Reflections on the “Reclaiming Feminism” lecture by Prof Pumla Gqola

By Dikeledi Mokoena

The South African constitution has been widely praised as the best in the world although voices from the margins that critique it seldom make it into the mainstream. What we cannot overlook is the equality clause which grants us a sense of the legislative foundation in which post-apartheid South Africa rests. Section 9(2) of the constitution captures the need for interventions that may facilitate the inclusion of previously excluded communities. This means inclusion of women in their diverse class positions, racial identification, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, ethnic identities, able-bodied or disability, cultural associations, languages or places of birth. The South African constitution gives grounds for a potential feminist state.

However, as Prof.  Pumla Gqola has critiqued, a feminist state must be coupled with feminist budgeting which would ensure that its gender commission is not underfunded, that institutions that predominantly serve women such as the maintenance court have adequate resources both financial and human. A feminist state is one that is designed to address patriarchy and its impact on women and men. A feminist state would invest in social welfare with the understanding that women carry the burden of social reproductive labour and girls are largely the victims of patriarchal exclusion and in cases of inclusion, there are issues of having to wrestle with patriarchal attitudes and consciousness in institutions of learning.

Prof. Gqola also invited us to imagine what a feminist education system would look like and if welcomed to add onto what she highlighted about the importance of educational institutions that respond to the needs of young girls such as access to menstrual pads. I believe a feminist education system would also contribute to equipping teachers with skills on how to prevent and tackle sexual violence at school. The young school girl who took the mike during the lecture’s question and answer session, had one realise the importance of also training families, especially mothers, on how to help their children who are rape survivors. Moreover, considering the significant role education plays as an institution of socialisation, it is important for us to invest more in feminist pedagogies and train teachers to help cultivate young people who would yield a world with better gender relations than the current one.

This may contribute to the feminist workspaces that Prof. Gqola asked us to imagine. Feminist workspaces whereby sexual harassment is the thing of the past and in cases where there is violation, timely pursuit of justice would be rendered important. A feminist workplace would also be a space in which women need not worry about being sexualized especially over their choices of clothing or their mobility being influenced by having to act in palatable ways for misogynists. Feminist workplaces would also address income inequalities and review normative rules about salaries being a secret because the concealment adds onto the continuation of injustices in the labour market.

Going back to the equality clause and the legacy of geographic apartheid, feminist workplaces could consider flexibility of working hours for women who still find themselves having to migrate back and forth from the underdeveloped margins such as townships into the business districts that were designed not for the habitation of black people. This brings us to the question of a feminist transport system which Prof. Gqola also mentioned when she invited us to reflect on what it would constitute. I think this transport system would enable women to be safe, feel safe and extend women’s choices in how they live their lives. For instance, women’s choices to stay longer at work would not be met with worries about not having transport to get back home should they leave the office late. The reconfiguration of gender roles would also mean that women need not worry about having to rush home from work to go cook for their partners with capable hands.

This speaks to feminist homes whereby partners work together in mindful ways and discard the burden of socially constructed gender roles. A feminist transport system would be inclusive of the needs of women living in rural areas. It would be coupled with supporting infrastructure such as street lighting to maximise women’s safety. The planning and funding of road infrastructure would also include communities that are marginalized. Imagine a situation of having to call an ambulance for a woman or a child living in Nkaneng, Marikana after heavy rains. A feminist transport system would also depend on dealing with cost politics of crude oil because the price of petrol has grave consequences for the poor.

All of the above means a debate about a feminist state (which is an oxymoron, considering that states are inherently patriarchal) should not be divorced from a critical feminist political economy. When we talk about a feminist state it is important to clarify other systems of power such as capitalism that create fissures among the women on the ground that Prof. Gqola spoke about. This means that we also need to confront the contradictions that exist and also find feminist ways of dealing with feminist projects that seem to not address fundamental issues such as systems that create conditions of violence, whether systematic or physical. Prof. Gqola also sparked a debate about relations among feminists by highlighting the importance of learning how to deal and possibly work with feminists whose politics may differ from our own. This for me takes us back to the beauty of feminism which entails the celebration and acceptance of difference. However, this must not be mistaken for the acceptance of inequality.

This brings one to African feminism which I cannot delve much into here. What African feminism forces us to do is think critically about the achievements we have made in terms of the presence of women in political office under the same economic system that inherently sustains inequalities and the proliferation of powerful business women while working class women continue to suffer worsening forms of exploitation and precarity. This does not mean we do not celebrate bourgeois women, is only means that we must reflect on the add-and-stir mechanics of patriarchal states and think about inclusion and empowerment from the standpoint of the poor rural black woman who suffers the most today.

With this in mind, I also feel obliged to end this reflection by highlighting that feminist event planners ought to be mindful of hosting important lecturers such as these at night. Hosting these kinds of platforms during the day will maximise access for many women and minimize chances of finding ourselves in compromising and/or violent positions. We can host inclusive night time events once we have a feminist country built on an economically just system without the threat of violence. Drawing from Prof. Gqola’s words, such a country would be full of happy women but until we reach that kind of a country we must continue to resist and disrupt systems of power that oppress.

**Mokoena is a PhD candidate in Political Studies at the University of Pretoria. Her research interests are in Political Economy, Gender and Decoloniality. She also teaches at the Thabo Mbeki African Leadership Institute (TMALI).

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