1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Identities, Conflict and Cohesion (2000 - 2009)

Gender, Race and Public Policy in South Africa (Draft)



Policy approaches to identity have historically segregated 'gender' from 'race'. The reasons for this can, in part, be located in the complexities of particular contextual moments through which issues of discrimination and injustice have catalysed political attention. While this paper recognizes the importance of careful historicization, it argues that the separation of 'race' from 'gender' (or sometimes, 'sex') within policy development targeted at changing discrimination against women largely fails to change the life circumstances of those suffering discrimination, and in so doing effects an inevitable racism. This position is argued through feminist legal philosophy (drawn from both African and international sources), and more importantly, through reflection on the process of developing, and implementing, policies against sexual harassment in South Africa. The paper concludes by exploring perspectives on current heterosexualities in South Africa, which offer a framework for the discussion of policy making in this arena that does not rely on the segregation of 'racial' identity from gendered identities.

For over 20 years, discussions of United States-based jurisprudential approaches to equity have illuminated the dangers of theories that imagine a universal 'female' as a starting point toward legal reform and policy making. As early as 1989, Kimberle Crenshaw, for example, argued that legal thinking and policy initiatives have created and sustained 'single-axis' thought, segregating 'gender' from 'race', and in the process erasing the material realities of those most in need of recognition by policies seeking to redress historical disadvantage. Debates initiated through the Yale Journal of Law and Feminism in 1990 have come to constitute a body of work known as 'critical race theory'. This explores from multiple angles the fact that epistemological approaches to redress that imagine rights through single-lensed identity should probably be understood simply as what Patricia Williams has described as late twentieth century's discursive rehearsal of the 'spirit-murder' of black people, especially black women-people.