ActionAid launches Young Urban Women’s Feminist Economy Manifesto to address the economic injustices that befall women in SA.
Young women mobilizing to challenge neoliberal economies that ride on the backs of black women.
By Ntsiki Khunju
We were invited as Activate! Change Drivers to form part of the launch of ActionAid’s Young Urban Women’s Feminist Economy Manifesto on 16-17 September 2023, in Braamfontein, and what a phenomenal affair it was. With over thirty young women aged 16 and above in attendance, from different parts of Johannesburg, including Orange Farm, Johannesburg inner-city, and Tembisa, the air was bustling with excitement, anticipation, and vibrance- the young activists’ jovial mood was exceptionally contagious. To the unknowing person, this was just a fun-filled gathering of young women with no serious agenda fuelling the session, yet for those who take part in transformative engagements centred on rewriting narratives on the socio-economic discourse that affect young people- especially women- in South Africa, this was a gathering to encourage decisive action to take place concerning demanding for the recognition and acknowledgement of the role that women have and continue to play in our country’s economy.
Tackling economic injustices on women through feminism economics
The first day of the manifesto launch really focused on capacitating the young activists with feminism economy literacy, breaking down concepts related to micro and macroeconomics, and drawing the conversation closer to home in terms of linking the negative impacts of neoliberal economies on citizens, and the potential infringement of citizens’ rights to access basic services such as water, healthcare, education, electricity, and housing, through the development of policies that lead to the privatization of these basic needs. The linkage of these concepts fuelled robust engagements, with young people reflecting on their lived experiences of mostly being raised in women-led families, where they also got to witness how these various mother figures in their lives championed the generation of an income that was used as a pillar to support a number of mouths at each given time, while also being expected to manage and maintain the smooth running of the household, inclusive of house chores, and care work. The direction of engagements was driven to empower young activists to not regard matters pertaining to economics as those outside of their personal reach but to highlight the importance of having a sharp eye that identifies what happens around them economically, through being vigilant of their own economic decision-making and participation regarding what goods or services they purchase and where they choose to make those purchases.
Black women are always at the very bottom of the labour chain.
The question truly begs, ‘’Why do we honestly need to have these conversations?’’ and the answer is very simple- because ‘’black women are forced to make these tough economic decisions on a daily basis.’’- this statement emerged from Phelisa Nkomo, a development and feminist economist and social justice activist, who was also one of the facilitators of the manifesto. Alongside Ms Nkomo, was Rakgadi Mohlahlane, researcher and social activist, who passionately highlights how a neoliberal economic system breeds monopolies that create poverty, yet superficially appears to be creating economic empowerment by employing members of local communities. ‘’Monopolies destroy businesses within certain groups, giving negotiating power to the already powerful and leaving the weak even weaker.’’ She echoes that part of breaking the neoliberal economy is to ‘’learn to do and produce things on our own.’’
A call to take decisive action.
After robust engagements marinating on the various economic concepts and their direct impacts on the lives of ordinary citizens were driven on day one, day two focused on calling for action to advocate for increased support for feminist economic alternatives. Through the emphasis on building and promoting strong communities, the young women drafted a set of demands to the government, which they planned to submit to various government offices, particularly at a local level, calling for the building of a vocational school in Orange Farm, to cater to the vast majority of young people who require practical skills that can place them in healthy positions to succeed in economic participation. ‘’As young people from Orange Farm, who are unemployed, it only makes sense to us to have the government support our demand for a vocational school to be built so that youth in our community can get a chance to get practical skills that will help them either get jobs or pursue entrepreneurship.’’ The young activists felt very passionate about this demand, as they believe that vocational training builds a skills gap in a country that deems youth to not have sufficient skills to effectively participate in the labour market.
Activate! Change Driver’s Generation G program fuels civil society’s capacity strengthening.
2020 Activator, Gen G Champion, and radio personality, Selokelo Molamodi, who also formed part of the manifesto, marvelled at the work that civil society organizations like Activate! Change Drivers and ActionAid SA tirelessly push to drive conversations with young people that propel them to take the lead in their own lives, ‘’The Generation G Program mobilizes youth in their own diversities in various communities such as Tembisa, Orange Farm, Inanda, and others, to initiate conversations around social ills that harm us, such as GBV.’’ She expresses how driving conversations addressing the scourge of gender-based violence, and youth inclusivity was tricky initially, as she chimes- ’’You can understand how our people are concerned about what they will eat, that addressing GBV-related themes was not a priority, albeit the harms it continues to cause in our society.’’ Selokelo shares that building strong stakeholder relations with organized youth such as Boys Mentorship SA, a mentorship program for young men in Tembisa, or Thato One Big Family, an LGBTIQ+ organization also based in Tembisa, ActionAid, Sonke-Gender Justice, and POWA, truly supported the efforts to ensure that ‘’no one in the youth bracket was left behind.’’ She draws on her experiences with hosting youth dialogues through the Gen G program, noting how young people needed safe spaces, that enabled them to own their pronouns and remind them that they have the power to rewrite their narratives.
With a powerful closing, Selokelo chants, ‘’Young people need to get into the habit of getting organized and recognize that youth upliftment work sometimes does get demanding, but we should never tire. We are here because the ones who fought before us did not tire.’’
Feminism Economics: https://wbg.org.uk/blog/what-is-feminist-economics/
Activate! Change Drivers: https://activateleadership.co.za/
ActionAid SA: https://www.actionaid.org.za/
About the author:
Ntsiki Khunju is a member of ACTIVATE! Change Drivers Writer’s Hub. She is a content creator, narrator, and spoken word artist.