/ 7 January 2016

Attempts to rejuvenate ANC Women’s League under fire

The league said the desk was aimed at recruiting and drawing more women into its activities.
The league – upset that those in power ‘forget the women’s agenda’ once elected – is unsure whether to support any candidate at the party’s December conference.

Attempts to rejuvenate the ANC Women’s League with an injection of youthful energy have come under fire, with accusations ranging from the old guard trying to retain power to a clash of fashion cultures.

The league launched a “young women’s desk” on Thursday in Bloemfontein with an all-day gathering, followed by an evening fashion show billed to “showcase diverse talent and creativity on [Women’s League] garments and style”.

Interdenominational prayers were held, and the launch was also used to encourage members to attend Saturday’s ANC 104th birthday celebrations in Rustenburg.

In a statement, the league said the desk was aimed at recruiting and drawing more women into its activities.

But one of its members, who has been involved in the process and did not want to be named, said there were varying opinions on what members understood the concept of a young women’s desk to mean.

“In the Women’s League, there has been a growing discomfort among women who feel the older women are closing the space for them. And issues like the [league] uniform are not appealing to young women. But in the main it is a contestation of space, with older women suppressing younger women. The desk is diverting attention from this issue,” she said.

She also said the age limit for the desk was 40, but the league’s definition of “youth” was people under 35. That meant under-40s might be confined to the desk and kept out of Women’s League positions.

“It is not really about women’s issues but about deployment. They [the old guard] know these younger women are energetic, with ideas. If they come into the Women’s League, the older women will fall by the wayside,” she said, adding: “It is a well-calculated move to sideline women and suppress them.”

A league member from Gauteng said she had heard the desk would have its own president, but a woman who has been involved in setting up the structure said this was not true.

“The [Women’s League] leadership will be appointing a co-ordinator. There won’t be a leadership election. This is not a constitutional structure, just a co-ordinating structure. It has no constitution, no policies, nothing like that,” she said.

She said the reason for the 40-year age limit was to cater for women coming up from the ANC Youth League, where the age limit is 35, “so that they can find a home and relevance in the political atmosphere”.

She said gender struggles cut across all ages, and this desk was meant to cater for that reality. “It is just like, for instance, a subcommittee of the ANC,” she said.

Women’s League spokesperson Thoko Xasa said the desk was meant to integrate young women into the league’s programmes “that talk to their issues and challenges”. She added that some young women’s desks had been established in the provinces, but that the effort hadn’t been well coordinated.

Unemployed women, as well as academics and professionals, and those involved in faith-based bodies and nongovernmental organisations, would be encouraged to join the young women’s desk, she said.