ANC Women's League to hold miniskirt march

The ANC Women’s League is to hold a “miniskirt march” on Friday to protest the victimisation of two miniskirt-clad teenaged girls atJohannesburg’s Noord Street taxi rank in January and, while women’s rights groups are pleased that the league is adopting this stance, there are lingering questions about its ability to stand as a credible agent for women’s empowerment.

The mini-skirt march, a rare high profile event for the league, appears to be a tamer and perhaps more socially acceptable version of the much-maligned Slutwalk, an event that the Women’s League was not associated with.

Hundreds took to the streets of Cape Town in South Africa’s first Slutwalk at the weekend, to protest against the idea that to stay safe from rapists, “women should avoid dressing like sluts”.
Sass Schultz, who initiated Slutwalk in Johannesburg, said it was unfortunate that Slutwalk had met with such resistance. “A lot of people didn’t get that supporting Slutwalk didn’t mean you were a slut but actually meant you were against that kind of language,” she said.

Schultz said she supported the women’s league march. “Slutwalk supports any effort, including the march this weekend, that points out that what you wear has nothing to do with sexual assault and you are not to blame,” she said.

However, she complained about the lack of unity among various groups fighting for women’s rights.

Although its usually present at court cases that involve gender issues, such as rape and assault, the women’s league has had a low profile in recent years. Some say the organisation is a shadow of the struggle movement that claimed that ‘if you strike a rock, you strike a woman”.

In contrast to the ANC Youth League, which has dominated headlines and pushed its agendas in the public domain, the women’s league has been almost a non-entity and it’s been accused of having a muted response to certain issues that affect women.

But Troy Martens, recently appointed as the women’s league spokesperson, said that this perception derives from the league’s poor communication skills.

“This criticism comes from the lack of a good communications strategy around our campaigns,” she said, adding that the league was making a concerted attempt to change this.

“We’re communicating better, we’re using social media, press releases and the website,” she said.

Rather than “shouting and screaming” to gets its message across as the youth league does, the women’s league hopes to be a “voice of reason” and to have a calming effect on the ANC, she said.

Martens said the league was in the process of finalising a gender policy document, which it would present at the ANC’s policy conference in Mangaung later this year.


Still, the impression in women’s rights circles has been that the league, when faced with a decision to either punt gender principles upfront or to toe the party line, has chosen the latter.

Questionable credentials
In the 2008 succession battle between Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, the women’s league sided with Zuma, a man with questionable gender credentials that do not stand up to progressive standards.

In 2006 Zuma was accused of raping a family friend, an HIV positive woman with whom he had unprotected sex. In court, Zuma claimed they had had consensual sex and that he believed she had sent him sexual signals by wearing a short skirt.

This still sits uncomfortably with many women, particularly in light of the recent assaults at the Noort Street taxi rank.

Zuma was later acquitted and his accuser, who suffered victimisation throughout the trial, fled the country. He went on to become president in 2009.

When asked about Zuma’s comments at the trial, Martens said she could not comment on that particular issue and that “these are things than need to be addressed”.

Colleen Lowe-Morna, executive director of Gender Links, questioned whether the women’s league was up to the role of providing a rallying point for women’s issues in the country.

“As youth look to the youth league, so women should look to the women’s league as the most likely champion for their causes,” she said. But this hasn’t been the case in recent years.

“They’re the hospitality arm of the ANC rather than radical feminists who question the status quo,” said Lowe-Morna. “We have a radical Constitution in terms of gender rights and equality and it needs champions and people touphold it.”

Lowe-Morna complained that government’s discourse around gender had been dumbed down and that rather than being known as a progressive society that was marching towards gender equality it’s become known for the rich men who have multiple wives or eat sushi off women’s bodies.

Faranaaz Parker

Faranaaz Parker

Faranaaz Parker is a reporter for the Mail & Guardian. She writes on everything from pop science to public health, and believes South Africa needs carbon taxes and more raging feminists. When she isn't instagramming pictures of her toddler or obsessively checking her Twitter, she plays third-person shooters on Xbox Live. Read more from Faranaaz Parker

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