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The Unity of Women – JESSIE DUARTE

Jessie DuarteAddressing the issues of women is addressing a programme to achieve the goals of the National Democratic Revolution.

Capitalism and patriarchy are two sides of the same coin. Both systematically exploit people; divide the interests of human beings into what is good for profit and what achieves results for the growth of the market place.

Patriarchy maintains the goals of the capitalist system in the home and ensures that the male gender is the dominant gender.

Patriachy ensures that women serve men and submit to men in the home because it is assumed that the head of the household is and will always be a male even when an adult male is absent, a male child can assume this role.

One amongst many questions we need to address is whether a mixed economy such as ours as well as our stated goal of a non-sexist society transforms the reality of women from being the underdog of capitalism and patriarchy to being fully functional and equal members of society.

We have achieved much in the work place such as maternity leave as a right . Women are employed as miners, engineers and in construction workers, but gender parity is more than one or two manifestations , it is the change of a mindset that lingers on . The barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen mentality is real, the need to seek permission for the rights to one’s own health is real, the stigma from elders, in-laws and family for asserting a right of women to have rights is also still very real in our country.

Is our problem an ideological one or a problem of custom and tradition designed to favour the male gender? It is sad to observe that in countries where the social and economic systems are based on the communist manifesto, women are no better off. Few women reach the pinnacle positions in the ruling parties or the polit bureaus of the states where social democracy or socialism rules. Sweden has never had a woman Prime Minister, few women serve in the polit bureau of China. Russia in the Soviet times and now has never had a woman as the President . We do not know the women who lead in Cuba .

The issue is therefore that the exploitation of women is similar irrespective of the ideological choices. This is due to the reality that patriarchy is a common partner to capitalism, socialism and communism.

In South Africa therefore the primary focus of the women’s movement must be the defeat of patriarchy in all its manifestations such as within traditional and cultural practices, political leadership, the economy, education, the work place, academia, and the boardrooms of business. A warrior against patriarchy is a woman who has no fear of being negatively branded, but focuses on the ultimate achievement ending the system that maintains the status quo.

There are many women who are progressive about the political outlook of the country, who will not challenge the negative and harmful effects of patriarchy in the home. However, language, custom and traditional practices over centuries have adapted to serve the growth and development of human beings and it needs courage to make that transformation real.

Since its launch in 1948 the ANCWL has had warriors against patriarchy and complacency. I will name but a few who are well known, not forgetting the hundreds of thousands of unsung heroines of the struggle for the emancipation of women.

Lillian Ngoyi, Ama Naidoo, Ma Sislangu, Mildred Lesia, Helen Joseph, Amina Cachalia, Albertina Sisulu, Gertrude Shope, Annie Salinga, Francis Baard, Lizzie Abrahams, Rita Ndzanga, Florence Jardine,Victoria Mxenge, Leila Patel, Jenny Schreiner, Thandi Modise, Ray Simons, Ruth Mompati, Frene Ginwala, Winnie Mandela, Sonia Bunting, Rika Hodgekin, Sue Rapkin, Mary Moodley, Regina Nzo, Dora Tamana,Violet Sebone, Emma Mashinini, Maggie Resha, Jackie Modise, Adelaide Tambo, Bertha Gwowa, Ruth First, Molly Blackburn, Charlotte Maxeke, Dorothy Nyembe, Connie September, Gill Marcus, Vesta Smith, Ellen Mohamed, Miriam Makeba, Wendy Lucas Bull , Gloria Serobe, Sally Motlana, Ina Perlman and many more.

These women laid foundations in the trade union movement, in the professional fields such as nursing teaching and academia, in the legal fraternity in science and technology, in arts and culture as well as other areas of our daily living. The message of emancipation was clear throughout the history of the broad liberation movement that the emancipation of women was a struggle fought side by side for national liberation.

The rights of women as workers , scholars, in business , in politics , in social movements and elsewhere were championed alongside the Defiance Campaign , campaigns for the release of political prisoners , cheaper electricity rates, housing, safer streets, violence against women, space in the economic trade and so forth. It took courage and daily commitment to raise the issues of women in the midst of a just war against apartheid and burying loved ones murdered by apartheid.

Issues such as the rights of women to inheritance, the rights of first wives, the rights of the girl child, equal pay for equal work, the rights to decide on women’s health and rights to ownership of land in tribal trust areas are a few of the issues we must face even today.

Much has been achieved and women are represented in politics albeit it not fully and the male gender has found ways to bend the 50% parity decision of the ANC to exclude the top leadership of the organisation at all levels, some women entrepreneurs have found space in the business world but too few in board rooms. No women lead any of the universities in the country at Vice Chancellor level. One or two have, but are regarded as bad examples due to the fact that they were co opted to extent of adopting behaviour akin to male arrogance . In politics too we have seen some women appoint all male cabinets at provincial level, and in the ANC we experience women voting for men to lead exclusively in some leadership positions.

State budgets are still dominated by masculine interests such as a preference for war toys as opposed to increased resources for enabling broader human security such as better street lighting, more visible policing, swift judicial action against the perpetrators of domestic violence and femicide. There are insufficient support services such as enough day care facilities, for working women.

We have put in place a Gender Commission which is seldom heard and seen , once a year, they come out to comment on the national budget, but the mainstreaming of gender in all sectors of society is not a task that they monitor publically. Perhaps the problem is the budget and lack of resources for issues that will promote the emancipation of women.?

Social injustices , inequality, poverty and unemployment find women at the lowest level of the ladder if we make it to the ladder at all. SARS has published a survey which shows that women earn a third less than men .

The International Trade Union Confederation and Incomes Data Services puts the global gender wage gap at an average of 22.4% and South Africa at 33.5%.

The key question the ANCWL must answer in the forthcoming conference is whether it is addressing the issues faced by women and if they are organising women accross all sectors of society or have remained in the narrow band of organising women already belonging to churches and trade unions.

It would be a progressive step forward to have a woman as President of South Africa, we already have women leading internationally, the first woman Chairperson of the AU Commission is a South African Woman. We have South African women leading in the UN and the African Bank. We have 47% women as Ministers and Deputy Ministers. The issues of women are sufficient reason to seek redress through a women President or Deputy President. However, we would seek a woman President whose focus is the entire nation. In our history we have already had two women as Deputy Presidents .

This Women’s League Conference cannot and should not be business as usual; the replacement of one slate with another as has been the case since the dawn of our democracy. It must be different and seek to unite the voice of women. We need a leadership collective who will propel the emancipation of women to a different level. It must address how the ANCWL will become a universal voice of women in South Africa, in particular all 800 000 women who are on the database of the ANC as members of the ANC. It must seek to attract the brightest minds to the ANCWL from all sectors of society.

We have a legacy to uphold of bold and courageous women who led marches, defied apartheid authoritarian rule , stood firm for the inclusion of women in the ANC leadership and in government, they made a difference in our lives. Those who will be chosen to lead must take our struggles to the next level.

Article by JESSIE DUARTE

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