Transforming Gender Relations through Women's Activism in South Africa and Senegal

Monday, 11 July 2016: 16:45
Location: Hörsaal III (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Oral Presentation
Sandrine GUKELBERGER, Sociology, Germany
Women’s activism in South Africa and Senegal strives to transform dominant discourses and to effect institutional change, which remains a slow enterprise overall. Since the 1990s, both countries have adopted decentralisation policies that redefine responsibilities and resources of institutions of local government, and also introduced quotas for women. Hence, these decentralisation policies have institutionally strengthened the political importance of cities, broadened their responsibilities – and also enhanced women’s formal role in politics.

Based on empirical fieldwork, the proposed paper discusses two cases of women’s activism at the level of urban governance in Senegal and South Africa, focusing on the entanglements of social movements with formal politics. I argue that cities as a site of gendered urban governance provides broader insights into changing state-society-relations. The centralisation of power in cities and its social effects turns them into major sites of gendered ‘contentious politics’ (McAdam/Tarrow/Tilly 2001) whose matters often extend beyond municipal affairs, targeting the state and - since the neoliberal shift in the 1990s - supranational institutions. Social movements contain struggles between ‘elites’ with advantaged access to state power and ‘challengers’ with restricted access to formalised channels for political and social change.

While social movements – in all their diversity otherwise – are generally thought to act in opposition to the state, especially since they are not bound to it by contractual requirements like NGOs (deWet 2012), I will show how women activists in urban Senegal and South Africa maintain a dual positioning, which enables them to pursue both assimilative and confrontational strategies of engaging with the (local) state. Departing from the particular historical and social context of each country, the paper aims to identify similarities across women’s activism.