African Women: A Modern History

By Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch; Beth Gillian Raps | Go to book overview

17
Women and Politics: The Wars for National Liberation

There would be much to say about the role that southern African minority white women played as suffragettes and factory workers, but this is not the purpose of this book. In the 1940s African women made up almost 70 percent of the women in South Africa and mostly lived in what were still called native reserves, since 1913 set at 13 percent of the nation's lands. Little by little, complex social alliances formed, despite sex, class, and color bars. 1


South Africa

By way of an outline. 2 white women's struggle took two basic forms: what was most important to women of British origin with a fairly high level of education was the fight for white women's franchise. At the end of the nineteenth century, their standard-bearer was the author Olive Schreiner. Her first novel, published in 1883, called for equality between the sexes. But such women were a tiny minority.

The struggle was different for white women factory workers. In the proletariat, there was a particularly oppressed, exploited, and underpaid group mainly of poor Afrikaners (Dutch in origin) and colored women, half African and half Asian. 3 Many of these women began working in the textile industry between the wars. Their union was characteristically far more interracial than the others at a time when black organizing was practically forbidden; they may all have been aware of their common inferiority as women. The Garment Workers' Union, mainly composed of female factory workers, most of them white, was the champion of interracial union organizing before

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