Reflections from IJR’s Eleanor du Plooy

Twenty-five years after the end of apartheid, the lived experiences for the majority of South Africans remain defined by the persistence of particular sets of human relationships, most of which are detrimental to our dignity and livelihood. Women and children remain vulnerable to violent trespasses against our dignity as a consequence of gender inequalities and the violent persistence of patriarchy. This is exacerbated for the LGBTI+ community, and particularly trans- and gender-nonconforming individuals, who still face violent stigmas and systemic discrimination that further worsen barriers and entrench marginalisation.

Throughout South Africa deep gender wounds and trauma hold communities captive, and until gender justice is addressed, all attempts at justice and reconciliation will be incomplete and only serve those who hold symbolic, compensatory and political power. It is clear, we live in a country where gender-based violence is pervasive – that advancing gender equality and dismantling patriarchy in South Africa must go beyond awareness-raising of individuals, to radically transform those systems and institutions that produce and reproduce unequal power relations.

In efforts to create safer spaces in which to talk openly and bravely about the issues that affect us as gendered persons, the IJR’s Gender justice and Reconciliation project hosted a 3-day Gender Indaba from 15-17 October 2019. The Indaba tapped into the creativity that is inherent and alive within us all. The spaces used and the format of the various conversations endeavoured to reconfigure the dialogue space in ways that challenge hierarchies, encourage active participation, and dissolve cultural and linguistic barriers.

Over the three days, we incorporated the use of space and place in interesting ways in efforts to allow for a different way of telling our gender stories. On day one, we walked the city, reflecting on how history has shaped current gender relations and explored the many iconographies in the city that give us glimpses into our brutal past. The second day was a day filled with music and poetry as we created an intimate space in which we could tell our gender stories, laugh, and cry and stand in solidarity with. The Indaba culminated in the IJR’s 16th annual Ashley Kriel Memorial Lecture under the theme Dying to be men: A new generation of manhood. Our interventions purposely go beyond this paradigm of women’s empowerment to include men in our dialogical interventions to talk about masculinity and patriarchy, and how society harms or helps men in framing their identity as it relates to the other – women, girls and LGBTIQ+. The Indaba brought together academics, activists, and members of civil society who engaged various forms of knowledge centred on the lives, struggles and celebrations of women and men across the range of social, political and cultural divides.