The true liberation of women depends on a reasonable redistribution of power


There is a narrative that the majority of female politicians around the world enter politics and are catapulted into leadership positions due to their relationships with men in senior positions.

Political commentators were abuzz with the account that Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma lost her candidacy to lead the ANC and South Africa to Nasrec in 2017 because she was an extension of her former husband, Jacob Zuma.

In America, it has been said that Hillary Clinton lost her candidacy for president because it would simply have reproduced the reign of her husband Bill Clinton.

There were also concerns that the leader of the Cuban feminist movement Wilma Espin, wife of former Cuban President Raul Castro, could jeopardize the autonomous position of women in the country, as she was still following her husband’s instructions.

The ANC Women’s League, in particular, chooses to be a feminist organization when it suits them.

The ANCWL is an extension of the ANC and plays the role of second fiddle to male-dominated structures, what Sarah Longwe calls “honorary men”.

When the liberation movement was not banned in 1990, a space for gender struggles was created. Women were supposed to influence the constitutional negotiation process through which major gains in gender equality were supposed to be achieved.

They were supposed to clearly define and articulate their interests and ensure that the structures that perpetuated their disadvantages were radically transformed.

Among other things, the outcome of the constitutional battle of the early 1990s should have included the inclusion of clearly defined timelines for the complete transformation of a patriarchal institution that continued to disadvantage women – even today.

Despite the inclusion of the equality clause in the Bill of Rights, which guaranteed the protection of women against discrimination based on sex and the establishment of a Commission on Gender Equality (CGE), little progress has been made. been made.

Since the dawn of democracy, the majority of women, especially rural women, have had little or no access to the benefits of democracy, either through their involvement in decision-making processes or through access to resources. and benefits.

There is rhetoric, particularly from so-called progressive women’s organizations linked to ANCWL, that if the South African government is to effectively eradicate poverty, independent access and control over land and other resources by women as a group is an appropriate strategy.

In their arguments, the definition of economic empowerment involves the ability of women to engage in independent income-generating activities.

The argument is that financial dependence equals the subordination of women.

The support that women need is therefore access to credit facilities, physical space to carry out their economic activities and business management skills. This is precisely my problem.

In my view, this approach carries an element of risk to the very public for which it is intended. Men hold economic power over women. To achieve a balanced and cohesive gender relationship, those in power will need to relinquish power so that the powerless will gain power.

The redistribution of power therefore leads to a situation of conflict in which women will have to question the existing power base and men will have to be “convinced to renegotiate”.

The question is whether women, especially in the context of poor rural women across the country, are equipped to challenge these power structures?

In the current state of rural economies, will autonomous access to resources alleviate poverty or contribute to the deterioration of family units?

I would like to argue that targeting women as a group isolated from their husbands or families will undermine traditional social values ​​and could jeopardize women’s traditional social safety nets, and may in fact increase women’s vulnerability.

Autonomous access to resources may be beneficial for women in the short term, but may not be adequate as a vehicle for empowerment for women.

The disadvantaged position of women is not only due to a lack of resources but to social structures and relationships which perpetuate their disadvantage for the benefit of men.

Improving women’s social mobility should not only involve poverty reduction strategies or independent access to agrarian economies, but should also involve the redistribution of power.

The obstacles that women face are mainly related to gender.

Disrupting the current form of existing protection by punctual and fragmentary actions can only jeopardize the position of women and also attract a radical reaction from traditional institutional structures. It is not in the best interests of women to jeopardize these safety nets without finding an alternative.

What becomes essential here is the understanding that empowerment programs will only benefit women if women’s domestic responsibilities are also taken into account.

Likewise, making more resources accessible to women would have a greater potential for transforming their position within the family than the creation of income-generating projects reserved for women, which according to Naila Kabeer (1995) “have little success”. . It should be emphasized that women are empowered when the barriers that prevent them from achieving their maximum potential are removed.

*Dr Funokwakhe Cedric Xulu was the first recipient of the Unilever Nelson Mandela Fellowship. He studied for his Masters in Development Studies at the University of Sussex in London and obtained his Doctorate (Philosophy in Development Studies) at the University of Glasgow, Scotland


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