Academic journal article Global Media Journal

The Rising Tide of Women's National Coalition: The Experience of South Africa

Academic journal article Global Media Journal

The Rising Tide of Women's National Coalition: The Experience of South Africa

Article excerpt

Abstract

South Africa is a nation of people with diverse political, racial and cultural backgrounds and is ranked among the top five countries on the African continent that have a fairly high women's representation in national legislatures. As South Africa embarked on the reconstruction and development process of the new South Africa prior to its first democratic elections in 1994, among its major goals was to be a nonsexist and nonracist nation. Women wanted to be certain that the new South Africa also advanced gender equality. To work toward gender equality, a group of South African women activists formed the Women's National Coalition (WNC). This paper investigates how women activists mobilized a women's national movement that paved way to bridge the deep division that existed among women of different races through the formation of a coalition through volunteerism. It also investigates how the coalition of the WNC helped to redefine feminism in South Africa.

Keywords: Coalitions, race, South Africa, women's national coalition

Introduction

In recent years, African women have gained power and visibility in political and corporate arenas. Inspired by this new phenomenon, attempts are being made to define feminism as practiced in Africa and there is a growing field that seeks to study and explain the intensity and extent of women's participation in political and corporate leadership, despite patriarchal implications of male dominated African societies. However, scholars such as Trinh T. Min-ha (1989) agree that "the challenge is to define feminism within the context of the ethnic culture and in so doing create a new version of it" (p. 84). Others suggest that what is primarily needed is a new conceptualization of feminism within indigenous contexts and new hybrids (Flynn, 2002). On the African continent, there is a steady increase in the proportion of women in positions that were traditionally dominated by men. African countries' rankings continue to go higher as compared to other countries like the United States (US) whose ranking continues to go down in terms of women in positions of political leadership (Coughlin, Wingard, & Hollihan, 2005; Inter-Parliamentary Union, 2006). It is for reasons like these and others that show there is a need to explain the possible impact of women movements' politics within various national communities.

Non-western feminism has attracted extensive scholarship notice as a group under the umbrella of Third World feminism (Mohanty, 1988; Narayan, 1989), but specific countries' notions of feminism in the developing world has largely been ignored. Even where studies have been done, only a few are committed to the discussion of organizing women with different cultural backgrounds and articulating their concerns about gender equity. South Africa (SA) is a nation of people with diverse political, racial and cultural backgrounds and it is ranked among the top five countries on the African continent that have a fairly high women's representation in national legislatures (Britton, 2006). Ranked 13th by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) (2006) on Women in National Parliament, SA embarked on the reconstruction and development process of the new SA prior to its first democratic elections in 1994. Among its major goals was to be a nonsexist and nonracist nation. South African transformation has been fundamentally about race, and about constructing a racially-inclusive democracy in place of apartheid's white supremacy (Seidman, 2001, p. 220). Britton (2006) adds that the new government was clearly going to benefit the entire nation and work to end the discrimination of apartheid. Women wanted to be certain that it also worked to advance gender equality (p. 63). Encouraged by an increasing participation in feminist debates and the politicians' demand for a "nonracial, democratic and nonsexist South Africa" (Seidman, 1999), women formed the Women's National Coalition (WNC). …

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