Freedom for women: mainstreaming gender in the South African liberation struggle and beyond
The liberation struggle in South Africa highlighted racial and class oppression as key causes of poverty, inequality, and a lack of rights for most South Africans. Drawing on the language of the struggle, women political and trade union activists brought attention to their oppression and exploitation as women, and were able to place non-sexism alongside non-racism and democracy as key liberation principles. However, while men in these organisations ostensibly accepted the idea of non-sexism, they were not ready to change their behaviour or give up their power, and women activists met with ongoing resistance. During the negotiations for democracy, women drew on their experience of the years of struggle and were able to ensure a high proportion of women in parliament, influence the country’s constitution, and advocate the establishment of State machinery to mainstream gender equality. However, in the post-apartheid era of reconstruction and development, both the demobilisation of protest movements and the emphasis on the technical aspects of development stand in the way of gender mainstreaming via the State.
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