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Progressive Women's Movement of South Africa - Base Document

Progressive Women's Movement of South Africa - Base Document

Theme: "Women marching for equality, peace and development"


1. Background Information

Women struggles in South Africa started before the last century. Women took a lead in the fight for land after the promulgation of the land act. At this time they were not full members of the liberation movement, they were deemed as associate members, yet they were able to define their role within the struggles of the South African Society. They formed an organisation, the Bantu Women's League under the leadership of Charlotte Maxeke because of her deep understanding of the challenges facing women in South Africa. The League represented all the women of South Africa irrespective of and class and education consequently, women fought for their rights and the rights of all the oppressed people. It is during this time that the liberation movement came to realise that women are powerful allies and that they have a role in the fight against apartheid.

When they became full members of the ANC they continued to work with women from other racial groups, rural areas, professional women, peasants and others. The Federation of South African Women showed that united women have the power. The 09 August March against the carrying of passes bears testimony to the collective strength, determination and unity amongst women of all races and class. The government of the day had banned the march and women defied the ban, and brought the whole country to a standstill.

The decision to form a progressive Women's Movement was taken at a conference in Amsterdam in Netherlands before the unbanning of political organisations. South African women from all works of life attended the conference.

After the unbanning of political organisations, negotiations started, initially women were excluded from taking part in the negotiations. As a result women formed a coalition of women from different political backgrounds and political affiliations. Through the National Women's Coalition of South Africa, women were able take part in the negotiations and to articulate their demands. Women had drawn up a Women's Charter for Effective Equality, which was a build up from the Women's Charter of 1954. Women presented the Women's Charter for Effective Equality to the first democratic government under the leadership of the then President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. The hopes and aspirations that were raised by women are now contained in the present constitution.

The Women's National Coalition disintegrated after the adoption of the South African Constitution. This is due to the fact that women focused more on party politics, rather than on issues that affect us as women. Instead we regard issues that affect us as unimportant.

The ANC and the ANC WL however have held a view that there is a need for some kind of an organic structure that will take up broader issues of women in the South African Society. This is part of the role that the Women's League has played in marshalling women to fight for their emancipation.

Over the years various discussion papers and resolutions have been developed and adopted on the purpose, character and proposed programme of establishing a progressive women's movement. For this reason the ANC WL and Alliance Partners have proposed the formation of a progressive Women's Movement whose key objective is to promote the transformation of South African Society into one that is truly non-racial and non-sexist.

The new challenges facing the women of South Africa today demand that we form this Women's Movement so that we can meet the present challenges as a united force, in order to be in line with the transformation that is taking place in our country, NEPAD, AU and the United Nations.

In October 2005 during one of its meetings the National Executive Committee of the Women's League decided it would be ideal if South African women to formalize a Progressive Women's Movement in 2006. The NEC chose this year because it marks the 50th Anniversary of the 1956 Women's March to Pretoria. Furthermore, this year was chosen because we commemorate 10 years of a democratic constitution as well as 30 years of the 1976 June uprising.

2. What is the Women's Movement

After extensive discussions, as the ANCWL and Alliance partners we have agreed that a Women's Movement is a broad front of women's organisations, grassroots organisations of all kinds, feminist oriented groups, researchers, faith based organisations, traditional healers, women involved in policy formulation and programmes.

The Women's League states that the Movement must be progressive and diverse. That it should be shaped by local struggles and has to acknowledge that women are not a homogeneous group. Similarly the movement should advocate the ethos of transforming South Africa into a non-sexist, non-racial, democratic, united and prosperous South Africa. As well as an understanding of social relationships of class, race, ethnicity, age, religion etc.

What's more, the movement should respond to specific conditions of gender inequality through a minimum platform for action. Moreover the League advise that the formation of the progressive women's movement will enable women to resolve fundamental disagreements or differences through dialogue so that we can sharpen our understanding of the challenges facing us.

3. Principles guiding the Women's Movement

  • Fight for the emancipation of women and gender equality;
  • Fight Patriarchy;
  • Minimum and single platform for action
  • Try and increase a coherent and common approach to issues that affect us;
  • Develop good relations in order to shape the development of policy positions;
  • Agree to differ, maintain independence of member organisations but work towards unity;
  • Provide a support base for all women;
  • Ensure the involvement of women in peace and security processes.
  • Consolidation of economic, social, governance and political programmes; and
  • Collaborate with other social movements who have already been established.

4. Character of the Women's Movement

  • Organic - not a formal structure;
  • Issue based - e.g. focus on issues that affect women based on the programme and challenges that face women at a specific time;
  • Committed to transforming South Africa into a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic, united and a prosperous South Africa;
  • Work with organisations that have a liberation movement background and those from the disciplined left;
  • A home for Women who are committed to fighting poverty and those who have committed themselves to working towards a better life for all.
  • Commitment to fighting for women's rights.
  • Working class biasness.

5. Targeted Groups

The women's movement must target women from different sectors so as to ensure that there is representativity. These should include women from rural areas, business sector, professional sector, faith based organisations, workers, young women, women with disabilities, elderly women, workers, unemployed women, women from political parties who are committed to our grounding principles.

6. Objectives

  1. 1. Unite the women of South Africa in diversity;
  2. 2. To strengthen the relationship between the government and women's organisations;
  3. 3. Ensure that women that are committed to women's agenda have their forum; and
  4. 4. Fight against the discrimination of women in all spheres of life.

7. Areas of Focus

7.1 Economic Transformation

  • Access to Economic Resources
  • Job Creation
  • Self Employment
  • Access to Credit
  • Access to Information Technology

7.2 Social Transformation

  • Access to Housing
  • Access to Health
  • Access to Land
  • Access to Basic Infrastructure
  • Social Grants and Social Services
  • Access to Education and Skills

7.3 Governance

  • Working towards 50% representation in all governance and decision-making bodies including business.
  • Educating women on legislation and policies empowering women and advocating for progressive laws that empower women.

7.4 Monitoring

  • Support and monitor the implementation of international instruments such as NEPAD, CEDAW, Beijing +10, World Trade Organisation and African Union.

7.5 International Relations

  • Work towards creating a better Africa and a better world.
  • Strengthen our relationship with international as well as continental organisations such as PAWO. Look at the possibility of forming chapters that will liase with other sectors in the continent and the world over.
  • Strengthen international solidarity with international organisations from the disciplined left.
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