By: Dr Helen Scanlon
Date of publication: 2016
Gender and the Politics of Reconciliation
Twenty-two years into South Africa’s democracy debates have re-emerged over the limitations of discourses on reconciliation in the country. This stems from the fact that in the two decades since South Africa’s first free and fair elections a widening chasm has emerged between the promises of “reconcilation” and the realities of on-going widespread poverty and inequalities. Indeed, South Africa’s beleaguered transformation is particularly apparent in terms of the prevalent level of gender-based violence, often cited as the highest in the world, as well as the ongoing feminisation of poverty.
As such, important questions have arisen following South Africa’s transition over what is needed for a “gender-inclusive” reconciliation.
Reconciliation, while a contested term, can potentially fulfil a number of practical and symbolic purposes of acknowledging the harm inflicted upon victims and promoting social equity and human rights. According to gender activists effective reconciliation has the potential to facilitate post-conflict transformation of socio-cultural injustices and inequalities which inevitably will promote greater gender equality. Nonetheless critiques of reconciliation have centred on it being elite driven, that it benefits particular interest groups and that it imposes undue burden on victims for the restoration and transformation of society. Furthermore it is argued that it has contributed to shifts in the “geography of violence” resulting in the increase of interpersonal violence.
This paper explores how attempts to confront abusive pasts have deliberated gender in the promotion of reconcilation. In particular it will examine the nexus between gender justice and reconciliation in order to assess and considers ways to re-calibrate engagement with ongoing reconciliation processes. Given current debates over revisiting the promise of reconciliation in South Africa it is an opportune time to reflect on how reconciliation could better confront histories of gendered harms.