Global Resources

Gender and Citizenship: Learning from South Africa?

Author: C. McEwan
Publisher: Agenda Feminist Publishing
Publication Date: Apr 2001
In what ways does political transformation mean a change in meanings and practice of citizenship - in the relationships between individuals and the state? This paper discusses the experiences of women, particularly black women, of citizenship in South Africa, where the new administration promised a new politics based on civil society and universal citizenship. It firstly discusses spaces and meanings of citizenship, arguing that the South African context can show how formal citizenship is shaped by informal power structures and social roles and therefore requires the transformation of power structures and civil society activism. It then goes on to describe how structural economic and social inequalities need to be addressed in order for women to achieve citizenship and how this will be mediated by local, national and global economic factors. Local government is identified as a possible site in which to assess gender equality measures since it is currently introducing new structures in order to become more participatory and responsive. Finally the paper discusses how issues of difference, particularly relevant to this context, can be addressed through measures such as positive action aimed at groups rather than individuals. The paper argues for notions of citizenship that acknowledge existing African understandings of human development and calls for research that will destabilise traditional male, western notions of citizenship.