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Intersectionality in Apartheid and Post Apartheid: Unpacking the narratives of two working women

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Intersectionality in Apartheid and Post Apartheid: Unpacking the narratives of two working women
  Editor’s Introduction  249 Environment and Urbanization ASIA, 1, 1 (2010): vii–xii    Article Intersectionality in Apartheid and Post-apartheid South Africa Unpacking the Narratives of Two Working Women Sharon Groenmeyer  Abstract The democratic transition in South Africa after 1994 heralded the introduction of gender-sensitive policies that have brought many bene-fits, including legislative reforms to address violence against women and to ensure women’s rights to safe termination of pregnancy. Formal equality coincided with a rapid increase in women’s employment in the labor market. This article draws on interviews to illustrate the lived realities of two working women employed in the rapidly informalizing labor markets of the fish-processing and construction sectors. The women have entered casualized short-term contracts because this is the only form of employment available. The article focuses on what life his-tories tell us about both the impact of structural economic change on women in post-apartheid South Africa and the ways that the women’s productive and reproductive lives are understood by themselves. Keywords Intersectionality, gender, inequality, race, class, informal labor, casual work, South Africa Sharon Groenmeyer  , Postnet Suite 283, Private Bag X9, Melville, Johannesburg 2109, Gauteng Province, South Africa. E-mail: Gender, Technology and Development 15(2) 249–274 ©  2011 Asian Institute of TechnologySAGE PublicationsLos Angeles, London,New Delhi, Singapore, Washington DCDOI: 10.1177/097185241101500204  250 Sharon Groenmeyer Gender, Technology and Development, 15, 2 (2011): 249–274 Introduction The struggle for gender equality and economic justice for women has a long history in South Africa. Women, as part of the community and members of trade unions, participated in the struggle for democracy. The democratic transition in South Africa heralded the introduction of gender-sensitive legislation and policy development. Important legislative reforms have included addressing violence against women and the termination of pregnancy (Meer, 2005). Other programs geared toward the emancipation of women include the provision of free health services for pregnant women and children under the age of five years. Article 9 on Equality of the Bill of Rights of the South African Constitution (enacted in l996) 1  ensures that women hold 33.33 percent of all parlia-mentary seats. Within the first decade of democratization, this target was achieved, and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development campaign for 50/50 percent equal representation of women and men members of parliament is now gaining ground. Similarly, through various affirmative action policies, the gov-ernment promotes the greater representation of women in the private and  public sectors.However, the shift from the political struggle for democracy, which dismantled the apartheid system, to the development of a more egalitarian society means that progress on gender equality made during the transition does not automatically translate into substantive gains for women. This is particularly evident in the areas of economic policy and land reform, where male privilege is more overtly threatened by the inclusion of women. Legislation on land reform has been a major source of tension, as women are entitled to lodge claims for the restitution of land con-fiscated from their families during the apartheid period. Men are con-sidered the traditional heads of their families, and men who marry by customary law should enter into an agreement with each of their wives. However, due to the strength of traditional, patriarchal frameworks that govern African culture, women have very little power even though legis-lation supports their emancipation. Cultural preservation reinforces  patriarchy and despite the legacy of apartheid, when women worked small family plots in the Bantustans, 2  women’s access to and control  Intersectionality in Apartheid and Post-apartheid South Africa  251 Gender, Technology and Development, 15, 2 (2011): 249–274 over important livelihood resources such as land and crops is deemed unimportant (Hassim, 2009).South African women have formal equality and are protected by pro-gressive workplace legislation, but as in most developing countries, the labor market only provides stable jobs for a fraction of the working  population, while the majority of workers are employed in casual, tem- porary, flexible and contract employment without job security and work-related benefits. With the advent of democracy, South Africa entered a  period of rapid policy transformation across every sector. During this  period, every sector was explored for the possibility to change policies completely and as quickly as possible. As time passed, the challenge of implementing transformation has bitten deeply, but South Africa con-tinues nevertheless to implement policy transformation at a pace more rapid than most countries. Policy changes promoting affirmative action and employment equity have increased women’s participation in the for-mal economy, shown especially in a rapid increase in African women workers whose participation has signalled the feminization of the work-force (van der Westhuizen, Goga, & Oosthuizen, 2007). Casale (2004) observes that labor force participation rates were ex- pected to increase for both women and men, but the actual increase was considerably higher among women. She purports that women accounted for 6 out of 10 workers employed between 1995 and 2005, and 5 of those 6 women were African (Casale, 2004). Statistics reveal that in spite of formal equality, racial