As if the silencing of rape complaints at Rhodes University, the fact that Jacob The-Polygamist Zuma was made to be key Women’s Day speaker and of course the mute nature of candidates on women’s issues during the recent election campaigns wasn’t enough of a slap in the face to South African women; On the anniversary of one of the most important days in South African feminist history; Helen The-White-feminist Zille decided to take to the podium to announce to young girls all over the country that a woman’s worth is in her uterus.
We’re all sluts that deserve to be sterilized according to Zille. Of course she didn’t say it like that but I struggle to see the difference between her saying “I’d suggest any women that passed matric and has never claimed a child grant can get free higher education.” And Tertullian saying: “In pain shall you bring forth children, woman, and you shall turn to your husband and he shall rule over you.”
What’s even more amusing about Zille’s comment is that she thought she was providing a feminist stance even though her only concern in the matter was that maybe men might feel left out.
How does a woman of this stature not see that her comments are incredibly misogynistic?
Women’s Month is a circus. It’s the one month a year that all politicians come out to demonstrate how ignorant they are about women’s rights and it is becoming increasingly uncomfortable for me to live my life with the entire parliamentary cabinet’s middle fingers up my vagina. How does a girl get around to kicking the patriarchy like this???
Telling a woman that she needs to defy institutionalized sexism to get a bursary is like telling a blind person to read a book in order to get eye surgery. Education is supposed to help women get out of situations where they are vulnerable. If poor women already had complete control over their bodies, they wouldn’t need anybodies help to get an education.
As peculiar as this all might seem, we need to look at it for what it is, Zille’s comments are nothing more than a rich, white woman’s attempt to physically control the bodies and lives of working class South African woman.
Teenage pregnancies are one of the leading causes of girls dropping out of school and women leaving tertiary institutions and work places early. This is true. However, the problem isn’t that woman get pregnant. It’s that woman are responsible for child caring. Where males get off easy, a woman is expected to drop her whole life to take care of a child. This is a gross inequality which is encouraged by South African institutions. Take for example the gender wage gap. If a man is more likely to earn more by working, he would likely be the parent who gets that opportunity to earn a living, making the mother dependent on him for her financial well-being. But has anybody ever heard Zille address the issue of the wage gap?? Has Zille offered incentives to companies that hire more female workers?? Why it is that only two out of eight of the Democratic Alliance’s national leaders are women??
We cannot forget that working class women are at a major disadvantage compared to men or elite women such as Zille herself.
South Africa has failed to provide women with basic health care; that being access to safe abortions and methods of contraception. Rich woman are at an advantage because they are granted access to these things at private health care facilities. Poor woman are forced to go to public hospitals and clinics which are usually over crowded, understaffed and lack medical supplies and funds. These state run clinics are generally inaccessible for people living in rural areas and townships. Nurses and doctors are also often negligent and are not held responsible for their actions if something goes wrong. State run hospitals and clinics are simply not safe and nothing is being done to change this.
This is coupled by the deplorable state of sex education in public schools. Teenage pregnancy is more likely to occur in places where abstinence is promoted over sex education. This means that by telling young women to “just don’t have sex” is only going to make matters worse. We need to be implementing spaces of learning, where young people can go to get information on methods of safe sex and responsible sexual activity.
Rape is another major issue in poor communities. According to the Saartjie Bartman Centre for Women and Children, a woman is either raped or beaten every four minutes in South Africa. If we started handing out bursaries to individuals that are not mothers, we would be discriminating against rape survivors.
I’m not trying to be the voice of working class women and i’m definitely not attempting to take away their agency. However, I believe that it is important for people like me and Helen Zille and all the other privileged, educated women of South Africa to realise the harm that we are doing by treating working class women as subjects of experimentation rather than our equals. How can you expect our demands for gender equality to be reached if we are treating the vast majority of women in this country as talking points and props? Why does Helen Zille, who was a working mother for most of her life, think that her freedom to take control of her body is any more important than that of a poor women’s rights to her own body.
We need to realise quickly that bursaries are not like gold stars you hand out to kids for good behavior. For some, bursaries are the difference between a life of poverty and a life of prosperity. If government officials have the ability to grant bursaries to well deserving disadvantaged individuals, they should be doing so indiscriminately.