand our ideas about teenage desire and fertility.

Let me begin with a story about teenage desire, identity and aspirations. The events I describe took place in Nyanga East on a hot Friday afternoon in November 2001. On that day I was meeting with a group of teenagers with whom I worked closely while conducting research on what was then broadly defined as ‘the lives of young people in Nyanga East’.

The group that was meeting consisted of 3 girls, 7 boys and I. We all sat in a circle. Wantu, the joker in the group, sat slightly outside the circle. Bheki leant against the wall with his arms folded, wearing blue – tinted sunglasses, exuding an aura of ‘cool’. Zolani, as always, was eager to share. “I want to tell you my story,” he said when the topic turned to sex. He began his story with a graphic description of his longing to be loved and to be kissed by a girl. At 15 years old, he had finally met a girl that he liked. She was a year younger than him. The problem, he explained, was that she refused to kiss him. So he would dream about their first kiss and how he would hold her.
“I wanted to take her on a date, to the movies and buy her coke and…” The whole group burst into shrieks of laughter. “You mean take her to the roadside stands and buy her ematumbu [sheep’s intestines],” Wantu commented. “You guys never take girls out on a date to the movies, you can’t afford it,” Nomonde added as more laughter erupted. Zolani glared at her and threatened to stop telling his story since everyone thinks they know it better than he does. “Please continue,” I pleaded.

He continued, but this time the story was punctuated by a running commentary from his peers, consisting of shrieks of laughter, expressions of disbelief and general disagreement. When he described his second sexual encounter and some of the audience continued to disagree with him, he became upset and got up to leave the room, which he didn’t.
A few days later Zolani and I met on the street and I asked him if he had a minute to spare to talk. We ended up sitting on the pavement, and I asked him about the story he told. He shrugged his shoulders and said that everything that he had said was true, but that it was exaggerated. I then asked him why he was upset with the audience when they disagreed with him. He replied that he was telling the story, and not them. I asked him once again about his first sexual encounter, and he began by saying:

“Now I’ll tell you a real story, that day I was joking. They made me angry because they say that I am lying … I was 15 years old when I had sex. I met my girlfriend three months before. The girl made me crazy, I wanted to hug her and kiss her. I started having wet dreams about her, which told me that I was ready to have sex. I asked her about sex six weeks later and she said she was not ready [to have sex] and that she will tell me when she is ready. She told me after three months that she was ready to have sex. So we went to a friend’s house and did it there … The first time I didn’t use condoms because I didn’t know how, also I trusted her, I met her in church. It was her first time so she couldn’t be infected with anything.”

Zolani’s relationship lasted a year. He met his second girlfriend at the ‘jukebox’ (a shebeen), and he slept with her almost immediately and used a condom. He said that you couldn’t trust her because he had met her in the shebeen and girls who go to a shebeen often sleep with many men because they go there to get a boyfriend.

I chose to recount this story because it brings together many of the issues addressed by the contributors in this volume. It also directly addresses the theme of this issue-teenage desire and fertility. In the vignette above, Zolani describes his longing for love and the feelings he had for his first girlfriend. He describes how he wanted to take her out on a date –“take her to the movies and buy her a coke”. With these words, we get a glimpse of a young man’s dreams and aspirations and his experience of desire.

The desires of teenagers have received very little attention in academic research, whereas teenage fertility continues to receive substantial attention worldwide. Much of this attention focuses on teenage girls and is concerned with preventing or mitigating the impact of pregnancy. There is very little known about the desires or fertility of teenage boys. Bhana and Pattman (2009: 69) have pointed out that “… we know very little about the world inhabited by young adults, how they see themselves, what they wish for, their desires and passions, their fears and the ways in which the performance of masculinities and femininities are constructed, how it is advantageous and how it can inhibit other potential experiences and how it is vulnerable to diseases.” Contributions selected for this volume not only discuss the world inhabited by teenagers – they encourage us to develop and expand our ideas about teenage desire and fertility. Contributions from teenagers themselves are included, shedding light on their desires, experiences and understanding of desire.




Volume 25, Issue 2, 2011

The Politics of Water

Introduction by

When the original call out for papers was made for this special focus issue of Agenda on water, we began by asking for research and writing that would challenge the seemingly gender neutrality of current local and global debates around water, climate change, access to clean water and sanitation, and the increasing commodification and ownership of water resources. We asked for a strong focus on debates and issues as they emerge in the South and within developing societies. This was framed within the 2006 United Nations Human Development Report which has concluded that,

“1.8 billion people have access to a water source within 1 kilometer, but not in their house or yard, consume around 20 liters per day. In the United Kingdom the average person uses more than 50 liters of water a day on a flushing toilet (where average daily water usage is about 150 liters a day). The highest average water use in the world is in
the USA, at 600 liters day“ (UN, 2006).

