Sun. Nov 29th, 2020

South Africa and the inconspicuous invisibility of women

Women in South AfricaSibongile Zulu addresses issues facing women in South Africa.

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In news sites all over the world, South Africa’s sixth Cabinet is being applauded for having a gender-balanced representation of MPs; for the first time in our history, 50% of the cabinet is comprised of women.

While this is commendable, as long as there is conspicuous invisibility of women, these problems will not go away, beyond the superficial level; if gender and women’s rights are not put into the forefront of all policies set out by this new government.

It is meaningless. It is not enough to have a female MP if they do nothing to advance the rights of women. In the same grain, it is not enough to place the burden of engaging with these issues by themselves, merely because they are women. 

Confronting issues of gender imbalances in South Africa

In order to fully confront issues of gender imbalances on the ground, we need to examine the underlying institutional barriers.

There also needs to be some semblance of dynamism and rejuvenation in the kinds of men and women that are chosen to represent South Africans, at the national level.

The country has one of the most progressive and inclusive constitutions in the world; the Bill of Rights stipulates that everyone has the right to have their dignity to be protected and “the right to security in and to control their own body”.

Despite this, South Africa also has one of the highest rates of gender-based violence in the world.

According to this report, published in 2018, 3.3% men and 2.3% women from all racial groups thought it was acceptable for a man to hit a woman; a statistic that presents difficulties when attempting to eradicate violence directed at females.

Gender-based Violence

While the three main parties have pledged to confront GBV in their manifestos, as well as with the new cabinet, one can not help but think that women, and issues affecting them, are not given political priority, because they are not seen as latent to political parties.

For example, In 2017, Mduduzi Manana, then deputy minister for higher education, pleaded guilty to three counts of assault against three women, whom he assaulted in a nightclub.

His housekeeper accused him of pushing her down the stairs in his home, which he denied.

He was not prosecuted for the allegations. Yet, in August (a time when most of SA pretends to care and value women) last year, he was invited to speak at a fundraising gala for GBV called “Legends United Against Gender-Based Violence”.

What is especially troubling is that Manana was also publicly defended by the ANC Women’s League President and then Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini.

When Karabo Mokoena was murdered and burnt by her boyfriend, the Minister of Women in the Presidency, Susan Shabangu, suggested that this had happened because Karabo was “weak”.

These are just a few countless examples of parliamentarians who are supposed to defend women, shifting the blame to women because of internalised misogyny and chauvinism.

When radio personality Masechaba Ndlovu exposed the abusive relationship of singer Babes Wodumo and her boyfriend Mampintsha, she was fired and shunned for abusing the two’s privacy.

Babes Wodumo later filmed an Instagram video of him beating her. Women, still, are forced to shoulder the burden of abuse and GBV, simply because society cannot be trusted to act.

Due to pervasive social and cultural norms, women are also expected to run the households, take care of children, and the elderly and infirm.

The marginalisation of women

This means that the burden of care and responsibility within society falls heavily onto the hands of women. This is also marred by race: black women are those who are most affected and living in positions of poverty.

Women are marginalised from the formal economy, often paid less than their male counterparts. In rural areas, a resurgence in tribalism and its associated values perpetuates the oppression and marginalisation of women.

While inadequate access to fundamental services including healthcare, housing, education, water and sanitation, electricity means that women spend time living in insecurity.

All of these problems are systemic and deeply ingrained in how we interact and engage with one another. It is going to take a lot to solve them.

If government is serious about confronting all of these issues, they have to start adopting an intersectional feminist framework; one that places the women and issues affecting them at the forefront of all policies that are instituted.

Then we can start celebrating. It’s simply not enough to have 50% women in Cabinet.

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