Feminism’s got its groove back

BODY LANGUAGE

Every dark cloud truly has a silver lining. January  20 last year witnessed the inauguration of Donald Trump, the most overtly racist and sexist United States president in recent history. That sparked the biggest women’s march ever a day later: more than 400 marches across the US and 168 in capitals around the world, including in Johannesburg and Cape Town.

This year opens with a barrage of criticism of Trump’s first year in office, including his racist remarks in a meeting with a bipartisan group of senators at the White House. But the year also opened with speculation that Oprah Winfrey might become the first black woman president of the US in 2020 after her riveting speech at the Golden Globe awards, urging women and girls around the world to seize the moment.

Sad as it may be, it took the stream of sexual harassment allegations against businessman-turned-presidential candidate Trump to blow the lid off the silence that surrounds the daily abuse of women’s bodies.

In his brazen style, Trump denied all the allegations, waged an open war on women’s bodies by expanding the global gag rule banning foreign nongovernmental organisations that receive certain kinds of US aid from counselling on, referring for, or even advocating for abortion, and supported Roy Moore in his bid for the governorship of Alabama — despite a string of sexual harassment accusations. Moore’s loss to Doug Jones, the first time in decades that the governorship of the state went to the Democrats, signified just how politicised the issue of women’s rights has become in the world’s richest democracy.

Adding grist to the Women’s March are the dozens of women movie stars, led by Ashley Judd, who have plucked up the courage to speak out against the shameful sexist behaviour of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and a long line of well-known stars such as Dustin Hoffman, leading to their fall.


In this age of social media it only takes a spark to get a fire going. The #MeToo campaign amplified the voices of many lesser-known women and spilled over to countries such as the United Kingdom where other political heads rolled, sparking the #TimesUp campaign and taking new forms, such as the demand by women in the BBC for equal pay. Breaking with the usual tradition of its Person of the Year (usually a man) in 2017, Time magazine named the “Silence Breakers” as the persons of the year.

Dressed with all her women colleagues in black, including Meryl Streep and Billie Jean King (of “Battle of the Sexes” fame) cheering on, it was left to Winfrey to give it all meaning.

“It’s not just a story affecting the entertainment industry,” she declared in a far more presidential voice than Trump could ever muster. “It’s one that transcends any culture, geography, race, religion, politics, or workplace. So I want tonight to express gratitude to all the women who have endured years of abuse and assault because they, like my mother, had children to feed and bills to pay and dreams to pursue. They’re the women whose names we’ll never know.”

According to Vivienne Mayer, a spokeswoman for the Women’s March Global, the march has inspired many efforts across the globe “from the network of local grassroots teams that have formed to enforce the child marriage ban in Malawi to combating female genital mutilation in Ghana and fighting for women to walk the streets safely in India. In Frankfurt, Germany, the Women’s March organisers have developed eight pillars of resistance, including rapid-response actions.”

In South Africa, the murder of Karabo Mokoena by her partner, also amplified by social media, gave rise to the black dresses and red lipstick Count Me In campaign, the #MenAreTrash debate, and the #NotInMyName response by progressive men.

Mduduzi Manana resigned from his position as deputy minister of higher education and was convicted for beating three women in a club on a Saturday night. He re-emerged as a member of the ANC’s national executive committee as the year closed.

Clearly the struggle is far from over. But as Winfrey put it:“For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dare speak the truth to the power of those [abusive] men. But their time is up. Their time is up.”

Welcome to 2018, and to a world in which women and girls exercise voice, choice and control over their bodies.

The authors work for Gender Links, a Southern African NGO that promotes gender equality and justice

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Colleen Lowe Morna
Colleen Lowe Morna
CEO at Gender Links; women's rights advocate; journalist, author, trainer, researcher, Southern Africa; views expressed are my own, retweets not an endorsement.

Related stories

How US foreign policy under Donald Trump has affected Africa

Lesotho has been used as a microcosm in this article to reflect how the foreign policy has affected Africa

Why would anyone vote for Trump?

COMMENT: For this gay, white soldier there simply isn’t a good enough challenger to knock him off his perch

Richard Calland: South Africa needs a Roosevelt style of leadership

President Cyril Ramaphosa needs to hold ‘fireside chats’ and have more power and institutional muscle around him, writes Richard Calland

Trump win will abort health care

Threats of funding cuts has caused a reduction in reproductive and sexual health services

The African Union’s (un)official statement on the US elections

The United States has never been shy to pass judgment on African elections. What does it look like when Africa passes judgment on America’s chaotic vote?

US ‘brokered’ agreements on Israel: Wind of change or toxic blast of extortion?

The United States is negotiating with African countries that will see them exchange Palestinian people’s rights for improved economic and trade conditions
Advertising

Subscribers only

Toxic power struggle hits public works

With infighting and allegations of corruption and poor planning, the department’s top management looks like a scene from ‘Survivor’

Free State branches gun for Ace

Parts of the provincial ANC will target their former premier, Magashule, and the Free State PEC in a rolling mass action campaign

More top stories

Vitamin therapy is for drips

It may be marketed by influencers, but intravenous vitamin therapy is not necessary and probably not worth the hype, experts say

Facebook, Instagram indiscriminately flag #EndSars posts as fake news

Fact-checking is appropriate but the platforms’ scattershot approach has resulted in genuine information and messages about Nigerians’ protest against police brutality being silenced

Murder of anti-mining activist emboldens KZN community

Mam’Ntshangase was described as a fierce critic of mining and ambassador for land rights.

Unite with Nigeria’s ‘Speak Up’ generation protesting against police brutality

Photos of citizens draped in the bloodied flag have spread around the world in the month the country should be celebrating 60 years of independence
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday