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9 - “No Nation Can Be Free When One Half of It Is Enslaved”: Constitutional Equality for Women in South Africa

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 January 2010

Saras Jagwanth
Affiliation:
Senior lecturer in the Department of Public Law, University of Cape Town
Christina Murray
Affiliation:
Professor of Constitutional and Human Rights Law, University of Cape Town; Deputy Dean of the Law Faculty
Beverley Baines
Affiliation:
Queen's University, Ontario
Ruth Rubio-Marin
Affiliation:
Universidad de Sevilla
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Summary

… freedom cannot be achieved unless women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression … unless we see, in practical and visible terms, that the condition of the women in 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.

President Mandela (1994).

When, in 1993, South Africans first started drafting a constitution for a democratic dispensation, gender equality was firmly on the agenda. However, the priority it should be given and the extent to which it should determine the development of the many systems of customary law in the country were disputed.

For most of the twentieth century, politics diverged along two, separate streams. White politics developed through official political and legal channels, while black politics did so outside the official structures. In white politics, South Africa saw changes relating to women's rights that more or less matched developments in the West. White women were given the vote in 1930. Laws relating to matrimonial property for white people were gradually reformed. In the 1980s, systematic challenges to inequality in the workplace began. Grave concerns concerning the situation of women who were not classified as white were occasionally raised in official political forums but, by and large, such concerns were dismissed with the assertion that black people were “not ready” for development or, more cynically in a system which gave black people no political representation, with the response “we cannot presume to tell black people how to run their affairs.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2004

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References

Andrews, P., “The Constitutional Court Provides Succour for Victims of Domestic Violence: S v Baloyi” (2000) 16 South African Journal on Human Rights337Google Scholar
Clarke, B. and Walt, L. Meintjies-Van der, “The new South African Domestic Violence Bill — Rhetoric or Reality?” (1998) 115 South African Law Journal760Google Scholar
Convention for the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women: First South African Report (1997), online: South African Government Information <http://www.polity.org.za/govdocs/reports/cedaw1.html> (date accessed: 13 June 2002)
C. Himonga, “Law and Gender in Southern Africa: Human Rights and Family Law” in York Bradshaw and Stephen Ndegwa, eds., The Uncertain Promise of Southern Africa (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001) 275
Jagwanth, S. and Schwikkard, P. J., “An Unconstitutional Cautionary Rule” (1998) 11 South African Journal on Criminal Justice87Google Scholar
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S. Liebenberg, ed., The Constitution of South African from a Gender Perspective (Cape Town: David Philip, 1995)
Loenen, T., “The Equality Clause in the South African Constitution: Some Remarks from a Comparative Perspective” (1997) 13 South African Journal on Human Rights401CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Meyerson, D., “Abortion: The Constitutional Issues” (1999) 116 South African Law Journal50Google Scholar
Milton, J., “Redefining Rape: the Law Commission's Proposals” (1999) 12 South African Journal on Criminal Justice364Google Scholar
C. Murray, ed., Gender and the New Legal Order (Kenwyn: Juta, 1998)
Murray, C., “Is Polygyny Wrong?” (1994) 22 Agenda: A Journal about Women and Gender37CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Meide, W., “Gender Equality v the Right to Culture: Debunking the Perceived Conflicts Preventing the Reform of the Marital Property Regime of the ‘Official Version’ of Customary Law” (1999) 116 South African Law Journal100Google Scholar
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