Gender Equality Blog
It’s not easy to roll back cultural norms we grew up with and which appear acceptable to the majority. Three years ago, though I was already an activist for various social and environmental causes, I had no interest in feminism. At the time, I viewed feminism as running through practically all the causes for which I was an activist but I didn’t see it as a cause in itself. My attitude changed in 2016 when I spent a year in Canada. Over there, I realised that the share of gender roles, while not yet quite equal, was much less segmented than in Europe. As a result of studying my new environment and a colleague who was heavily involved in feminism in Montreal, I became convinced that the feminist struggle had its own identity without necessarily being involved in other struggles.
In every part of the world, women working on the land, in fisheries and picking crops have always been part of food production, rearing animals, processing crops in local markets and in protecting water sources and forests. In addition to those in front-line production, women in Non-Governmental Organizations, agricultural advisory services, teaching and public service are focusing on today’s problems and looking for alternatives to meet the challenges of making a decent living fairly and sustainably in rural areas and on our planet.
Strong and graceful women whom we should admire, did not get that way because things worked out. They got that way, because things went wrong, and they handled it. They handled it in a thousand different ways, on a thousand different days, but they handled it. Those women are superheroes!
The town of Ogies is nestled in the heart of Mpumalanga Province, South Africa’s coal capital. The drive from Johannesburg passed coal-fired power plants and mines takes an hour and a half with the faint twinge of smoke up your nostrils. Driving into Ogies, gusts of murky air hit you head-on. You are now engulfed by the dust from the 15 coal mines surrounding the town. You also spot the menacing construction site of the mega coal-fired power plant Kusile belonging to the national energy utility Eskom. If (or when) completed, it will transmit 4800 MW of power, making it one of the top five biggest plants in the world and the biggest in South Africa apart from its counterpart Medupi. With that instant of climate-induced depression, comes clarity on why Ogies was chosen to host the first ever energy and climate justice camp for women; it’s a perfect setting to ground the lived reality of women in dirty modern South Africa.
It’s a mistake to think that indigenous societies are monolithic, unchangeable. We assimilate behaviours like other cultures. We were doing this long before Europeans arrived. Adopting new customs does not mean turning our back on tradition.