Women's Week: Thoughts on women's movements

The third session of OSISA's Women's Week was intended to do the following; discussthe effectiveness of the women's movement over the years, its current weaknesses and the best way to reinvigorate it.

Richard Lee's picture


Strategic communications for WWF

August 17th, 2011

The third session of OSISA's Women's Week was intended to do the following; discussthe effectiveness of the women's movement over the years, its current weaknesses and the best way to reinvigorate it.

This is a debate that has been lingering in the corridors of feminist/women’s movements over the past several years. At the core of the debate is the notion that the women’s movement, particularly in southern Africa, is dead. This has often been the starting point from which we enter the debate. In characteristic style, Sisonke Msimang, moderator and OSISA Executive Director, urged us to think beyond the usual binaries (dead or alive) and begin to really question and answer some of the threads that may assist us in addressing the debate at hand.

The moderator began by asking the question (to the audience and panel) “is it the women’s movement's responsibility to deal with gender based violence?” This question came after we had watched the documentary “A Country for my Daughter”, which explores the ways in which South African women are able to seek justice, through judicial processes and by community mobilisation, in the face of the growing prevalence of gender based violence. The response from the group was mixed. The general consensus was that it was indeed the responsibility of the women’s movement to drive the agenda for dealing with gender based violence but that communities at large also need to mobilise around these efforts as the issue essentially affects us all.

The question that follows then is if it is the responsibility of the women’s movement to drive action in addressing issues that affect women and particularly gender based violence, what shape and character would that take in southern Africa today with a prevalent thought that the women’s movement is dead or at least breathing it’s last breath?

I think the starting point for this discussion, as highlighted by the moderator, is that the women’s movement may not look like it did 10-15 years ago but it lives and breathes vibrantly in various forms across our region. I believe in the power of movements and as such am interested in the ways the women’s movement can harness energy and galvanize support in understanding gendered subjectivities. The feminist struggles have shifted and as such so have our strategies as we (young feminists) are finding ways of addressing our issues to better suit the contexts in which women are located today.

This brings us back to the discussion that took place on Day 1: The value of old dogs, new tricks. As one of the panellists rightly acknowledged, we all carry different kinds of experiences - both relevant and meaningful - that are necessary to lead and mobilise the women’s movement into action. I think the question we need to be asking ourselves as young and ‘emerging’ feminists is how we make better use of our lived experiences in mobilising and defining our advocacy agendas. Are there ways of deconstructing, critiquing and appropriating popular culture to enhance our goals? We are deeply embedded in the political and social discourse that assigns very stringent gendered roles. How do we transform this discourse to allow for greater fluidity and space for multiple meanings of gendered identities in our region?

In line with OSISA’s strategy for building and capacitating young women’s leadership, we have to claim our space to lead and define our agenda. The ‘old dogs’ have paved various clearings upon which we now can build upon and hopefully clear further ground for those who will come after us. The struggle will never die for as long as power operates to minimise and corrupt people’s freedoms and at the centre of that, women’s bodies are often the site for gross injustices.

I hope the series of events commemorating women’s week at OSISA and various other such events, remind young women that the struggle is ours to fight. May we be vigilant in claiming our space and in finding real and ever-changing ways for addressing gendered injustices.

By Mazuba Haanyama


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