African Gender Institute, University of Cape Town
Published as part of the Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID)'s Building Feminist Movements and Organisations (BFEMO) initiative, this 11-page paper examines the nature, shape, and direction of "women's movement" organising in the South African context. Author Jane Bennett looks specifically at the One in Nine Campaign (hereafter, OINC), which was formed in early 2006 in response to several intersecting issues that have created "zones of political and economic injustice" in South Africa. These issues include: the escalation of poverty, rising rates of HIV and AIDS, the widening gap between the "first" and the "third" worlds within the country, and increases in gender-based violence.
Bennett provides a summary of the complex history of women's activism in South Africa, noting that, "[b]etween 1999 (after the first five year wave of enthusiasm about the new state, and willingness to engage with its work in relatively uncritical ways) and 2005, it has been argued that women's movement organizing suffered, struggling for coherence and connection in the rapids of escalating poverty, lost momentum, and increasing concern (even disillusionment) about both state capacity and state will to transform the social and economic axes of power in a way which could realize gender equality..." This situation has led, Bennett explains, to a situation in which all across the country there are "organised women", many of whom are explicitly or implicitly working with core feminist principles on gender justice.
Also, Bennett observes that in the past 5 years the connection between the politics of sexuality and those of gender have become increasingly foregrounded in the kinds of challenges faced by women activists. "Across the continent, the need to combat the transmission of HIV, to curtail sexual violence, and to ensure that women and girls have access to education, healthcare, and political rights as basic conditions of democracy has increasingly placed issues of sexuality at the forefront of theoretical and activist engagements with the state....Within this national context, sexualities constitute a live zone of continuous negotiation for rights, where masculinities and femininities are deployed both as points of access and as barriers to social justice."
The initiation of OINC emerged in this context, at the start of the early 2006 rape trial of Jacob Zuma (Deputy-President of the country until temporarily relieved of the position in 2005 in connection with another trial). A very public trial ensued, one in which Zuma's defenders were extremely hostile to the young HIV-positive woman alleging rape. The OINC was established "to ensure the expression of solidarity with the woman in that trial as well as other women who speak out about rape and sexual violence." [The name of the campaign is based on a Medical Research Council (MRC) study on sexual violence conducted in 2005 which indicated that only 1 out of every 9 rape survivors reports the attack to the police.] The objectives are outlined as follows: building solidarity (popularising sexual rights with a focus on women's right to sexual autonomy and safe consensual sex), research (monitoring and studying social and legal aspects of sexual violence and their implications for policy and practice), harnessing the power of print and electronic media to educate and inform key institutions and the public about legal and social dimensions of sexual violence), lobbying for the transformation of the justice system and the legal framework so that women who speak out are able to access justice in all stages of the chain), and direct action (demonstrating direct support of women who speak out against sexual violence).
As Bennett details, there is a consortium of organisations that manages the leadership of OINC (see page 6 for the full list). The OINC is led by diverse women, with backgrounds in law, conflict negotiation, sexuality and reproductive rights, HIV, gender-based violence, and most with personal backgrounds of economic struggle; most of them are black. In the months of the trial, the activism was a day-to-day business of ongoing strategic arrangement of public protest, as well as media creation through interaction with journalism and the design and maintenance of a website featuring daily updates on diverse aspects of the trial. The OINC's terms of reference were developed in the months after the Zuma trial came to a formal close (in May 2006) as a platform to build a movement based on the organisational synergies harnessed. In short, these principles focus on shared leadership and joint decision-making in building a platform for women's voices to be heard and for women activists to gain leadership experience. OINC endorses the basic tenet of feminism that the personal is political, and campaign actions are informed by recognising the intersectionality of various forms of oppression.
Bennett assesses these commitments, saying that, "[p]ut into action, these principles seem to work very well at some levels - they flatten conventional hierarchically-based processes of communication and decision-making." However, she stresses that "commitment alone to 'non-racism' (there are black and white women involved in the OINC, and a strong, lived, commitment to black leadership) may not ensure that all advocacy against gender-based violence carries within its terms of action the need to prioritize leadership 'against' whiteness, which should be understood as a constellation of ideas and interests rather than a set of individuals."
Bennett provides several examples of public and media activism OINC has undertaken since the trial, as part of its continuing effort to highlight the intransigence of the court system when it comes to processing the hearings of rape victims. The group has protested outside courts, created petitions, supported legal interventions, organised publicity campaigns on buses, and focused on particular cases to develop strategic focus. Within one OINC organisation, the Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW), the need to create spaces in which survivors of "corrective rape" (rape of lesbian women in order to "turn them back into heterosexuals") has involved new models of counselling, engagement with housing officials and police precincts at a micro-level, and creativity (working with writing, digital story-telling, and poetry). These approaches have been integrated into OINC's approach to tackling the environment in which gender-based violence is endemic at a very local level.
OINC's focus sharpened on July 7 2007, when two lesbian women were assassinated in Johannesburg; one had been an outreach worker for the Positive Women's Network, one of the OINC leaders. With some new organisational partners, the OINC took on the primary organisation of the 07-07-07 protest, facilitating public activism in 4 major cities, building solidarity, monitoring the legal case, and creating a range of resources (including virtual resources) to support the movement to protest the murders.
This work has "led to new demands on coalition members for 'holding' the direction of the movement-building...[in order to ensure] that gender politics are part and parcel of a lens on justice in South Africa. That is, this "re-energisation" has met with challenges; for instance, "[t]here is tension between addressing the actual daily priorities arising from women's oppression and creating public advocacy and activist projects which do not have 'service delivery' as their principle form of 'output'." OINC's informal links with other activists, as solidified within such gatherings as the December 2007 "Feminist Space" conference, are part of OINC's continued objective is to strategise in terms of developing OINC movement-building in South Africa. The way forward will be charted by the "Feminist Space" meeting, but it will entail a commitment to capitalizing on the proven strengths and workable agendas of the member organizations while simultaneously drawing organizations together in targeted protest and advocacy initiatives."
Posting to the Women's United Nations Report Network (WUNRN) listserv on January 14 2009.