The politics of nastiness is strong in South Africa these days as open clashes occur between Helen Zille, leader of the Democratic Alliance and Jacob Zuma, the newly elected president of the nation and his African National Congress. Zille continues to blast Zuma for his record of being blatantly sexist while now herself being charged with ignoring women’s rights in selecting members of her Cabinet. Allan Boesak of the newly founded Congress of the People, (Cope) urges both Zille and Zuma to tone down their political debate. “What South Africa and here people do not need now is political discourse conducted at the level of personal attacks rather than responsible arguments.”
Boesak reminds Zille and other opponents of Zuma that the vast majority of the nation voted for the African National Congress and it was time to end personal attacks and get back to the issues facing society. In many respects, this clash is similar to Republican attacks on President Clinton and his sexual escapades which eventually got out of hand and became caught in impeachment proceedings that tore apart the country.
Jacob Zuma is undoubtedly a man whose past experiences reveal lack of respect for women and their dignity as individuals. Helen Zille is a fighter for democracy, but selecting an all white, all male Cabinet is insulting to both women and black skinned people.
Selma Atabek, a noted Turkish activist for women’s rights believes the fight to secure equal treatment for women in her country is tied into the broad struggle for women rights in all parts of the world. She cited the recent incident in which a German woman was accused of stealing $1.66 and lost her job as an example of the unequal treatment for women in most societies. Ms. Atabek notes the struggle to deal with domestic violence is an ongoing one in her land. The European Union funded the National Research Project on Domestic Violence Against Women in Turkey and data indicates at least 42% of women experience at least one example of physical violence during their lifetimes.
She pointed out in a recent interview that her focus in the 1980s was on winning basic political rights for Turkish women and that has witnessed great success. At that time, most men wanted women at home who obeyed them. “We started the first ‘Purple Needle’ campaign, in which needles with purple heads were distributed on the streets against sexual harassment. We even questioned our marriages…We discovered our right to be on the streets, not just during the day, but also at night.”
As so always when the fight for political rights is secured issues such as domestic violence or equal pay or equal job opportunities slide into the back. Ms. Atabek strongly denounced the very concept of “honor killing” as a denial of the rights of women. Although she does not wear the chador, Ms. Atabek strongly supports the right of women to wear a headscarf when attending colleges.
Turkey has made great strides in the fight for women rights, but several issues remain unsolved such as the constant presence of domestic violence.