discrimination continued so that White women earn more than their African counterparts (van der Westhuizen et al., 2007), although Casale’s study notes that African women with tertiary qualifications earned the highest salaries (Casale, 2004). The majority of women, however, found jobs in unskilled and elementary level employ-ment, which is poorly paid. Affirmative action policies encouraged women to enter employment that was formerly not available to them. But these opportunities largely benefitted White women because they had better educational access to management or better professional qualifications.The lack of sufficient jobs during this period simultaneously created the feminization of the labor market, which is explained by various rea-sons. According to van der Westhuizen et al. (2007), despite economic  252 Sharon Groenmeyer Gender, Technology and Development, 15, 2 (2011): 249–274 growth, the unemployment rate rose particularly for men, and there appears to have been a decline in women’s access to men’s incomes. As a consequence of both the HIV epidemic and the outmigration of men, moreover, the number of households headed by women increased (van der Westhuizen et al., 2007). In addition, the abolition of apartheid laws and introduction of more democratically inclusive legislation contributed toward increasing opportunities for women in the labor market. The bulk of jobs for women grew in the construction sector, and wholesale and retail trades as well as the financial and business services (ibid.).The nature of work in the globalizing world means that labor markets have been shrinking, and work has become more informal. Consequently, informality is a process taking place both within the “formal” workplace and outside it. This process can be conveniently described as “informal-ization from above,” as a result of the externalization of employment (sub-contracting or outsourcing), and “informalization from below” (employment of casual, temporary workers). The latter refers to the kind of activity traditionally associated with the informal economy (ibid.), and it is mainly Black women who are employed in the vulnerable and  precarious jobs. This has implications for patriarchal relations, which continually change but do not necessarily disappear. The casualized em- ployment contract confirms and reproduces patriarchal relations both at work and home because of women’s restricted access to the formal labor market.This article is divided into four sections. The first section defines the concept of gender and its relationship with the theory of intersectionality. Using primary sources, the article highlights the different perceptions of equality held by the women themselves, as well as how the concepts of race, class, and gender intersect in the daily experiences of these women’s lives. The second section examines how the concepts of race, gender, and class intersect, drawing on employment practices during the apartheid  period. The third section examines the working life of women in the fishing and construction sectors, and the opportunities or constraints that result from the implementation of gender policies in post-apartheid South Africa. The final section draws together the theory of intersection-ality to provide a theoretical approach to women working in casualized, flexible, short-term employment.  Intersectionality in Apartheid and Post-apartheid South Africa  253 Gender, Technology and Development, 15, 2 (2011): 249–274 Case Study Approach The article draws on interviews with two women entrepreneurs who have short-term contracts, one in the construction industry, and the other in the fish-processing industry. Post apartheid, the construction and fishing industries have both been subject to government policy regulation. The construction industry has adopted labor-intensive methods to attract unskilled workers, but prefers women as employees, as do owners of small, medium, and micro enterprises (SMMEs) with construction pro- jects, and it is mandatory to employ people who were previously con-sidered as disadvantaged. In the fish-processing industry, seasonal licensing is now regulated because fishers are considered by govern-ment authorities to be poachers who are destroying the maritime envir-onment. Quotas are too small for fishers to rely solely on fishing as an income. When applying for licenses, it is mandatory that women make up part of the team. In these industries, however, policy formulation and implementation are top-down processes, in which government policy-makers do not consult or seek the opinions of the affected communities. The interviews took place in l999 for the construction industry, and in 2003 for the fish-processing industry, using the concept of network sam- pling. 3  To study the construction industry, I interviewed three key infor-mants, and conducted 11 respondent interviews (7 individual and 4 group interviews). The women ranged between 30 and 60 years of age. Eight interviews were conducted with nine men (two provincial government officials were interviewed together). The men were between 35 and 60 years of age. For the fish-processing industry, I interviewed three key informants, and carried out 11 respondent interviews (8 individual and 3 group interviews). Two women were 19 years old, and the other women ranged in age between 30 and 60 years old. With the exception of the young engineering cadets, all the women had children and some were married. A group interview was conducted with male fishers in the local association’s office. In-depth interviews were conducted with the HR manager of the local fish-processing factory and the male trainer at the local NGO. The men were aged between 40 and 60 years old. The cases of two women entrepreneurs on whose interviews this article draws are given in Boxes 1 and 2. Pseudonyms are used for all interviewees.
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