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History of women's rights in South Africa

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History of women's rights in South Africa

South Africa is a country on the African continent in the Southern Hemisphere. For a long while the women in this country didn’t have it that easy. They were treated poorly and had less rights than men, they were second-class citizens for many years. Black women were obviously doubly disadvantaged as a result of their race and their gender. The law, in various forms, has had a significant role in this prejudgement. South African women also have to deal with extremely high rates of rape and domestic violence.


  • Women's rights in South Africa throughout history 1
  • Women’s rights of little girls in South Africa 2
  • Women´s rights in South Africa during the wars 3
  • What has been done for the women in South Africa 4
  • External links 5

Women's rights in South Africa throughout history

It was not until the introduction of the Constitution of Human Rights that all women in this country were recognized formally as equal citizens. These Constitutional rights were created in 1996. In this Constitution, there was a special paragraph for women, titled ‘Equality’. In this it said that in the state you may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds. But before this Bill of Rights, the struggle of the women in South Africa started as early as 1913. When black and coloured women in the free state protested against having to carry identify passes, which white women didn’t have to carry around. This shows us that Black and coloured women were also again treated lesser than the white women. In 1918 Charlotte Maxeke started the first formal women’s organization called the Bantu Women's League. In the 1930s and 1940s there were many mass protests, demonstrations and resistance campaigns in which women participated. By 1943, women could join the ANC. In 1948 Ida Mtwana became the first female president of the African National Congress Women’s League. In 1952 many black, coloured and Indian women took part in the Defiance Campaign, which involved purposefully breaking apartheid laws. After that, throughout history and until the present day there have been many campaigns for their rights. Many campaigns were very successful. The women now have more rights than they have ever had before.

Women’s rights of little girls in South Africa

Nowadays 96% of South African children aged 7–13 are doing a primary education. But this was not always the case. There was a time when it was unusual there to be able to go to school. Many guys but mainly girls had a hard time trying to get a decent education. The government schools struggle with many challenges including a poor quality of education, low teacher morale, the impact of HIV and AIDS, poor infrastructure, not enough water, a low public health and poor technics for inclusive education particularly for children with disabilities. Many learners from poor families go to school hungry. Girls and young women still report high levels of sexual abuse, intimidation, exploitation and murder in their schools. Girls are socialised to become home keepers and child-bearers, so they place less value on their educational. When girls perform well in subjects such as maths or science, they are not encouraged and they mostly don’t have the confidence to pursue careers that rely on these skills. Many schools are not child or girl friendly. Some are situated far from homes, exposing girls to danger when they walk to and from school. Girls are at risk of being sexually harassed and exploited in schools by teachers and fellow students. And almost a million children under the age of 15 have lost their parents or caregivers to AIDS. Girls often drop out of school to look after sick family members and younger siblings. Many teachers there also have HIV and AIDS.

In 2003, the South African Minister of Education set up the Girls’ Education Movement (GEM). GEM is an African movement where children and young people in schools and communities in South Africa work to bring positive changes in the lives of African girls and boys. GEM aims to:

  • Give girls equal access to education
  • Improve the quality of education, especially in disadvantaged schools
  • Make the school program and school books gender responsive
  • Create schools that are safe and secure for children, especially girls
  • Work with boys as strategic partners
  • decrease gender-based violence
  • Abolish harmful cultural practices such as early marriage GEM has had a lot of success and they helped many schools, they are supported by UNICEF. They made the life a big amount of girls a lot better. There are a lot of other organisations that try to get more fair rights for the girls in South Africa.

Women´s rights in South Africa during the wars

The Boer Wars were two wars fought during 1880–1881 and 1899–1902 by the British Empire against two independent Boer republics, the Orange Free State and the Transvaal Republic. ( ‘Boer’ is the Dutch and African word for farmer. ) Boer women, children and men that weren’t fit enough to work for the British were put together in concentration camps during Boer War 2. The first two of these camps were established to house the families of cities who had surrendered voluntarily, but very soon, families that were a burden for the British were driven forcibly into camps that were established all over the country, the camps first stayed refugee camps but they later became concentration camps. The horrible conditions in these camps caused the death of 4 177 women, 22 074 children under sixteen and 1 676 men, mainly those too old to be on commando. The white and the black people were put in different camps. All women and children were put in concentration camps rightaway, they were treated very badly. The white camps had it much better than the black camps. Field-Marshal Lord Roberts had another motive to put Blacks into camps, namely to make them work, either to grow crops for the troops or to dig trenches, be wagon drivers or work as miners. They did not receive food, hardly any medical support or shelter and were expected to grow their own crops. The strong-bodied who could work, could exchange labour for food or buy a meal for a cheap price. In 1901, 22 of January, At the Boschhoek concentration camp for Blacks, about 1 700 black, hold a protest meeting. They state that when they have been brought into the camps they have been promised that they will be paid for all their stock taken by the British, for all grain destroyed and that they will be fed and looked after. They are also unhappy because "... they receive no food while the Boers who are the cause of the war are fed for free in the refugee camps…” While the war lasts, more and more concentration camps are set up for women and children, and more and more deaths were recorded.

What has been done for the women in South Africa

Many things have been done for women in South Africa. Take for example the Women’s March that is held every year. But even things as the Bill of Rights have had great impact on the women in South Africa. Though many things have been done for the women in South Africa, they still are treated lesser than men but also than white women. Even as this hasn’t improved, these things have had a positive effect on how women are treated around that area. In this way think about how little girls can now have an education without having to be afraid of going to school. But not only the direct causes, also think about projects in which things against AIDS are done. Because AIDS is a very common cause of death around here. By helping to do things against this disease, organizations are making sure that the children – girls and boys – get a chance to actually try and get a normal life. Because most of them are born with this disease. There are of course these very large organizations we all know but even the small ones can help, it is about the fact that we’re doing something about the issues and not just ignoring them no longer. One of these small organizations is Woman’s Net this is a feminist organization that especially tries to fight for the equality of women in South Africa. Another huge issue is child marriage. These arranged marriages have destroyed the lives of many girls. In South Africa the law actually states that child marriage is allowed and that girls can be married as young as 12 years old. And that things like bride kidnapping is just allowed. Luckily there are organizations like Child Brides that are doing something against child marriage. All of these things are of course still huge issues, but we cannot do everything at once. Sometimes we need to try to help just by doing little things.

External links

  • Child marriage#Africa
  • Boer Wars
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