Choose To Challenge
Feminist and activist G D Anderson once said: “Feminism isn’t about making women stronger. Women are already strong, it’s about changing the way the world perceives that strength.”
Changing this perception requires women’s voices to be elevated at all levels, acknowledging that we live in a changing world, says Phumi Mtetwa, JASS Southern Africa regional co-director.
Mtetwa is an activist whose work focuses on economic, gender and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI) equality and justice issues.
She explains that feminism is a vision for society and not for women. At JASS, supporting feminist women means meeting women at their level, understanding their priorities and helping them to raise their voices.
“I lift women because it is the right thing to do. The challenge is to continue to build and transform support structures while operating sustainably. Women are agile, we’ve learnt to be together while we are apart, thanks to technology.”
Mtetwa says worldwide, women face challenges including capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy, widening inequality and gender-based violence (GBV).
“Women have alternative solutions. However, they continue to fight to be heard. This is where a collective of voices becomes an effective tool for overcoming some of these challenges,” says Mtetwa.
The COVID-19 pandemic has added to the challenges facing women. In April 2020, the United Nations revealed an increase in GBV incidents globally with spikes in cases of abuse in East Asia, Europe, South America and Africa as a result of lockdown.
“Violence is the overarching reality for women. Many have survived physical, emotional, financial and sexual violence, with some having died at the hands of this violence,” says Kwezilomso Mbandazayo, Oxfam SA Women’s Rights and Gender Justice programme manager.
This is compounded by the structural violence of poverty, inequality, racism, and living under a global order that thrives on the oppression and dispossession of the many to the benefit, extreme wealth, and safety of the few, explains Mbandazayo.
Koketso Moeti, founder and executive director of amandla.mobi, an online activist platform, explains that inequalities such as access to public space, safety and bodily autonomy have preceded the current crisis.
“Some of these existing inequalities have worsened as a result of the pandemic, creating new ones in the process. High living costs and job losses have hit women the hardest, thus progress has been halted,” she points out.
Amandla.mobi leads campaigns that build real power for black people with a particular focus on low-income black women who face challenges of injustice daily in different ways.
“We connect people so that our voices have maximum impact and power to hold political and corporate interests to account, and advance solutions that build a more just and people-powered Mzansi.
“Overcoming these challenges requires political will, prioritisation and massive value shifts in society,” Moeti says.
While this will not happen overnight, as a start – and laying the foundation for ongoing work – households could be helped through a basic income grant.
Financial compensations are paid out late, the distribution is poorly handled, and some women are excluded from receiving the social relief distress grant if they are already receiving other forms of social grant.
This situation forces women to bear the brunt of the economic fallout caused by the crisis, Moeti explains. It excludes them as people needing support and prevents them from living with dignity in their own right irrespective of their caregiver status.
When women and society at large stand up against injustice, create alternative solutions and fight for their rightful place, a tangible reality becomes a possibility, says Mbandazayo.
“As part of a global feminist resistance movement, I have a voice, and so does everyone. The way I raise my voice is made possible by those who came before me, women I work with – together we can achieve so much more,” she adds.