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The Tensions Between Women's Rights and Cultural Rights in The New South Africa at Twenty (Excerpt)

The New South Africa at TwentyThe Daily Dispatch has shared an edited excerpt from The New South Africa at Twenty: Critical Perspectives, edited by Peter Vale and Estelle H Prinsloo.

In the excerpt, entitled “Gender equality: thin edge against despotic wedge”, Cherryl Walker examines the tensions between women’s rights and cultural rights in South Africa.

Walker argues that since 1994 the “manner in which cultural rights are being defined and traditional institutions valorised has brought them into serious conflict with women’s rights”.

With reference to the rape trial and subsequent acquittal of President Jacob Zuma in 2006, as well as ANC policy as reflected in the Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act (2003), the Communal Land Rights Act (2004) and the Traditional Courts Bill (2008 and 2012), Walker says “women’s rights have become central to the broader struggle for equality and full citizenship”.

Read the excerpt:

THE manner in which cultural rights are being defined and traditional institutions valorised has brought them into serious conflict with women’s rights.

The promotion of women’s rights is generally described as the struggle for gender equality.
President Jacob Zuma during his traditional wedding ceremony to his fourth wife, Bongi Ngema; held in Nkandla

Recognition for what is referred to, often interchangeably, as traditional, indigenous or, more pointedly, African culture, is commonly represented as a struggle for cultural rights.

The particular way in which the latter has come to be defined, the valorisation of traditional institutions that have historically excluded or marginalised women, has brought it into serious conflict with the former.

Tensions between women’s rights and cultural rights are, of course, not unique to South Africa. They have, however, acquired a particular salience in this country in the post-apartheid dispensation.

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