Gender Violence and Work in the United States and South Africa: The Parallel Processes of Legal and Cultural Change
39 Pages Posted: 13 Oct 2009
Date Written: October 9, 2009
This article takes on the parallel processes of law reform and cultural transformation by comparing gender violence reform projects in the United States with those in South Africa. It does so by focusing on one strand of advocacy, that focusing on the economics of abuse. Since economic independence is central to women’s ability to navigate abuse, women’s ability to work in its aftermath is critical. This article compares each country’s current and potential reform projects to address the ways gender violence impacts survivors’ ability to get and keep their jobs.
Despite the stark contrasts between the countries’ respective legal and economic contexts, the challenges faced by advocates are different in degree rather than in kind. This article reviews the prevalence of gender violence in each country and the extent and nature of women’s workplace participation. It places reforms addressing the impact of abuse on employment in the broader context of each country’s domestic and sexual violence reform movements and describes employment-related projects, with a focus on those in South Africa.
The similarities and differences in economics, culture and law underscore several lessons about the possibility of achieving transformational change. The article identifies several theories under which South Africa’s progressive legal frameworks could afford recourse to survivors whose employment is adversely affected as a result of abuse. Nevertheless, the comparison highlights the inherent similarities of law reform projects that seek to transform historic biases and cultural norms. It underscores the importance of enforcement and implementation, of centering anti-subordination initiatives in the context of equality, and of maintaining the difficult and ongoing project of challenging bias in its many forms, in order to create both legal change and cultural transformation.
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