‘The fight for equality is not just a fight to emancipate ourselves from the material bondage of a system that has wrought destruction to our essence of living, but, it is a fight to affirm our humanness as men and women, it is an affirmation of our relentless commitment to not only civil liberties but to holistic human liberty.’- Tembani Makata
Over time we as a society have long held that the metric to ascertain whether we are truly liberated would be to assess the conditions and the freedoms enjoyed by the most marginalised in our society, to this end we have long held that none of us would be completely free until all of us, men and women alike, were free. The emerges of an understanding of the intersectional nature of the struggles we face as a people has contributed to the dominating discourse in the current gender emancipatory narrative, we can no longer ignore the fact that men are both the oppressor and the oppressed, this then indivertibly speaks to the dualistic responsibility of emancipation. The issues pertaining to the struggle of women become a responsibility of all human beings, therefore women emancipation should not be particularly categorised as a struggle advanced by women on their own but rather as a reflection of how women and men have an important role to play in changing gender inequalities.
In the South African context, after the democratic breakthrough in 1994, black women, in particular, are still faced with the triple crisis of oppression which is gender, race and class. Historically the apartheid system caused black women to be chained by the triple crisis. Thus, there is a difference between the struggles of a black woman and a white woman though they are both victims of the patriarchal system. When Rosa Luxemburg wrote about the woman suffrage and class struggles (1912), she made an emphasis of the inequalities within women. She noted that “most bourgeois women are like lionesses in the struggle against “male prerogatives”, would trot like docile lambs in the camp of conservative and clerical reaction if they had suffrage. Indeed, they would certainly be a good deal more reactionary than the male counterparts of their class.”
Moreover, there can never be an equal balance of power between women in South Africa whilst the triple crisis of oppression has not yet been resolved. Until people have a better understanding of what informs the gender inequalities in society and what is to be done to resolve the contradictions, women will remain oppressed in all spheres of society including the political sphere. The patriarchal system itself is a manifestation of class contradictions. Overall, the gender struggle is inseparable from the class struggle. Thus, the full emancipation of women will occur in a classless society; a classless society is a necessity for women. Even Karl Marx in the origin of the family, property and state emphasised that the interdependence of these institutions (the family, property and state) contributes to the fall of women into oppressive conditions. Likewise, the abolishment of these institutions is intertwined with the restoration of women consciousness and their place in society as human beings.
Political equality between women and men
Now that women are given space to emerge and lead in the political landscape, it is of great importance to note that giving women political equality as men in a capitalist society does not guarantee a balance of power. This means that women will remain as guards of power whilst men retain power. It is true that men are beneficiaries of patriarchy even the working class men are unconsciously oppressive – it is impossible to be in full solidarity with their women. To be in solidarity will mean that men will have to enter into the same situation as women, this much like the class suicide that Marx refers to (this being patriarchal suicide), but the posture will not find expression as the system at play will not allow it.
Paulo Freire in the Pedagogy of the oppressed (1970) outlines that once the oppressors discover himself as an oppressor may cause considerable anguish, but it does not necessarily lead to solidarity with the oppressed.
The question is whether the gender quota is relevant or necessary?
The gender quota in its nature is oppressive and it generally undermines the women populace and robs them of the chance to be capacitated in their full potential. It lacks objective reality and clarity. The gender quota has given women in politics a perception that leadership positions are owed to them on the basis that they are women. We are at a point where women get elected to positions as a matter of necessity in order to satisfy constitutional requirements.
It becomes an act of generosity to manage the contradictions that are tabled by feminists. However, there is no equal distribution of power. If the gender quota has a significant role to play in the revolution, why is the quantity of women in politics not equal to the quality of women we have? Do we need to deepen the question as to why is there a lack of restoration of women consciousness within the political landscape with the existence of the gender quotas?
In order for both women and men to attain political equality, change must take place. Dialectics teaches us that change takes place in different forms. One of the dialectical laws that sum up how change should take place in the process of advancing political equality is the transformation of quantity to quality, political education becomes the primary source for the transformation. Women must be given space to undergo cadre-ship development. Whereby they go through a transformation from being masses to activists; activists to leaders and leaders to cadres. A gender quota is an act of sadism, it gives our men pleasure of having political dominance. Engulfed in reality, women in politics safeguard power, the act of sadistic love by our men reveals itself when women are reduced to congress packages, voting cattle, to balance numbers in positions and to fight factional battles.
Dialectical materialism gives an objective reality on the gender quota when it speaks of how essence and appearance are the same but there are contradictions between form and content. Hence the contradictions that exist because of the gender quota are merely delaying political equality. On that note, we cannot reduce the struggle for women emancipation to a struggle against the men of our class but we need to fight against the system hands on with our men. We must be the Krupskaya of our times, who remained in solidarity with her husband Lenin to fight against the oppressive systems.
We cannot overlook at how the gender quota has succeeded in ensuring that a few of the previously disadvantaged women have found space in different positions in society including the public and the private sector. The gender quota in its context does not only have negativity but there is a light of positivity. Therefore, the gender quota remains as a mean to an end not an end in itself.
It is safe to say that the gender quota is a decoy, it is a delaying tactic that does not truly speak of empowering women in the political sphere. The 50/50 gender quota is too ambitious and it can be a downfall of the women struggle as it is a dangerous shortcut. At all stages of the revolution, the liberation of women must involve both women and men. In order for this praxis to find expression, the gender quota system must not cease to exist but it must be used as a tool to raise the levels of consciousness of women in their expression of their oppression and emancipation, not to impose women to leadership structures. Women must lead based on their political capacity not merely because they are women as leadership is not a reward. The restoration of the consciousness of women and the important role they play in the revolution must be prioritised. Capitalism can only be defeated by the involvement of women in the struggle in their full capacity.
The gender quota has reduced women to objects rather than subjects. It has led women into thinking the gender struggle no longer needs full revolutionary commitment. The gender quota has resulted in the increasing number of women being liberals and reactionaries rather than producing leaders and revolutionaries. Therefore, the gender quota is not a solution.
“When we drop fear, we can draw nearer to people, we can draw nearer to the earth, we can draw nearer to all the heavenly creatures that surround us.”- Bell Hooks
Written by Lebohang Ntuli (SASCO KZN Provincial Treasurer)