chapter  5
16 Pages


The word ‘gender’ is now a ubiquitous term used by all agencies within the international community to discuss issues of concern to women. Yet for some it is a euphemism for ‘women’ that has been adopted as a ‘neutral, apolitical’ term which is not as ‘threatening or divisive as “woman” ’ (Khan 2000: 8). Whichever way the term is used, however, there is deep concern about the situation of women in Africa. In many spheres, economic, social, political and sexual, women have been ‘placed in an inferior role to men’ (Masite interview 1996). It was this inequality that the former president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, was determined to combat. South Africa, he believed, could not go forward unless ‘we see in visible and practical terms that the condition of the women of our country has radically changed for the better and that they have been empowered to intervene in all aspects of life as equals with any other member of society’ (RDP News 1995a). In terms of the then legal status of women, the Common Law rule, whereby a husband obtained marital power over his wife and her property, was repealed by the General Law Fourth Amendment Act in 1993. Also, the Guardianship Act of the same year gave a married couple equal guardianship rights over children. Previously, only the father had been the natural guardian of a child born within marriage. But Mandela wanted to go further especially in terms of economic gender discrimination such as employment bias in public works projects; unpaid labour; constraints in the availability of credit for women with limited collateral; and insufficient resource allocation for childcare and education. In fact, the 1996 Constitution, which contained an extensive Bill of Rights, opened the way to affirmative action not only on grounds of race but also on the basis of gender (Box 5.1).