Voices, Hierarchies and Spaces: Reconfiguring the Women's Movement in Democratic South Africa

Hassim, S.
Taylor & Francis
Publication date: 
January 2005

Can pro-democratic transitional contexts pose opportunities to women’s political participation? This article analyses the changes in the political landscape since 1994 in South Africa in terms of how they have shaped the women’s movement, enabling women to become agents of addressing colonial and racial oppression. Although the alliance of women’s movements with the national movement against racial and colonial oppression has promoted women’s inclusion into formal politics, it has weakened their autonomy and ability to challenge power imbalances between men and women. For example, while quotas for women have been introduced into state initiatives such as the Community Based Public Works Programme, women’s inclusion in formal politics has not translated into addressing women’s needs through policies.

Furthermore, women have often been restricted from challenging power imbalances and their inclusion was based on their maternal roles, reinforcing gender stereotypes and male dominance. Shared beliefs on social justice can be an entry point for women’s movements into national movements. Pro-democratic transitional contexts have proven to be enabling environments for such alliances to form. Nevertheless, national and social movements need to be willing to allow feminist ideas to transform power relations between men and women. Women’s participation alone, will not guarantee greater gender equality.

Politikon: South African Journal of Political Studies, 32.2: 175-193
Hassim, S. (2005) 'Voices, Hierarchies and Spaces: Reconfiguring the Women's Movement in Democratic South Africa', Politikon: South African Journal of Political Studies 32.2: 175-193
South Africa