Mr President, please declare a feminist state!

Mr President, please declare a feminist state!

Date: February 19, 2018
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Johannesburg, 19 Feb: Gender Links (GL) has called on South Africa’s new president Cyril Ramaphosa to declare a feminist agenda and make the attainment of gender equality a key goal of his new administration.

While the State of the Nation Address (SONA) delivered on 16 February “showed promising signs, it made no specific reference to ending gender violence, one of the most important pieces of unfinished business post-apartheid,” noted GL CEO Colleen Lowe Morna. “What is needed is bold leadership, a feminist agenda of the kind Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has adopted in Canada. This would send a clear message that the Zuma era, with its dubious commitments to women’s rights, is behind us.”

The embattled Jacob Zuma resigned last week, amid swirling accusations of corruption and state capture. A polygamist and self- confessed philanderer, Zuma became president nine years ago after being acquitted of rape charges that nonetheless raised concerns about the conduct of an older man towards a young, HIV positive woman who regarded him as a father.

Zuma’s accuser, dubbed Khwezi, was forced into exile as a result of the vitriolic public response to her taking up a case against the president-designate. She has since passed away. Women’s rights activists hailed Zuma’s resignation as, among others, a “victory for Khwezi.”

Vowing to shed the negativity of the past, Ramaphosa framed SONA around the values embodied by former President Nelson Mandela, who would have celebrated his centenary this year. He also referred to struggle icon Albertina Sisulu: “As we mark her centenary,” the President said, “we reaffirm that no liberation can be complete, and no nation can be free until women are free.”

“Remembering our sheroes, who are often like the wall paper in history books, is a very important part of re-writing the patriarchal narrative,” GL noted.

Ramaphosa also took a bold stride in asserting that “radical economic transformation requires that we fundamentally improve the position of black women and communities in the economy, ensuring that women are owners, managers, producers and finaciers.”

“It is encouraging that our president sees the underlying, systemic causes of inequality,” Gender Links commented. “He is not just calling for more women in parliament, or more girls in schools. He is calling for women, and especially back women, to own the means of production.”

SONA made reference to scaling up the government’s response to HIV and AIDS, especially access to Anti- Retroviral Drugs. South Africa has the highest number of people living with HIV of any country in the world. 57% of these are women; especially young women. Older women shoulder a disproportionate burden of care.

Sadly, other than the quote from Hugh Masekela’s song Thuma Mina (“I wanna be there for the victims of violence and abuse”) SONA made no reference to the twin scourge of gender violence, both a cause and consequence of HIV and AIDS.  Research shows that one in three South African women experience verbal, physical and or sexual abuse in their lifetime; a woman is killed by her intimate partner every six minutes; only one in nine rape cases are reported; and only one in seven of these result in a conviction.

 “There can be no ‘new beginning’ until the matter of gender violence is squarely addressed,” GL stated. “Peace in our nation begins with peace at home.”

Many of the areas highlighted in SONA hold promise for the empowerment of women, who remain the majority of the poor, the landless, the unemployed, and the dispossessed in South Africa.

Greater investment in early childhood development would free women to participate meaningfully in the economy. Access to land, agriculture, tourism, mining, youth internships and employment – all key SONA themes – could potentially lift women and girls out of poverty and despair. But this depends critically on deliberate government policy to ensure inclusive, equitable growth that to date has by-passed the majority of women.

GL proposes a five point plan for the President’s consideration:

  1. Nail your colours to the mast – declare yourself a feminist. A feminist is simply someone who believes in equality between women and men. Let’s not be apologetic about this!
  2. Abolish the Women’s Ministry and create a strong unit in the president’s office that reviews and vets all policies and budgets for gender compliance.
  3. Ensure gender balance in all your appointments, but go beyond numbers. Appoint the many strong women who resigned in protest when the ruling African National Congress (ANC) replaced Thabo Mbeki with Jacob Zuma. Appoint men who are not afraid to call themselves feminists.
  4. Resurrect the multi-sector, multi-stakeholder National Council on Gender Violence (abolished by Minister Susan Shabangu) and empower it to act in the same way as the South African National Aids Council (SANAC). Declare zero tolerance for GBV as SA has for HIV. Set a target; make it matter and make it happen.
  5. Lead by example: The dichotomy between a leader who purported to support equality in his public life but failed to practise it in his private life gave patriarchy an even more comfortable place in our society than usual. The hypocrisy must stop.

Fighting the oldest and most insidious ideology of our time takes courage. As chief architect of one of the most progressive gender Constitutions in the world, GL counts on President Ramaphosa to deliver on its promises of a non-racist, non-sexist society.

Photograph courtesy of Nasief Manie/AP.

For more information contact GL CEO Colleen Lowe Morna on, or 082 651 6995.

One thought on “Mr President, please declare a feminist state!”

Sabra Bano says:

A wonderful statement!
We support it wholeheartedly!

Sabra Bano,

Gender Concerns International

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