Intersectionality is key to women’s struggles

Panelists: Carmen Louw, Constance Mogale, Seehaam Samaai and Mandisa Shandu.

A seminar was held on Tuesday, 28 August on the challenges facing women’s access to resources from the land and sea.

Women’s struggles need to be approached holistically and the links between each recognised. This was the consensus among panelists at the public seminar on women and their struggle for land and natural resources held at the University of the Western Cape (UWC). Mandisa Shandu from Ndifuna Ukwazi, Carmen Louw from Women on Farms, Constance Mogale from Alliance for Rural Democracy and Seeham Samaai from the Women’s Legal Centre agreed that the intersectionality of struggles faced by women everyday in both urban and rural areas needs to infuse the fight for land and natural resources.

In her welcoming remarks, Professor Ruth Hall from the UWC-based Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) questioned the low percentage of 30 percent targeted by the African Union campaign for the allocation of land to African women by 2025. This is despite the fact that women make up 60 percent of the agricultural labour force in Africa.

Shandu, the co-Director of Ndifuna Ukwazi, says that they are fighting for spatial justice. It is an NGO that supports tenants and workers struggling for access to land and affordable housing in the city centre as the Reclaim the City movement. “South Africa’s common history is that of displacement and this speaks to the sense of safety and sense of dignity. People outside of Cape Town city centre spend on average 40 minutes to and from work and spend about 40 percent of their salaries on transport,” she said.

Members of Reclaim the City has occupied the old Helen Bowden Nurses Home near the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town since March 2017. Photo by Ashraf Hendricks/GroundUp

Reclaim the City, according to Shandu is about building counter-power that is rooted in feminism. Most of their leaders and participants are domestic workers who have been fighting and advocating for sites in the city centre to be used for social housing since 1996. “We are fighting against deep inequalities in urban centres where in places like Cape Town, poor black people live in basements with no lights. Black women are invisible in the city centre.  The feminised structure of Reclaim the City is about collective power, sharing of responsibilities,” said Shandu.

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“While ours is the struggle for housing, we cannot divorce it from other struggles  and issues that women face, for example women abuse,” she stated.

Carmen Louw from Women on Farms reiterated the intersectionality of struggles when it comes to women farmworkers. “In most commercial farms women work as seasonal workers and this has direct impact on their income and it impacts on food security for them and because they are seasonal and are women, they do not have houses. This makes women to stay in abusive relationships or go into relationships early in their lives,” said Louw.

Louw started her presentation with a short video about farm evictions in 2015 on Soetendal farm in the Drakenstein Municipality. “When farmworkers rights are violated, there is little or no institutional support. By default, the law and other state institutions often protect landowners in disputes involving farmworkers,” said Louw, the Director of Women on Farms. According to her, the police always defer to the farm-owner and do not want to listen to farmworkers.

Louw argues that women farmworkers stay in abusive relationships or go into relationships at an early age because they have no houses of their own.

Meanwhile Constance Mogale from the Alliance for Rural Democracy said that women in communal areas do not have access to land and that customary law discriminates against women. This, according to Mogale, has allowed for big business and the government to remove people from their land. “Women are not recognised as equal citizens in communal areas. Customary law is expropriating women’s rights without free and prior consent. Feminist jurisprudence is needed to prioritise women’s rights,” she argued.

Women in rural areas do not have the same rights as women in urban areas. “Traditional courts are supposed to be bottom up in nature in terms of approach but as a women I can’t represent myself,” Mogale said.

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Sehaam Samaai from the Women’s Legal Centre highlighted the struggle for the recognition of Muslim marriages, which will provide Muslim women and their children with legal protection upon the dissolution of marriages. “In South Africa today, no religious marriages are recognised as being legal, resulting in a vacuum within which women’s dignity and rights are violated. We must demand the recognition of religious marriages and domestic partnerships to protect the rights of women to land. Women’s rights are being violated without proper legislation,” said Samaai.

“We must call for legislation that will take the realities of women on the ground into consideration. Feminist jurisprudence is about forcing courts to have a gender lens,” she said.

The seminar was concluded with the screening of a short video documentary  on the women of Buffelsjagsbaai, a small fishing community on the South Coast. The video highlights the exploitation of the women, by both their own community and external bodies, and how they are forced into criminal livelihoods due to their desperate circumstances.

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