Notes from South Africa – February 2013

Vanessa Ludwig

The recent media attention on the vulnerability of poor Black young women after the gruesome attack on Anene Booysen has brought into sharp focus, yet again, the marginalisation of young women’s voices within the discourse of what South African citizenship means. While there was a cacophony of voices in various public fora from various quarters - including ‘women’s rights’ organisations - on the need to address gender-based violence and gender inequality, as well as attempts by various ‘experts’ to explain the contributing factors (chief amongst which was lack of access to opportunities and resources) that drove the young men accused of her rape and murder,  the circumstances of young women within these ‘deprived’ areas were not addressed, and most certainly not by young women themselves.

It was interesting to note that many young women expressed their disgust and concerns re the Booysen rape and murder via Facebook, Whatsapp and BBM to their friends. However, their voices were generally absent in the ‘public arena’.

Although there are a number of organisations and social movements tackling issues related to local government and community development, the voices of young women are generally silent. There are a number of factors which contribute to this, ranging from the relative position of young Black women within a racist-patriarchal society to the lack of a ‘strong women’s movement’ where these young women can be encouraged to realise their potential. NGOs and CBOs who work with young women are also finding it increasingly difficult to survive within the current economic climate and often programmes specifically designed to develop the knowledge and skills of young women are not sustainable due to a lack of funds.

Young Women Govern-SA understands the need for young Black women’s voices to be heard on local governance issues – whether they be within school governing bodies, residents’ associations (including street committees), CPFs, youth clubs, etc., or when local councillors hold their intermittent meetings to ‘consult’ on the IDP. Building the capacity (both confidence and knowledge-base) of young women is key to their involvement in these structures, and making their concerns and needs heard.

Currently digital technologies are used to provide information on and mobilise women for a number of issues. Unfortunately these are not always accessible to socially and economically marginalised young women as one needs to be ‘plugged-in’ to these networks. One of the key challenges for us would be to get the young women in the project ‘linked-in’ to these networks, and to get their opinions disseminated via these networks and to generate debate and alternative advocacy actions that include young women’s voices.

Another challenge will be the ‘time-value’ factor, especially for those young women who are not studying at the UWC. Often unemployed young women who are not engaged in formal studies are expected to carry a larger share of domestic chores in exchange for their sustenance. Building activist capacity is not considered a priority, and is often thought to be completely irrelevant to the needs of the family unit. Further, as the digital hub is located at UWC, access to it might prove difficult for those not studying at the institution due to the high transport costs. We will have to explore new and creative ways of generating their input on the website, blog, etc.

Currently the project is at an exciting phase with the concept of ‘each one teach one’ being explored as a way of bridging the divide between young women studying at a higher education institution and those who are not able to do so. We look forward to seeing how these different experiences merge to create new possibilities for young women’s activism in relation to local governance issues.