In my opinion
JZ – Why are women angry?
During the Jacob Zuma (JZ) rape trial, many women and gender activists were disturbed by some of the arguments that Zuma used in his defense, arguments that they felt belittled women. They were also outraged by the lack of respect his supporters had for the complainant.
Women are angry for a number of reasons: In his defense, JZ’s reference to the effect that the alleged victim wore a short skirt will not go down well with women in general and activists in particular. Gender activists have long argued that what a woman wears is her right and shouldn’t be construed as a ‘come-on’. Instead men should respect women and whether sex takes place or not should be negotiated between equal partners in the relationship. The images of supporters impersonating and teasing the victim as she was ushered into the court, persistent verbal abuse and aggressive behaviour towards her will remain in the minds of many gender activists long after the trial is over.To many of his followers JZ has become the symbol of masculinity, the tough freedom fighter who sacrificed everything for the love of his country, liberation and democracy. Amongst the youth his popularity has risen, and his “bring me my machine gun” song personifies this tough guy image almost to the extent of making JZ a cult figure amongst his followers. For gender activists it is precisely this type of stereotyping that serves to reinforce the domination of men and the subordination of women. In a country where a woman is raped every 26 seconds, this stereotyping does little to empower women to resist the dominant male. Apart from this stereotype subordinating women, it also creates problems for males by putting pressure on them to live up to this tough image.
Gender equalityThe legal and political interpretations aside, the JZ trail should compel the public and all its institutions (the trade unions included) to rethink issues around gender equality and the elimination of sexual prejudice. It has become common practice to equate gender equality with quotas, but this is not enough to redeem us from gender discrimination and sexual prejudice. While the South African constitution calls on the state not to “unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex”, progressive civil society movements have argued that a lot still has to be done to promote equality amongst sexes. In the trade union movement, a number of affiliates have adopted policies and resolutions to eliminate discriminatory gender practices within and outside the trade union environment. Cosatu has called on its affiliates to implement a quota system to increase women’s participation in all union structures, while Numsa has a wide ranging resolution calling for the emancipation of women in all areas of social and economic activity.But the approach towards gender equality lacks enthusiasm, and is seldom taken seriously. Abraham Boy Mphela, a union shopsteward recently complained bitterly to Numsa News about the way gender issues were dealt with in the union. “Things changed when I was elected as a regional gender deputy secretary a few years back. Male comrades were never supportive from the start. Not even to this day … from Regional Office Bearers to Local Office Bearers I have seen they don’t support this gender structure”. Some unions blow their trumpet when it comes to gender representation at Congresses and meetings, but in almost all Cosatu affiliates, leadership remains in the hands of males and the approach towards women is visibly patronizing. As the federation prepares for its 9th National Congress, one can only hope that the gender issue will be taken seriously and not simply bandied about as if it is only a case of numbers waiting to be filled through some quota system. The words of Samora Machel should guide us on the gender issue: “The emancipation of women is not an act of charity, the result of a humanitarian or compassionate attitude…. The main objective of the revolution is to destroy the system of exploitation and build a new society, which releases the potentialities of human beings… This is the context within which women’s emancipation arises.”