Given that most of the world’s poor are still women, and indeed women of colour, this special issue of Agenda set out to ask for papers that would unpack these (and other) water related statistics. Onto this, the call for papers alerted potential feminist academics, activists and writers that we were also hoping to engage debate and theorising around the
ecological debates that noted Indian water activist, Vandana Shiva, has written about – that the developing worlds water crisis, is less about water than about a human-created crisis and that far from a water shortage, what we are experiencing is a water management crisis.The reason for this, Shiva (2002) notes is the commoditisation and privatisation of water and the increased control of water by first world multinational corporations.

As a stalwart eco-feminist, my own politics around water is an environmental one, framed in a fiercely feminist anti-globalisation paradigm that seeks to engage ‘the politics of water’ as an issue of gender and race democracy, equity and protection of the Earth. As a flurry of abstracts began to be sent in, what started to become very clear was that a lot of research was (and is) being done that looks primarily at (in the developing context) water delivery programmes, the gendered burdens of water scarcity in primarily rural areas, how water underpins the still ever present gender divisions
of labour within the household and in schools and the educational sector, and how women still lack representation within governance structures that determine policy, procedure and process around clean water access – be these
in urban or rural areas, community forums, regional governance structures or national governments. In the South African context, these above mentioned research priorities are often located within the contentious debates around
government’s promise, in 2000, of Free Basic Water (FBW) and the gendered problems that begin to be unearthed around this ‘myth’ of FBW.

What began to emerge, as I (in collaboration with Agenda’s consulting editor, Lou Haysom) stepped into this murky gendered river was the emergence of two paradigms of understanding ‘The Politics of Water’. Firstly, overwhelmingly
the research being done was underpinned by a kind of human rights paradigm and the assumption that everyone has the right to water. Much of the profound ensuing feminist/gendered research contained in this issue thus tackles head on processes and procedures where women specifically are denied their basic human right of water due to paternal
and gendered (and often deeply racialised) process. Underpinning this research is the idea that, “until women are taken into consideration in the making of policy and procedure, and until women are consulted, and until women
no longer bear the burden of the household and water collection, they will never be able to exercise their basic human rights”.

Volume 25, Issue 1, 2011

Marriage: A Risky Business Or Safe Place?

Introduction by Devina Nadarajan Perumal

Adopting a critical lens towards the institution of marriage as a highly gendered institution, all the articles in this special issue open up a host of questions about what the union of two people means, what it has become, and what it could stand for? In trying to liberate the marriage institution from its patriarchal content and heteronormative building blocks that serve to uphold it, the authors critique the marriage institution by providing answers to the following question: Is marriage a risky business or a safe haven? Speaking from a variety of positions and standpoints, feminist theory and critical discourse analysis, the authors reflect on change and transformation in their experiences of marriage or outside of it. The methods adopted range from survey-oriented and behavioural studies to case studies and experiential narratives along with judicial pronouncements. A predominant feature that emerges throughout this critique, and which is teased out in many of the themes, is a call for addressing the gender-blindness and complicity in a range of social practices which have emerged under the broad rubric of what could be termed marriage-based violations.


Marriage is recognised as an institution of fundamental social and legal importance. Commonly defined as a nonsensual relationship, the core element of marriage, until recently, remains an exclusive union between a woman and a man with the intention that it should persist for life. With the heterosexual couple in mind, this conception of the marriage institution (representing the cornerstone of family life), as a preferred context for intimate relations is notorious for its tendency to deepen and solidify the normalisation of gendered roles based in the sexual divisions of labour, norms of dependency and protection, parenting styles, and expressions of sexual intimacies. The limits to women’s identities, the constraints on women’s freedom and sexual satisfaction, and expectations in terms of the gendered division of labour in the household appear to be the most troubling aspects of heterosexual marriage for feminists. It is in this context that Lori Jo Marso (2010: 146) claims that

[heterosexual] “marriage is indelibly coupled with bourgeois respectability – to be married is to practice legitimate and appropriate sex, provide a suitable home for children, and participate in the promise of a bright future anchored in
secure and stable values”. 

Today, the institution of marriage is in transition, and no longer represents the hallmark of life partnerships. Evidenced by a disenchantment with high and significant divorce statistics, and a reluctance to ‘take the matrimonial plunge’, cohabitation/domestic life partnerships have featured as a newer form of marriage-like partnerships. I think that the sharpness of the critique of marriage has emerged from the Gay and Lesbian Coalitions who have correctly attacked marriage as an institution based largely on exclusion and exclusivity, both of which are antithetical to
any proper concept of democracy. In this sense, marriage as an institution occupies the normative field, leaving no space for non-normative, non-exclusive relationships. I would argue that it is this encoded primacy of heterosexuality as natural and inevitable that has created the impetus for the transformation of the marriage institution in substance and in form.

