Magazine article Ebony

Sisters in the Struggle

Magazine article Ebony

Sisters in the Struggle

Article excerpt

The dawn of freedom finally arrived on April 26. That was the day Black and White South Africans lined the streets to begin the four days of voting that would certify the political miracle of our lifetime.

It was die day Steve Biko, Chris Hani and thousands Of unknown heroes - and unsung sheroes - gave their lives for. And equally, if not more remarkably, it was the day millions of Black South African mothers and fathers told their sons what we in America cannot yet tell ours: -Soon, die most powerful person in the nation will be a Black man; you, too, can grow up to be president."

I wish they could tell the same thing to their daughters. I wish they could tell them that, with the death of apartheid, their prospects are not only better, they are boundless.

I wish they could tell them that Mandela's election was the death rattle for sexism as well as racism; that in the South Africa of the 21st century, the oppression of women, like the oppression of Blacks, will vanish like the hopes of White extremists for three more centuries of Mute rule.

I wish they could tell their daughters all of these things, but just wishing it won't make it so. Though the majority of South Africa's population is female, at every level of society, there is an unspoken, but widely accepted, rule about equality and power: Men can have it; women can't.

"Gender oppression is everywhere," the ANCs National Executive Committee concluded in 1990. -It is institutionalized in the laws as well as the customs and practices of all our people."

Until recently, under South African law, African women needed the signature of a man to secure loans, apartments, even telephones.

"Most South African women are quite literally barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen," says Bridgette Mabandla, a well-known activist who was recently elected to Parliament. "We do not control our own bodies. We are scarce in leadership positions. We are absent from history books. We are even disallowed from many priesthoods."

So much for "free at last."

You are not free when you live in fear that you will be beaten or raped. Both are common occurrences in the lives of South African women.

Here are the statistics: one out of every three South African women can expect to be raped or sexually assaulted in her lifetime. By some estimates, at least one in three women is regularly battered by her husband or boyfriend.

You are not free when you live in a society where you cannot control your own body. If you are poor and pregnant, if your husband beats you, if your manage is crumbling, if you already have more children than you can support, there is only one way you can end your pregnancy: illegally.

You are not free when you live in a society that treats you like a second-class citizen - in the workplace, where women earn substantially less than men, and at home, where cooking, cleaning and caring for children are still very much the sole responsibilities of women. …

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