Despite specific law reforms that have changed overtime male privilege and misogyny has stagnated the emancipation of women in South Africa writes Dr Lentsu Nchabeleng
August 9 is a reminder of the great women who helped shape the new South Africa. In 1956, 20 000 women marched up to the Union Building in Pretoria in protest of pass laws (apartheid government’s control over the movement of women of colour in urban areas). It was in honour of this momentous day that the phrase “Wathint’Abafazi Wathint’imboko!” (You strike a woman, you strike a rock) came into existence.
This occasion has come to represent the resilience and strength of women of all races in South Africa. Although the struggles of women in the 1950s can be described as “bread and butter” issues, such as access to health care, food security and adequate housing, the modern-day South African women are still faced with a wide range of issues such as gender inequality, unemployment, gender-based violence, HIV and AIDS and poverty.
Despite specific law reforms that have changed overtime, male privilege and misogyny has stagnated the emancipation of women in South Africa.
The subjugation of women can be traced back to 1912 when the African National Congress (ANC) was formed and women were not allowed to be members. Although many of these women had begun to form groups and some had taken social roles in the community, they were not recognised by their male counterparts who saw the need to unite politically to form
common front against white oppression.
It was only until 1943 that women were allowed to join the ANC. This shows that women have always been confined to stereotype gender conventions and unfortunately women’s realities in South Africa are still determined by race,
class and gender-based access opportunities and resources.
The social and economic exclusion of black women during the periods of colonialism and Apartheid has limited access to education, resources and opportunities. Many black women are living in poverty and face difficulties accessing a number of constitutionally recognised rights including land, housing and healthcare.
It goes without saying that women who are faced with multiple forms of discrimination face increased risks of violence. And those experiencing violence have fewer-to- no options to leave due to lack of income, resources or
privilege. And those who work are paid less for the same work men do.
Privilege is as a “systematically conferred advantages individuals enjoy by virtue of their membership in dominant groups with access to resources and institutional power that are beyond the common advantages of marginalised citizens.” 1
The concept of privilege in relation to men highlights the need to find and keep power. In many parts of the world, men are taught from birth that they somehow inherit the right to power- that boys are strong and aggressive and have the right to anger whilst girls are domesticated, gentle and compliant.
Thus, in order to address gender-based violence, it is important to unpack these social notions to thoroughly comprehend the link between patriarchy and gender-based violence.
It goes without saying that male privilege and entitlement plays a significant role in abuse. Many abusers consider their abusive behaviour not only acceptable but justified-both a right and a privilege.
Most often than not, abusers treat their spouses as less than an equal and
deserving of harm, they do this because they feel entitled. They believe that power and authority in a relationship or at home is a man’s entitlement.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) lifetime prevalence of intimate partner violence among female youths (15-24) ranges from 29.4% to 31.6%. 2
The East and Southern Africa region has high rates of sexual violence against women and girls. In seven countries, around 20 per cent of
those aged 15 to 24 years reported they had experienced sexual violence from an intimate partner. Sexual violence against early adolescents aged 15 years and below is highest in the conflict and post-conflict countries 3 .
The high rate of violence against women and girl in society is deeply rooted in social and economic inequalities that are maintained by the persistence of harmful gender norms, alcohol use and overall increased poverty, violence in
urban slum areas and conflict areas. The fear of abuse and power dynamics prevent many women from refusing sex or negotiating safer sex, subsequently making them vulnerable to violence.
The rates of violence against women and girls in South Africa are unacceptability high. The rate of violence against women and girls in South Africa has been said to be comparable to the sexual violence rates of countries in conflict. Violence against women and girls is a significant societal and public health problem in South Africa. In response to the scourge of violence against women and girls in the country, women, gender activists and civil society
movements have organised movements such as TotalShutDown,#StopRapeCulture #EnoughisEnough to protest against sexual and domestic violence.
This begs the question- can a society rooted in historical trauma and violence systematically address male privilege to curb gender-based violence?
We need to draw lessons and inspiration from the women of 1956 on being assertive and demanding. We need to have sustained conversations with all relevant stakeholders including community advisory boards, government, civil society organisations, activists to curtail gender-based violence in the country.
Dr Lentsu Nchabeleng academic qualifications :PhD (2018, Durban University of Technology); MA (2020, University of KwaZulu-Natal-Natal); MTech (2013, Durban University of Technology); BA Cons (2016, University of KwaZulu-Natal-Natal); BTech (2009, Cape Peninsula University of Technology); Diploma (2008, Durban University of Technology)