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The #TotalShutdown march is not a protest for poor, black women


Lara Reddy is an anarcha-feminist activist with 20 years in the field of education where she taught English, History and Drama in many disadvantaged schools in Johannesburg and in Khayelitsha. She also co-ordinates Food Not Bombs Jozie, an anarchist solidarity collective in Johannesburg. Reddy is a Proofreader at Ogilvy South Africa and continues to fight for equality and against injustice. Reddy is also a poet and a performance slam poet, using her words for social justice

How neo-liberal protests cause damage to the very women they claim to fight for. An Intersectional Protest? I beg to differ…

The #Total Shutdown and Intersectional Women’s March Against Gender-based Violence on 1 August was organised by an alliance of feminist and gender activists, calling for all women, gender non-conforming people and the LGBTQIA+ community to stay away from work and join the protests around the country. A memorandum of demands was presented to the government in various cities.

Before Wednesday’s protest, Loyiso V Saliso, founder of Khanyisa Ikamva Projects spoke to the Daily Vox: “We had a meeting last week with the Commission for Gender Equality and there were a number of organisations like Sisonke which is for sex workers and the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre (TLAC) was there. There were also representatives from Cosatu Gender and other trade unions. Ours is that other trade unions and NGOs need to mobilise together. If we shut the country down and affect the economy in some way that will grab their attention. We are trying to reach women living in rural areas and poverty-stricken women who are usually the biggest victims to these kinds of things. It’s not just about marching but it’s about ensuring we affect people going to work and we affect the economy from being normal.”

Let’s analyse the term “Intersectional”. According to Wikipedia, Intersectionality is an analytic framework which attempts to identify how interlocking systems of power impact those who are most marginalised in society. Various forms of social stratification, such as classracesexual orientation, age, disability and gender, do not exist separately from each other but are interwoven together. Intersectionality began to explore the combined ways in which black women are oppressed by the system and patriarchy on more grounds except being female. A few activists, like myself, express concern in partaking in the Total Shutdown protest, (and other “social media” protests and government-aligned protests) against gender-based violence, like The Total Shutdown March against GBV. There are various reasons that will be outlined in this article representing the feelings of anarcha-feminist women and activists who want truly intersectional actions against GBV. Firstly, this march is not as intersectional as it claims to be, not in its list of demands, not in its organisational strategies. There are no poor, black, oppressed women involved in the organisation of this protest, and what I see as “token” protests by the middle class and privileged sectors of society that eventually become an NPO, as explained by Soliso, and not much has changed structurally or for the conditions of poor black women.

That women were a homogeneous category who share the same life experiences as white middle-class women did not serve as an accurate representation of the feminist movement as a whole.” (Crenshaw, K, 2016). Forms of oppression experienced by white middle-class women are vastly different in the South African reality from those experienced by black, poor, or disabled women.

An unseeingly irresponsible, even dangerous blanket call for all women and I quote “We call on all women to stay away from work and join the protest on the 1st of August 2018 in their respective provinces, Universities, and colleges.” (#Total Shutdown Group) is on the list of protest actions summoned upon all women to carry out by the organisers of this protest. This is unthought of on various levels. For one, the majority of poor women in South Africa, are breadwinners, and a lot live on the fringes of capitalism, and a day’s work lost could affect various things, like feeding their children. According to another woman steeped in the realities of poor women in our city at least and echoes my feelings too, “the breadwinners and heads of so many households are women. No work. No pay. Others will face more violence for not bringing home the cash”.

In a largely patriarchal, poverty-stricken society for black women, a lot of whom who have no means other than the “peace” jobs or what is considered “illegal activity” in terms of refugee women doing small-scale businesses on the side, this is a dangerous reality. Tell a man you go home to without the dough that you went to protest and the hungry kids you feed that you have no food for them, and violence is often what occurs. This can be called the “violence of the system and the state” that forgets these intersectional issues.

According to Kimberley Crenshaw, the women who coined the term “intersectional”, in her Keynote Address at WOW in 2016, we must make a race, class and gender course of action. “White, middle and upper- class women are here representing everyone-even the black women” and like in this Total Shutdown Protest, claiming to be intersectional. “When feminism and anti-racism are not intersectional, when feminism does not contest the logic of racism when anti-racism refuses to take up the questions of patriarchy, they often wind up reinforcing one another. They’re not just neutral with respect to racism, with respect to patriarchy, they end up reinforcing them.” (Crenshaw, K, (2016)

This is exactly what is being downplayed in the Total Shutdown March against GBV and is “utterly damaging to the struggles of people of colour and women of colour. We are a gender and race-based unequal society and all these dimensions need to be addressed in an intersectional, anti-racist, anti-poverty programme,” according to Crenshaw.

