Human rights discourse: friend or foe of African women’s sexual freedoms?
Du Toit, Louise
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From an overview of the current state of the global debate on human rights, the need to strike a balance between the transcendent and immanent dimensions of such rights claims is distilled as an important guideline. The implications of such a balance are spelled out in a list of seven principles that should guide the activation of human rights claims in any context. In the second section of the article this general framework is brought to bear on the serious issue of sexual violence against women in the South African postcolony. I argue that at least one of the reasons for the fundamental un-freedom of women in contemporary South Africa is the clash between two dominant, but opposing frameworks that tend to quash the radical potential that a claim to the fundamental right to bodily integrity holds for women. Strategically, it is vitally important that human rights activism be used to bolster this cause in the South African context. This should, however, be done very consciously and explicitly with the various dangers for perversion and co-optation, as spelled out in this article, firmly in mind. Ideally, feminist thinkers and activists should forge solidarity around a critical, transcendent claim to bodily bolstered integrity as strongly as possible by indigenous traditions of women’s resistance to oppression and exploitation. Such a claim should be mobilised for an internal critique of the master narrative of South African liberation. Such a stance will resist and refuse both dominant frameworks that collaborate – despite their overt mutual opposition – to portray African tradition and identity as irredeemably patriarchal.