OPINION: Re-imagining a women's movement akin to the ANCWL of Winnie Mandela

EFF Women in Gauteng marched in the streets of Joburg delivering memorandums to various institutions of government demanding interventions  with issues affecting women.
EFF Women in Gauteng marched in the streets of Joburg delivering memorandums to various institutions of government demanding interventions with issues affecting women.
Christopher Moagi, Daily Sun, file

The Women's Command offers an opportunity for a community which some of us have created organically over the years within the EFF, but one that is recognised and legitimate politically beyond status updates and tweets, writes Naledi Chirwa

I respect and have engaged most written arguments brought forward by EFF women who speak against the establishment of an EFF Women's Command.

The most persuasive being a conversation I had with EFFSC (EFF Student Command) gender officer, Siya Nyulu who asserts that the Women's Command will or might fall in the trap of being a space for cishet women as we have seen in other political parties' women's formations.

This is a valid argument. Cishet/feminine presenting women have grown fond of the political privilege of being the only political alternative to men.

Our seat at the table is affirmed.

And in the EFF, 50/50 gender balance is constitutionally a position we cannot sway away from and has, in fact, afforded cishet women a progressive opportunity to counter male dominance.

The 50/50 gender balance however, is an assertion in itself that imposes a binary that makes no room for other genders and for women who are not feminine.

Cishet women in the EFF have not rejected this positional privilege in solidarity with gender non-conforming people, masculine presenting women, lesbians, trans women and queers.

That heteronormative culture is a threat to queer existence and the perpetuation and affirmation of it in the EFF through the Women's Command, is a legitimate concern that I can personally entertain as being a sufficient reason why we should not have a Women's Command.

Many women also used the reason that we will be rendered "useless" like the ANCWL.

It is shallow to use one organisation as the yardstick for vying for our existence.

Why not look at organisations like Soul City as an alternative yardstick?

It is also unfair to erase the work done by the ANCWL and their political power in the space just because we do not agree with the current layer of leadership.

The ANCWL has given us women we now claim as our political heroes, like Winnie Mandela.

It is the ANCWL that had women, under the leadership Gertrude Shope, organise and mobilise for international solidarity when the ANC was banned during Apartheid which was essentially the defence of political democracy and other civil freedoms we now enjoy.

And what do we make of the historical Women's March in 1956?

It is also the ANCWL that led the Defiance Campaign in 1952.

There would not have been women like Florence Matomela, Thandi Modise, Ellen Khuzwayo to name a few, and the woman my grandmother named me after, Nokukhanya MaBhengu Luthuli if there were no women like Charlotte Maxeke who fought for duality of women to exist in the ANC and in their own wing.

We could even assume that the Bantu Women's Organisation was a beautiful coincidence of resistance that made the women of the time realise the power of being an organised structure as women.

Women in politics undermine feminist privilege with which some of us have experienced having being born in homes that believe in women's leadership, learnt in tertiary, or stumbled upon in a 2005 Seventeen magazine article that spoke about sex and how women can also be Presidents.

Feminism is not common sense for many women to date.

That there are already EFF Women WhatsApp groups is proof that we desire and seek a space where we are organised by ourselves without a male presence.

What then of those who can't access these side spaces we have created for our feminist plotting? What then of teenage girls who aspire to the proximity of power we have experienced who do not have a space to form their leadership voice, void of toxic masculine bullying that we often complain of?

Our unity as women of the EFF has not been demonstrated for ordinary women in townships and in rural areas. The Women's Command offers an opportunity for a community which some of us have created organically over the years within the EFF, but one that is recognised and legitimate politically beyond status updates and tweets.

There are ways to suggest a truly radical and socialist feminist EFF Women's Command that will be able to serve the women of South Africa in the same way the socialist feminists like Lily Braun were able to usher socialist feminist victories we still celebrate to date.

Socialist feminist victories like maternity leave, the subsidisation of early childhood development by the state so that primary care is not a burden carried by women alone but shared with the state, child maintenance, and something which we think is ordinary today, but was not historically, which is being able to work, to be employed as a woman.

These are victories won by socialist feminist movements and organisations. These are victories that should be carried on forth by a socialist movement that will fight for and carry the realisation of economic freedom for women, for Black and Coloured women, in particular. 

The feminist victories in Norway, are because of the existence of feminist movements within the political arena. I don't think our anxiety should sway us away from realising a movement whose sole purpose and existence is fighting for women on all fronts every single day without having to wait for a trending story to assert its position on the question of gender and the women's struggle.

There are women who have gone through abuse at the hands of men, be it erasure and or sexual violence in the EFF (I'm familiar with those in the EFFSC).

However, the mistake we constantly make, is that all women must stay and fight because we stayed and fought back.

This is a horrible request we are making for women.

We constantly advise women to leave abusive romantic relationships.

What then of Fighters who have been abused by branch leaders, members, regional, provincial and national leadership? Must they stay? Must they continue facing their sites of trauma just because they are Fighters?

Can't we give them an opportunity to still choose the EFF while they wait for disciplinary hearing outcomes? Can't they still be political in an EFF space that doesn't hoard or allow their abusers access?

Women must know that they are not forced to share a space with EFF men if they do not want to, and this decision must not isolate them from EFF politics.

Women must be at the liberty of wanting and choosing the EFF without having to choose EFF men.

We saw more than four provincial marches, two in Gauteng led by chairperson Mandisa Mashego, this year alone.

These marches were for the first ever of its kind, calling for peculiar transformation in our justice system as extrapolated in the memorandum.

Women showed up. Women came with their children on their backs. I personally would love to be able to share a space where I am able to bring my three-year- old son, young girls in my community in Mamelodi, to EFF gatherings without having to fear for their lives just because there are men in the space.

This because I know rapists don't cease to be rapists just because they signed an EFF membership form.

A Women's Command will also counter the culture of women depending on men for political expediency in the EFF when the question of leadership arises.

Women are always brought to the conversation when it is too late and at the mercy of men.

That two or three women are at the centre of these caucuses is not enough for the rest of us.

It is no secret that caucuses that forge the resolutions to be sought at EFF assemblies are led and initiated by men.

There is power in devising resolutions of what to fight for as the women's cohort at our own assemblies. It must be something to respond to that of all those who engage with EFF content, only a mere 25% are women.

This fact is a crisis because we have been, for starters, the top political party that has advanced the women's agenda in our manifesto for the 2019 national general elections (this, according to a report by feminist organisation, GenderLinks).

Why should women leave the EFF when there can be an opportunity to leave EFF men and stay with the EFF?

Despite our progressive interventions in advancing feminism, there  have been many gaps in covering women's struggles by the EFF because the focus of the party is much broader and beyond women's struggles. This is a gap I believe an EFF Women's Command, as an established wing of the EFF, will be able cater for with commitment and determination.

I am eager to see the kinds of programmes emanating from an entire structure established to fight for women.

I'm also keen to see how organised EFF women will respond to women going missing every waking hour, to the rapes reported daily, to femicide, to the shortage of rape kits, to men who think the EFF belongs to them, to negotiating political power like how the ANCWL fought for a woman MEC in Gauteng.

I want to see how the gigantic issue of erasure will be addressed by women who are entrusted with documenting our efforts and existence in the revolution.

I want to be able to live in an era where, for the first time, radical socialist feminists are organised within the EFF and politically in South Africa for the sole purpose of delivering economic freedom for women in our lifetime.

South African women deserve a voice in the EFF that does not include men.

- Naledi Chirwa is an EFF MP

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