Herstory loses to history

2014-05-25 15:00

The governing ANC has been exemplary at empowerment for women. From the 1950s on, strong gender activism was threaded into and embedded in the organisation.

The history of the ANC rings with the names of Albertina Sisulu, Ruth Mompati, Charlotte Maxeke, Ruth First, Helen Joseph, Amina Cachalia, Sophia de Bruyn, Frene Ginwala, Winnie Mandela and many more.

Their hard work to bring South African women in general, and black women in particular, to positions of equal citizenship in the home, the workplace, the state and the organisation is a noble history.

It is written in the annals of “herstory”, a proud digest of the ANC’s hundred-odd years of struggle and governance. This history informed our present.

Our present is of a Constitution that now enshrines nonsexism as a pillar of our democracy. This is not written in the founding documents of many nations and it is to our eternal pride.

From the Constitution has flowed pieces of law and practice that are among the proudest legacies of the fight against apartheid.

Among these are labour laws to reshape workplaces, empowerment principles to widen economic benefits and set-asides for women in politics. In general, the party has led society well in shaping a fairer and more equal society.

But it is a work in progress. Women’s safety and better practice and education to end gender violence evade us. Economic empowerment for women is too focused on the state and not on the private sector.

On the whole, though, South Africans can hold their heads high. And, in this, the country was led by the governing party, which practised empowerment by making equality visible in how it distributed power.

So, while not all the female premiers of our recent past have been brilliant, it remains important as an aspirational tool to have leaders of both genders and all representative hues.

It is a great pity that when the heat rose a little, the party ran from the parity kitchen. Now all but one of the ANC’s premiers are male.

It was a flexing of male power, where strong provincial overlords overthrew the party’s steadfast commitment to gender parity.

If this pattern continues, we will return to history and not make any more herstory.

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