Building vibrant and tolerant democracies
By Shamillah Wilson
While women everywhere are now resisting and organising for change at every level, patriarchy is still alive and well and our freedom (or liberation) has proven to be illusory. More frighteningly, it is now evident that women’s progressive gains are under threat in southern Africa due to high levels of misogyny, which have the potential to unravel the political, legal and policy gains that women have secured, including significant representation in parliament.
In the diverse political cultures within the region, where intolerance, authoritarianism and sexism continue to thrive, women have striven to transform the situation by participating in the political sphere (through membership or participation in leadership structures). Yet there is a need to assess alternative ways for women to engage with power in all its social, economic and political permutations in order to ensure accountability in leadership, better exercise of power and more progressive crafting of policies. At this critical time, women’s organising also faces serious challenges if it is to help transform women’s lived
experience of power relations.
It is within this context that the following reflections on feminist movement building from the global level to the regional level are made. This paper identifies some of the dominant trends that currently characterise women’s organising and analyses key anchors and movement-building moments. These are then used as the basis to
extract some insights for southern African and followed by a set of recommendations that could be used as a basis to catalyse movement building in the region.
The paper does not make a distinction between feminist movements and women’s movements as these tend to be closely related. Gaidzanwa (2006) makes clear the distinctions between a women’s movement and a feminist movement. She defines a women’s movement as “a social movement constituting women who collectively decide to further interests specific to women, using perspectives that draw from and highlight their lived experiences.” As such, women’s movements tend to have a “reformist agenda: focused on women’s equal rights with men, and social and political rights on par with men.” On the other hand, Gaidzanwa defines a feminist movements as “often a smaller section within broader women’s movements, which tend to have a transformative agenda: going beyond opposition to patriarchy, to critiquing the architecture of oppression and the political struggle necessary to transform rather than reform the structural inequalities at national, regional and international
In this paper, the analysis draws on both feminist and women’s movements as the models, frameworks, challenges and experiences they haveused are often closely intertwined. In fact, in most discourses, these terms are used interchangeably, with women’s movements often equated to feminist movements or referred to broadly as women’s liberation movements in other contexts.
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