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Women in power are complicit in gender-based violence

Patriarchal forces are tenacious.

In South Africa’s case they have persisted, partly because of an unintended consequence of the struggle against apartheid when women made sacrifices for the “greater good”.

This meant that women remained silent even when men leading the ANC abused their power.

Despite women’s commitment and contribution to the apartheid struggle they were never regarded as truly equal to men in the patriarchal and hierarchical structures of the ANC and its armed wing uMkhonto we Siswe.

The irony was that the fight for equality didn’t extend to gender equality despite the rhetoric of a “non-racist and non-sexist and democratic South Africa”.

The result was that in the transition to democracy the promise of a more gender equal society struggled to gain traction.

South Africa’s circumstances are further compounded by the fact that it’s been severely handicapped by its history of colonialism and apartheid, which institutionalised racial and gender inequality.

Research shows that this history is likely to have long lasting effects on sexist attitudes.

In addition, pervasive structural violence – much of it invisible – means that the cards remain heavily stacked against South African women.

This violence is also entrenched in societal structures – political and economic – and sustained by deep rooted inequalities of power and privilege.

There is a vehicle for disruption, but it lies with civil society rather than government.

South Africans have had some telling successes in standoffs with political elites and are increasingly calling them out on a range of issues.

Civil organisations have, for example, successfully challenged the use of public money to bolster mismanaged parastatals such as the power utility Eskom, South African Airways and the South African Broadcasting Corporation.

And civil society action has led to senior figures losing their jobs and to the investigation of dubious contracts.

In this context the public pressure that led to Manana’s resignation and his public apology is a watershed moment in the politics of sexual violence in the country.

It’s significant because the entrenched culture in the country is that neither corrupt or rogue politicians ever resign.

As another Women’s month draws to a close, it’s abundantly clear that ordinary South African women can’t pin their hopes on female politicians.

Given the complicity of women elites in advancing male dominance and control, citizens must channel their energies into civil society and social media campaigns to mobilise against their oppression and the scourge of sexual violence.


By Lyn Snodgrass. This article was first published by The Conversation



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