Women’s oppression is disguisedunder the pretext of ‘cultural practices’ and its correlation with the capitalism system promotes women oppression and commercializes almost everything in pursuit of profits.
To qualify the above assertion, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels in the Manifesto of the Communist Party of 1848 state the following: “the bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation”. They further note that
“The bourgeois sees his wife as a mere instrument of production. He hears that the instruments of production are to be exploited in common and naturally, can come to no other conclusion that the lot of being common to all will likewise fall to the women”.
Linked to the above expression is the statement made by King Mswati III recently about his daughter’s lobola (money or cattle given to the bride’s family as a token of appreciation and integration of families). “People should know that the princess is a special commodity, hence marrying a princess does not come cheap,” he said.
Subsequent to his controversial utterances, he raised the lobola of his daughter from 60 to 100 cows. What an exorbitant amount of cows to pay! What are the negative implications of demanding such an amount of cows? Was it correct for King Mswati to declare his daughter or princess as a special commodity?
Lobola is an African gesture exhibited to integrate the bride’s and groom’s family into the broader family as opposed to a nuclear family which revolves around the husband, wife and kids. Lobola ushers the bride in to the groom’s family norms and cultural values. In the process it allows the groom to appreciate his bride’s family background. Lobola is not necessarily about generating profit. It is to compensate the parents of the bride for raising her.
It does not transform family relations into a mere money relation as Karl Marx and Frederick Engels argue
However, there is a growing trend in our society of demanding exorbitant lobola from the daughter who has accumulated impeccable academic credentials. This kind of foreign behavior goes against African traditions and draws in elements of capitalism that view women as instruments of production or commodities.
The negative implications of profit-driven lobola are that such conduct compromises and negates the dignity of women. It reduces them into products which must be treated less than human as opposed to humans who possess values, dignity, integrity and rights. Frederick Engels in his work titled “The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State”asserts “Within the family, the husband constitutes the bourgeoisie and the wife the proletariat”. In a nutshell a woman remains a servant in the family set up. She is confined to perform codified tasks like child rearing, doing bedding, laundry, cooking and performs household chores without assistance from her husband in most cases.
Even if a wife has a job, she is expected to satisfy the needs of her husband at all material times and perform household chores at no cost to the household. The latter gives rise to unpaid labour. She contributes significantly to the reproduction of labour and to the evolution of capitalism.
In this regard culture serves to compound the plight of women in the family.
In African culture, a bride is expected to bear kids in order to qualify her for womanhood; she is propelled to appreciate her man even if he has more than one wife. In certain Nguni (Zulu, Xhosa, Tsonga and Ndebele) tribes the departure of the wife’s husband necessitates that her husband’s brother or siblings take her over and sustain the marriage. In certain cultures giving the girl-child decent academic education is prohibited. Culture by its nature in a patriarchal society places high moral expectations on women as opposed to men.
Nonetheless culture constrains women beyond the structure of the family. CONTRALESA is constituted by traditional leaders who are men. Women are deprived from leading as chiefs or traditional leaders in general.
The symbiotic relations between patriarchy and capitalism that are perpetuated through cultural stereotypes, compound and compromise the social status of women in society.
As trade union leaders and members located in various sphere of society, we must attempt at all times to uproot negative and oppressive elements in our culture in order to empower women. Most importantly as men we should attempt to share household chores and of course as men and women located in the working class, we should strive at all times to abolish the capitalist-orientated economic system which drives the oppression of women.