Women and Constitutional Reform in South Africa: A Report on Two Conferences
Elizabeth Sheehy, “Women and Constitutional Reform in South Africa: A Report on Two Conferences” (1992) 3:2 Journal of Human Justice 97
14 Pages Posted: 8 May 2013
Date Written: 1991
Women have always been involved in resistance struggles against apartheid in South Africa. Most recently, many women have turned their energies to the process of creating a Bill of Rights for a post-apartheid South Africa.
This process has included two conferences in which, as a white Canadian academic with some experience of the struggles around the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, I was invited to participate. The initial conference, entitled "Putting Women on the Agenda," was the first international feminist legal conference to be held within the country. It was hosted in November, 1990 by a non-partisan human rights organization, Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) and organized by Susan Bazilli, a Canadian feminist activist who has lived and worked in South Africa for several years. The second conference, "Gender Today and Tomorrow Towards a Charter of Women's Rights", was held in December, 1990. This second conference was part of the first African National Congress (ANC) meetings to take place within South Africa since the ANC was banned in 1956. I was invited to speak at the first conference because since 1987 in Canada, I have been involved in anti-apartheid work, including Lawyers Against Apartheid. I was asked to present a paper on the risks and losses associated with entrenching rights in a constitutional document, relying upon Canadian women's experience with our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I was then asked to attend as an observer and commentator at the ANC conference, in order to strengthen the link between the two conferences.
In this report, I will first situate these conferences in the historical context of the liberation movement in South Africa and efforts to use a constitutional process as part of that movement. I will then share what I know about the forms which the women's movement has taken in South Africa. The next part of my report will focus on the major contributions and resolutions of the two conferences. I will conclude with an update on the status of women's claims within the constitutional process.
What I have chosen to report and the manner in which I convey the information have been filtered by my experience as a white and as a non-South African. I hope to inform Canadians about the process which is unfolding in South Africa because it may assist us in thinking about the role of law in liberation movements. I also aspire to be faithful to the letter and spirit of the work of the women involved in these two conferences.
Keywords: South Africa, post-apartheid, Bill of Rights & South Africa, International Feminist Legal Conference, Liberation Movement & South Africa, Women's claims & constitutional process, role of law
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