Source: The New York Times
South Africa’s 1996 Constitution enshrined equality for women and outlawed discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and might have heralded dramatic social change.

In some ways this has happened: the position of women is very much higher than in apartheid days, when in rural areas adult women were legal minors.

Indeed, in post-apartheid South Africa, women have become widely represented in politics and business, but there remains a substantial divide between public and private lives. There also remains a rural-urban divide, with women more highly subordinated in the suburbs and countryside. It’s very unclear how much progress has been made in gender equity in private life, except maybe among the middle class.

There is no evidence that gender-based violence is less common; the prevalence is extremely high. Rape and even murder of lesbian women appear to be on the increase, and there are extreme acts of revenge against women who most publicly reject men’s sexual power.

So what are the challenges?

In essence, we still have to transform family life. We have to democratize our homes, both in relation to gender equity and the status of children. Equity in gender relations will end violence against women in the home; place men back into the lives of their children contributing practically, emotionally and financially; and end the cycle of violence that is fueled by child maltreatment and exposure to domestic violence. Homophobic violence, driven by patriarchy, will not end without a combined effort to transform popular ideals of manhood to make them more equitable and less intolerant of gays and lesbians, and end impunity for perpetrators. In democracy, we have still to learn to walk the talk.

As a society we know well how to bring about sweeping social change, but we have never applied this to transforming gender relations at a household or relationship level, or to tackling homophobia. To do so is now our greatest social challenge. 

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