Monthly Archives: October 2015

#FeesMustFall and the Gendering of Student Protests in ZA

I just came across this video (11 min) and I thought it was a great example of how gender can be bent to classify race and class as much as sex. In it, the current national protests of South African students over higher education reform is explained and documented from the students’ perspectives. Several of the students bring up some important issues often raised in gender/development studies, though the students never make the link explicitly. Gender and development scholars often talk about gender or gendering a population beyond the sexual male/female dichotomy.
In this case, race is gendered in the sense that these highly mobilized black students with an important and identifiable grievance have been labeled by the ZA government as non-threatening and that the issue will soon be resolved; in this way they are “feminized” and denied important agency and respectability by the government.
This is the public position of the government, “oh, this is nothing” while on the ground, the government has deployed the national police and authorized them to use Apartheid era tactics to dispel them including tear gas, beatings, and setting student property on fire (most recently a student car was hit with a petrol bomb by police that was parked on the UCT campus near a protest site).
It really is a fascinating video and it shows a lot of footage of nonviolent peace protesting by student movements. Here it is: 

Why Gender Studies?

Girls in ZambiaI was at a regional political science conference a couple years ago presenting a paper I wrote on the signing of the 2013 peace agreement in the DR-Congo. My paper focused on highlighting the failures of the 1999 Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement and outlined how these failures could be sidestepped in the new agreement. When it came time for the moderator to ask me questions and offer critiques he said, “You mentioned women several times in this paper. You kept saying women need to be involved in the process. Why? Why is it so important to you that women get involved?” He was not being ironic. He was legitimately questioning my decision to include Congolese women in the peace process. In that moment I felt a shift in my interests and worldview. Everything changed. There I was, standing in a glitzy hotel conference room next to the table of other presenters (all men), facing the moderator–a man who had achieved the highest level of education possible and was tenured at a well-known institution. Looking past the moderator, I scanned the room and saw that I was the only female present. My task, if I chose to accept: explain to a room full of college educated men why women matter.

For me, Gender Studies is about bringing a voice to the voiceless. This goes so far beyond just being a voice for women. In many of the topics I study that cross political science and peace studies, it is children who are voiceless. Minorities, the oppressed, the lower classes, refugees–the structures of society often inherently limit their agency and stifle their voices. Adopting a gendered lens allows you to see the world from a new perspective, one that amplifies the voices of these otherwise voiceless groups. This perspective can be a powerful tool for examining the complexities of a political issue, often leading us to find new policy recommendations that actually stand a chance at bettering society. If my own colleagues cannot understand the merit of giving women a voice, then the outlook may seem bleak. However, in Gender Studies I find hope–hope for equality, hope for change, and hope for deeper understanding.

See the original story featured on the Notre Dame Gender Studies Program website HERE.