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Publication Details

Reference
Xali, Mthetho & Davies, Anna & Gentle, Leonard & others (2005)  The new social movements: Women’s participation and women’s leadership . CCS Grant Report : 1-42.

Summary
Abstract
This paper reflects on the tension between the largely female composition of the new social movements in South Africa and the continued existence of male leadership. It explores this tension through a process of interviews and discussions with activists in two social movements – the Treatment Action Campaign and the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign. The structure of the paper is to give voice to the participants in the study first before attempting theoretical/historical reflection and consolidation. The study suggests that the female preponderance is an outcome of the fact that women bear the brunt of the attacks on working class living standards by the neo-liberal policies of the post-1994 state posited onto the past, gendered nature of apartheid capitalism.

The neo-liberal erosion of service delivery attacks the socially-defined female sphere of reproduction and thus explains the female weighting within the new social movements.

Rightly so, feminist social movement analysts have pointed to the possibility for gender justice engendered by this new female activism, but they do not analyse the rationale for continued male leadership of the movements. The paper instead suggests that male leadership can be explained as a result of new struggles drawing on past traditions and historical memory of what constitutes organisation. In South Africa these are traditions associated with the particular form of emergence of the working class via the migrant labour system and is characterised by continuity with pre-industrial forms of rural organisation all of which bear the traditions of female preponderance and male leadership. The paper goes on to argue that progressive intentions of the some social movements such as the TAC to promote women's leadership suffer from merely inviting women to increase their participation in existing traditional structures and methods of organising rather than challenging gender power relations imbedded in these forms of organisation. Only such conscious challenges can unleash the potential that the large female number has for creating opportunities for both gender and social justice.

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