When I expressed my concerns on the Total Shutdown group on Facebook, no one responded. But people need to be made aware of what is a real stumbling block in our neo-liberal world of social media activism and organising around serious issues that only a deeper understanding of the root causes of gender-based violence – one of power- that needs to be dismantled first- can really uproot patriarchy and the subsequent side effects of GBV. “Patriarchy is not the bad behaviour of a few specific men, but the framework of relations that foster it…consistent with the mechanisms of a criminal justice system focussed on individual guilt and a reformist politics premised on the idea that the existing government and the market economy will serve us perfectly if only the right people were in power. (Kletsan, P, Revolution and Restorative Justice: An anarchist perspective, Crimethink)

Other gender rights activists I know also had negative feelings about this protest. One anarcha-feminist said, “N0. Women will work. They need jobs and have families to feed. And maybe they (the privileged women) could put the effort into outreach, making shelters, etc, …although this won’t make them look good on Facebook. Ask a poor woman if the Facebook march will help? They want to make a pretty show from a privileged group while most women live in poverty.”

Many women who are most severely affected by GBV are doubly disadvantaged. They have no support and access to services that middle class and wealthy women would get, let alone the access to education, and a break away from the cultural patriarchies and sexism and power struggles that poor and rural, township and poor women face. Merely asking women to leave their jobs, not to mention that most of the caring professions and the ones responsible for the most important work in society, the nurses, the social workers, rape councillors, teachers and mothers- and most importantly, poor, undocumented women who work menial jobs to bring the bread home- is not the solution to gender-based violence, and is certainly not an inter-sectionally organised march or a march that considers the intersectional realities of the poor black women, like it claims.

Solutions? While it may seem that my disapproval of such a protest means that I do not support ending gender-based violence, or do not care in partaking in important protest action as an anarcha-feminist activist, I would rather be accused of this, than living with the knowledge that I had brought harm and violence to even one woman, who chose to heed the organisers call to not engage in any economic activity, not to go to work, for one day-then what? Are the organisers going to destroy patriarchy by its balls, meaning put an end to poverty and the vast racial and class and economic inequalities amongst women first? If they can do this – and this march is really intersectional, believe me, all anarchists would be out marching on the streets, and destroying the state, as it is the very state-sanctioned violence that scares us. Crenshaw extrapolates moving away from just dealing with private-private violence to state-sponsored violence, where often the agents of gender-based violence are the state and the police, a big complaint against police being one of sexual abuse, which is also rife in South Africa.

So let’s all march with police officers next to us, ones who also exploit and abuse anyone who does not live up to a male hetero-normal psyche, and are the last people women go to when they are raped. Will there only be female police officers at the March? And, who is going to handle the enormous amount of rape and child molestation cases that are reported but victims do not want to be further victimised by male police officers. Let me remind the readers of the case in South Africa recently where a minor who suffered sexual abuse was further abused by a male police officer while in his care, or the numerous amounts of times gay, lesbian and trans people are subjected to such violence and abuse, by the police, and by a grossly violent hetero-male power dynamics in culturally backwards communities, where equality between the sexes is non-existent, and the opposite entrenched into not only the men, but the subservient women in the communities.

My main point being, to a more “liberated” white, middle and upper class group of privileged women, who have seemed to overcome the grips of cultural patriarchy and expectations of women much sooner than their African and Eastern counterparts, asking all women to stand up for themselves against the patriarchy, may be more dangerous in an environment where the men have not evolved and cultures have not evolved enough to see sexism and women exploitation as something dangerous – and so, demanding equality here, may actually inflict more violence upon poor women who have no control over the abusive men in their families and communities.

This said I hope the organisers and those who participate in this march do not inflict feelings of guilt on those women who choose not to participate using the economic protest tool of staying away from work or not engaging in any economic activity. The latter call upon all women is dangerous and in retrospect merely reinforces the violence that may be inflicted upon them if they dare to oppose a violent, male hetero-patriarchal mindset that largely defines the South African male, not only the poor, uneducated male, but alas, this stench of patriarchy is wide-spread even amongst white middle and upper class men and misogyny plays out in many dangerous forms of abuse and exploitation – the only difference being that the access to work, education, resources, health-care, counselling and effective policing of those who commit gender-based crimes is much less or non-existent for poor women, let alone help from a violent system that sustains patriarchy.

So, a rethink of our protest tools is needed, if we are to really find a hammer to smash patriarchy. “You cannot bring down the master’s house using the master’s tool” is an old African idiom that rings true here. “We are supposed to use the very structures through which our abusers hold power to take it away from them” is a more recent realisation in a crimethink publication, Fuck Abuse, Kill Power: Addressing the Root Causes of Sexual Harassment and Assault.

Janine Shaw, in Gender and Violence: Feminist Theories, Deadly Economies and Damaging Discourse, makes a good conclusion, and a warning: “The global responsibility to prevent femicide must also be considered, particularly when considering the connection between femicide and neo-liberal capitalism and the economic conditions of poverty it creates. Violent hegemonic masculinity embedded in patriarchal power structures harms women and girls, men and boys, as well as transgender and gender queer groups. Until feminist theories such as gendercide become more inclusive of transgender and gender queer identities, feminist theory on violence will remain reductionist and incomplete.”

I hope that this piece makes us see how we better fight not just the symptoms of patriarchy, but find a truly intersectional, radical movement against the very violent, oppressive systems that uphold it. The list of demands reveals the irony of it all: “The list of demands includes a commitment from the office of the President never to appoint any individual who has been implicated or minimises the causes and consequences of GBV to Cabinet or to lead a state institution.” DM


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