Within the Pan Africanist Women’s Organisation (PAWO) we resolved to invoke a debate on the “origins of the subjugation of women” rather than deal with the obvious topics that usually comes up at this time such as the issue of women abuse and women oppression as these issues are a given. We do not undermine the importance of dealing with these issues however at this juncture we are interested on how the oppression of women came about. As per the theme of this address “a people desiring to emancipate itself must understand the process of its enslavement” [WP van Schoor, 1951]. In essence if we understand where we come from, we will know where we are going and what vehicle we must use to arrive at our destination…that of an egalitarian society freeing both men and women from bondage.
In our research we came across two interesting theories – a Feminist approach which advocates that the root cause of women’s oppression is a biological phenomenon thus, it is in the makeup of men as a sex to oppress women as the other sex. In other words it is a battle of sexes, a battle between men and women. The problem we have with this theory is that if the struggle for women’ emancipation doesn’t transcend the capitalist and socio-economic relations, then it is a bourgeois struggle because it limits itself within the capitalist system. The second approach is the Marxist approach which advocates that exploitation of women began as a social order and the advent of private property. It is therefore paramount that women and men work together to fight capitalist exploitation for society to be free!
Our interest was much more drawn to a speech by the former President of Guinea, Sekou Toure in his address to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDG) of Guinea in 1975 in which, to our surprise, he cemented the Marxist approach corroborating the fact that the subjugation of African women began with the advent of capitalist colonisation of Afrika wherein, I quote “under foreign rule the traditional patterns of African society were gradually supplanted by negative values. This process eventually resulted in the degradation of the position of women in our society depriving women of their most sacred human rights”.
It becomes clear that there was a time when oppression of women did not exist, that women were held in high esteem as the bringers of life and the future of the family clan. Adding to this, Engels Lewis Morgan having come across the works of a German writer, Bachofen, whose book translate to “mother right” came to the conclusion that the importance of women within the society stemmed from her reproductive functions which was essential for the survival of the species of mankind. That function was not taken lightly as it is done nowadays, in fact being the reason that women are subjugated and relegated into baby making, confined to the household and to taking care of their husbands’ prodigy.
Sekou Toure points out that in classless societies, the physical groups of young and old, men and women played an important role in the production process and social relations. Each knew its roles within the clan and none were regarded as inferior to the other but instead helped to “strengthen social harmony and solidarity, to develop community life and to consolidate internal balance”.
In Matriarchy societies, descent was reckoned through the female line and a woman was the leader of the family, having an important role, socially, politically, culturally, and in the economic life of the clan as well as enjoy full authority to care for the family. This traditional order prevailing then came to an end through colonialist oppression and exploitation. Private property and class society emerged. Patriarchy became the order of the day and women were owned by their husbands. The economic life of African territories was dominated by the law of colonial profit, men were forced to work in the mines, in industries away from home, bringing in financial resources, tables changed, they wielded power over women as the rudiments of colonial capital had surfaced. Someone was the woman at home, looking after the children and the household.
In southern Afrika women played an important part in the struggle against colonialism and self determination and earned their position as decision makers in institutions like parliaments where they are seen working hand in hand with men in the reconstruction of our society. Be that as it may this has not translated into equality of women as a given. It makes us wonder at times what our gallant heroines’ think of the status quo wherever they are. We are thinking heroines such as Elizabeth Sibeko, Boniswa Ngcukana, S’tlanki Chiphega, Urbaniah Mothopeng, Nobanzi Mbandazayo, Delekezi Mfaya to mention just a few. We are certain they realized long time ago that any African government that enters into the shoes of its hitherto oppressors without changing the prevailing economic system, is far from realizing its goal of a complete liberation.
In this state of neocolonialism, capitalism is the driving force. We know that women can never be emancipated within a capitalist society because for it to survive, subjugation of one by another is an inherent factor that propels it to grow and inequality becomes the order of the day. It is for this reason why PAWO will remain a component structure of the PAC because, as Ntsie Mohloai wrote in the paper titled ‘The PAC strategic plan towards the seizure of the state political and economic power: 10 years plan and programme of action – pan Africanist vision 2014’, “PAC links the struggle for the establishment of socialism in Azania and the struggle against imperialism for the liberation of humanity”. There can never be any subjugation of one by another were humanity is liberated.
In conclusion, it is clear to us as we go down memory lane of about 6000 years ago, how our situation as women has changed for the worse and what distorted our historical development as a people. Colonisation happened and we know what needs to be done. Ma’Afrika…that is why a people desiring to emancipate itself must understand the process of its enslavement.
By Mandisa Tsotsi
(PAWO National Co-ordinator. The speech was delivered on the occasion of African Women’s Day on the 09th August 2011 in Johannesburg)