Women's Organization and Democracy in South Africa: Contesting Authority

Article excerpt

Women's Organization and Democracy in South Africa: Contesting Authority. By Shireen Hassim. Madison, Wise: University of Wisconsin Press, 2006. Pp. xiv, 355. $24.95 paper.

This book discusses the intersection between the growth of women's organizations and democracy in South Africa. It examines the struggle for women's rights and how it was affected by issues of race, class, and ideology during the campaign against apartheid and after independence. The study is an empirical analysis of women's groups and how they changed over time as they negotiated this difficult terrain. It analyzes how they dealt with divisions over the role of women in the nationalist struggle and the various tensions within and between groups concerning inclusion and exclusion, strategy and tactics, the desire for autonomy, and other matters. The volume unveils the enormous difficulties women had asserting themselves within a largely male-centric nationalist movement and addressing the problem of violence against women and children. It also examines how women's organizations dealt with issues related to leadership, including the role of Winnie Mandela, and how the legalization of political parties paved the way for separate women's organizations outside the ANC, eventually leading to the equality of women being enshrined in the constitution.

The study covers the entire history of the struggles of South African women from 1913 onwards. It is divided into eight chapters that discuss the following: feminism and nationalism, which situate the study theoretically; the emergence of women as a political constituency; the ANC in exile; the return of the ANC women's league; transition and its impact on the South African women's movement; political parties, quotas and representation in the new democracy; one women, one desk, one typist- moving into the bureaucracy; and autonomy, engagement, and democratic consolidation. Each chapter is packed full of interesting empirical data gleaned from primary and secondary sources as well as from in-depth interviews. Throughout these chapters, Hassim effectively connects her findings to the broader theoretical literature and to the history of women's struggles in other parts of the world as well as including a comprehensive bibliography. While raising generic issues, the book's primary appeal is to individuals interested in the history of women's organizations and democracy in South Africa and the relationship between feminism and nationalism.

South African women's organizations fought against being thought of as derivatives of middle class feminism in the west. …