UN Women and partners encourage feminist activism in South Africa

Date: Thursday, August 16, 2018

UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka speaks at the “Supporting social movements and civil society activism to Leave No One Behind for peace, prosperity and sustainable development" event in South Africa. Photo:  UN Women/Martha Wanjala
UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka speaks at the “Supporting social movements and civil society activism to Leave No One Behind for peace, prosperity and sustainable development" event in South Africa. Photo: UN Women/Martha Wanjala

A high-level forum held yesterday in South Africa has urged the role of feminist civic activism, youth and social movements in strengthening democracy, gender equality and sustainable development. The event, called “Supporting social movements and civil society activism to Leave No One Behind for peace, prosperity and sustainable development,” was organized by UN Women and Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in partnership with Amnesty International, the Nelson Mandela Foundation, University of South Africa (UNISA), Commission of Gender Equality, Mama Albertina Sisulu Centenary and the Government of South Africa.

The forum was held at UNISA during the commemoration of South Africa’s women’s month and 70 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). It was a platform to reflect on the imperative of leaving no one behind in the current context of challenges to civic engagement and threats to civil society and women’s rights activism.

UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, emphasized the importance of intersectionality in fighting for human rights.

“We recognize that there is no country that has attained true equality in which women are central without a strong women’s movement. But that on its own is not enough. You actually need to ensure that you have democratic institutions, that disability rights are respected, that children’s rights are respected because all of these have to be fought together,” she said.

Panelists at the “Supporting social movements and civil society activism to Leave No One Behind for peace, prosperity and sustainable development" event in South Africa. Photo: UN Women/Martha Wanjala
Panelists at the “Supporting social movements and civil society activism to Leave No One Behind for peace, prosperity and sustainable development" event in South Africa. Photo: UN Women/Martha Wanjala

The Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Kate Gilmore, calledon everyone to “lower the fists of violence against women and discrimination, extend the hand of solidarity, activism and engagement and stand up for human rights.”

Governments were also urged to take action in strengthening civil society activism as a means to achieve the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals, women’s right to land ownership and ensuring no one is left behind in land reform processes.

Tawanda Mutasah, Senior Director of Amnesty International, reiterated the need for states to hold each other accountable on human rights and for civil society to speak truth to power.

Through different conversation circles, the high-level forum recognized the role of civic activism, youth and social movements in strengthening democracy and sustainable development; reflected on the imperative of leaving no one behind in the current context of challenges to civic engagement and threats to civil society and women’s rights activism.

In her summation of the discussion of the day, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Kate Gilmore noted requested for everyone to “lower the fists of violence against women and discrimination, extend the hand of solidarity, activism and engagement and stand up for human rights.”

Trudi Makhaya, Economic Advisor to the President of South Africa, called on governments to prioritize what matters for human beings in their national budgets, to ensure growth is inclusive and sustainable.

The event symbolised the coming together of intergenerational and intersectional forces to discuss national and global strategies of activism to re-reaffirm the voice of civil society and feminist activism within governments, the United Nations and civil society organizations.

Young women asked for older women to pass on the baton and mentor them on championing issues for women’s empowerment and equality. “I want to challenge all the women who have been veterans of the struggles and the apartheid era to transfer this knowledge and experience to us, transfer the baton to us,” said Vanessa Mokobedi, a student leader at the University of South Africa’s Student Representative Council.