Volume 24, Issue 86, 2010

Gender, food and nutrition security

Introduction by Shirin Motala

The right to food is a fundamental human right enshrined in international law. Evidence suggests that there has been little progress towards achieving this right. This introduction to this special issue explores the meaning of this right and, based on available evidence, suggests that to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty, a necessary precondition is that gender equality is addressed. Our responses need to address both long-term structural issues, such as changing the power relationships in society, as well as short-term measures necessary to mitigate the harsh impacts of hunger and poverty, particularly for children. Some examples of social protection measures that are proving effective in this regard are given.


At the peak of the global economic recession and food price crisis in 2009, the number of people hungry and malnourished in the world surpassed the 1 billion mark (IFPRI, Concern Worldwide & Welt-Hungerhilfe, 2010). Unsurprisingly, between 2007 and 2008 there were over 40 food riots and related unrest in cities across the globe (HoltGimenez & Patel, 2010). According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), there were 264 million hungry people in sub-Saharan Africa (FAO, 2010).

The 2010 Global Hunger Index (GHI) (IFPRI, Concern Worldwide & Welt-Hungerhilfe, 2010) noted that world hunger remained at a serious level in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, their GHI scores being 22.9 and 21.7 respectively against a global GHI score of 15.1.

Of concern is the fact that child underweight contributed 7.4 points (nearly half) of the global GHI score of 15.1). Significantly, sub-Saharan Africa is home to more the 90% of the world’s stunted children. The roots of childhood undernutrition are poverty, food insecurity and gender inequality.

This reflects the reality that the right to food is NOT being realised, especially for young children. Recent evidence suggests that the “window of opportunity” for improving life and well-being outcomes for children is much narrower, covering the period from conception to the child’s second birthday (1000 days). Children whose well-being is not addressed during this period face irreversible consequences – a lifetime of poor physical and cognitive development.


Volume 24, Issue 85, 2010

2010 FIFA World Cup: Gender, Politics and Sport

Introduction by Venitha Pillay & Elaine Salo

The euphoria of the 2010 FlFA World Cup in South Africa seems to persist, albeit as faded, scraggy remnants of flags hanging precariously on aerials and the side view mirrors of cars. The cacophony around this event has died. Shakira has left the stage. However the debates about the gendered impact of the FlFA World Cup still remain. This special issue of Agenda, maps out some of the key features of the debate, as we question whether women’s participation in sport has been significant and whether international sporting events can make a substantive difference in women’s lives.

In the last decade or so. South Africa has repeatedly revelled in having the world’s gaze trained upon us. From the moment Mandela stepped out of prison and onto the world stage, as a country we captured the world’s attention. And we loved it!! It was such a refreshing change from being the pariahs of the world. Shortly thereafter, we hosted the Rugby World Cup and won. Hollywood even made a movie. Invictus, that brought President Mandela and the Rugby World Cup into brilliant unison, as a visual tribute to the powers of reconciliation. Since these magical moments a number of mega international sporting events, such as the World Cup Cricket tournament, international golf, surfing and tennis matches have been held here. It seems we have become somewhat addicted to being the centre of attention on the global sports stage. In the aftermath of the successful bid to host the FlFA World Cup, it seemed that the event would usher in a golden age of development for South Africans across race, gender and the urban – rural divide. And indeed, initially the promises of development seemed to be realised, as new jobs were created in construction, tourism and security. The president of FlFA Sepp Blatter, tied the staging of the mega soccer event integrally to a development agenda in South Africa and the continent. He claimed that the FlFA World Cup presented a

common ground for engaging in a wide range of social development activities, including education, health promotion, social integration and gender equity (Blatter, 201 0).

South Africa’s successful bid to host the 2010 Soccer World Cup has seen huge infrastructural investments. In the years and months preceding the World Cup national roads were improved, our city public rail systems, best exemplified by the Gautrain project, were constructed, or improved to facilitate easy access to stadiums, Fan Parks and city centres. Bold, beautiful new stadiums rose out of dry earth. Indeed. critics of the South African government’s decision to host the 2010 FlFA World Cup, were quick to point out that in successfully meeting FIFA’s conditions for holding this jamboree, through its massive financial, human and intellectual investment in it, the South African government had demonstrated that it had the necessary resources and capabilities to prioritise the chronic poverty and service nondelivery endemic to most parts of the country (see Solidarity News, 201 0, on the Durban Social Forum protest against the extravagant expenditure on the 2010 World Cup while the demands of the poor were ignored).


