Building vibrant and tolerant democracies
By Alice Kanengoni, Editor of Buwa
I recently visited an Indian family who live in my neighbourhood. It was an early evening visit and the family was preparing dinner. I couldn’t help noticing three women in the kitchen, running around, preparing food and drinks. I later learnt that the three were the granny, the lady of the house, and her daughter (who I think may be about 15 years old). In the living room I noticed six men sitting around the dining table, playing cards, relaxed and chatting. As I quietly reflected on this scenario, I wondered whether things would have been different if the family had been ‘White’, ‘Black’ or any other colour. Most probably not! The three women in the kitchen for me epitomised three generations of women occupying a typical space and pursuing a specific activity in the home, with the men also typically located and engaged in a particular role. As I left that home about an hour later, I kept wondering if this scenario was reflective of the kind of progress (or rather lack thereof) that women’s movements have made in the quest for social justice. It illuminated for me the questions that most feminists and women’s rights activists have been raising of late: are we making a difference? Or is it time for new approaches?
Most fora and platforms discussing women’s human rights and wellbeing issues – that I have been privileged to be a part of in the past five years – have increasingly expressed the need to rethink the way we (feminists and women’s rights activists) have understood and conceptualised our struggles for social justice in our part of the world. A significant number of feminists and women’s rights activists – on the continent and in southern Africa – are expressing concern at the continuing decline in indicators of the quality of life, especially of women, in the region.
Maternal mortality rates are worryingly high in a number of countries, with women dying of treatable diseases; violence against women and girls is still largely the norm; and poverty indices paint a picture of human development skewed against women. This is in spite of decades of advocacy, lobbying and training in a large number of societies on the negatives – and indeed the dangers – of gender inequality and social injustice. At most of these fora, and in their writings, feminists and women’s rights activists have increasingly been highlighting the need to rethink our understanding and conceptualisation of the social systems that position us, and to review our approaches in response to these.
In the context of a number of significant processes, events and historical milestones in recent decades – for instance the end of formal colonisation (marked in our region by the end of apartheid in South Africa), the proliferation of neo-liberalism (and the related global economic crisis), the changing architecture and roles of the State, the emerging global impacts of climate change, increased levels of migration and the HIV and AIDS pandemic, among many others, women need to firm up an agenda aimed at reviewing the conceptual frameworks, the strategies and the tools they are (and have been) using, in light of the context in which they experience their lives. Yet spaces and opportunities for such exchanges of thought and experience are not always available in our region.
It is precisely in order to provide room for this type of interaction that the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) is launching BUWA! – a journal of African women’s experiences. BUWA! is intended to respond to the need for a regular and open space within which African women may tell their stories and document their lives. The African Union has declared 2010–2020 the African Women’s Decade, and BUWA! will provide Africa’s women with a means of recording their experiences, reviewing their strategies, highlighting best practices, challenging norms and amplifying women’s voices throughout the decade and beyond. Produced biannually, BUWA! will provide a platform for women on the continent to review and critique their feminisms; share their struggles; exchange and assess their strategies, methodologies and tools; and craft feminisms that respond to the ever-changing incarnations and manifestations of the systems that unequally position them. With the new and emerging challenges that women and men have to deal with on the continent, the need to continually rethink our approaches cannot be overemphasised.
This first issue of BUWA! brings to the fore what many feminists are increasingly identifying as key issues needing urgent reconsideration and thorough reflection, in the quest for social justice. Articles collected in this issue span a wide spectrum of topics, including: an articulation of the need to rethink our conceptual frameworks; the necessity of reflecting on global processes and economic ideologies (and how these are impacting on, and influencing, how women and men are experiencing their lives on the continent today); an assessment of how the laws and policies that many feminists and women’s rights activists fought and advocated for in the past few decades are (or are not) providing vehicles though which women can access justice; and personal stories and firsthand accounts of how individual women in the region have interacted with and experienced the realities embodied in these abstract notions...
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