Volume 24, Issue 84, 2010

Gender and Rurality

Introduction  by Relebohile Moletsane & Sithabile Ntombela

There is arguably a strong link between poverty and the lived experiences of women and girls, particularly those In rural areas. This is exacerbated by gender inequalities and the social status of women in these communities, which prescribe how individuals and groups negotiate their dally interactions. As the contributions in this issue of Agenda illustrate; boys and girls growing up and men and women living In these rural settings are socialised to fulfil different social roles and to live in accordance with gendered expectations, norms and values. It is within rural households that the cultural constructions of gender take place, entrenching the subordinate position of women and girls in these contexts, thereby intensifying their lived experiences. Although they fulfil critical socio-economic roles, women remain poorer, invisible, and voiceless, and are excluded from decision-making processes. This introductory piece presents an overview of rurality and gender in southern Africa and outlines the various contributions in this issue of Agenda.

Sixteen years after the demise of apartheid, and in spite of the many international treaties and declarations South Africa has signed, many people in the country are still waiting for the promised social change to come. In particular, the situation is even grimmer for those living in rural contexts in the country. Extreme poverty, disease (including HIV and AIDS), violent crime (including gender-based violence) and poor service delivery generally tend to interact in insidious ways to plague their day-today experiences. Because of gender inequalities and the (traditional) social status of women in rural communities in particular, women and girls are even more negatively affected. Illustrating the socio-cultural factors that interact to impact negatively on girls’ and women’s lives in rural South Africa, and aptly titled “I am the lowest end of all”: Rural women living with HIV face human rights abuses in South Africa, a 2008 study by Amnesty International on the high incidence of HIV and AIDS among rural women in South Africa notes the coexistence of HIV and sexual violence, noting that gender inequality and poverty play a key role. Thus, this issue of Agenda on Gender and Rurality focuses on these complex issues related to gender and rurality in southern African contexts, as well as some of the methodological and theoretical approaches to understanding and addressing them.

Why a focus on the rural condition? First, dominant discourses about the rural are often concerned with

… space, isolation, community, poverty, disease, neglect, backwardness, marginalization, depopulation, conservatism, tribalism, racism, resettlement, corruption, entropy, and exclusion (Balfour, Mitchell and Moletsane, 2008: 1011

Such discourses tend to focus on the rural space(s) only as the ‘context’ in which scholars locate analyses of what they regard as issues more worthy of scholarly interrogation, including some aspect of development, or in the case of the rural, underdevelopment (e.g. poverty, food insecurity, violence and other social problems). Seldom is rurality or the interrelationships therein viewed as worth studying in itsltheir own right. Even more silenced are the gender dynamics that characterise the rural condition, particularly the gendered ways in which men and women and girls and boys negotiate their day-to-day lives in rural households, communities and institutions.

Second, available scholarship suggests that while social experience in urban contexts can sometimes be challenging and negative, the very isolation of the rural space makes for a more intense and challenging lived experience for individuals, who among others are residing, working and learning in such contexts (Balfour, Mitchell and Moletsane, 2008). From this, we would argue that cultural constructions of gender and, in particular, the social status of women and girls in rural communities contribute to the intensity of their lived experiences, rather than for their male counterparts and those living in urban spaces. Consider, for example, the exclusion of women from acquiring financial, physical and social assets and decision-making, as well as the gendered impacts of poverty, HIV and AIDS, and climate change, among others, often reported to be more pronounced in rural than in urban areas (e.g. Harley and Wedekind, 2004).

Seldom is rurality or the interrelationships therein viewed as worth studying in itsitheir own right. Even more silenced are the gender dynamics that characterise the rural condition

In an 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, this issue of Agenda on Gender and Rurality invited prospective contributors to explore various questions such as: What does gender mean in southern African rural contexts? How does gender intersect with other social identities (e.g. sexuality. social class, race, etc.) to influence different people’s lived experiences in rural spaces? What kinds of interventions (education, economic, health, etc.) work or are needed to mitigate the negative impacts of gender and rurality and their intersection with other social identities? As such, the issue called for contributions that explore concerns related to the study of gender and rurality in southern Africa, as well as some of the methodological and theoretical approaches to understanding and addressing them. The various contributions in the issue, therefore, develop feminist and gender analyses of the rural condition and the ways in which gender is constituted in rural settings in southern Africa (see Bryant and Pini, 2010) and how role theories continue to shape and inform how men and women are socialised to perform different roles in line with different norms and expectations (Bock, 2006).



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