Table of Contents
Background to Feminist theories
The liberal feminist theory
The socialist feminist
The radical feminist theory
Multicultural and global feminist theory
Lessons drawn from Feminist Theories
Advocacy and Interventionist Strategies used by NGOs to address gender discriminations
Feminist theories provide useful insight into the social and economic position of African women in general and Zimbabwe in particular. Broadly conceptualized feminist theories examine woman’s social and economic roles as well as lived experiences. Feminist theories also are concerned with freedom, equality, equal opportunities between men and women in all facets of life. Thus the basic underlying assumptions of feminist theories are that women are equally capable of performing any social role as their male counterparts and there is need to end sexism and sexist oppression by empowering women. Feminist theories fall under the following broad strands, liberal feminism, cultural feminism, socialist feminism, radical feminism and global feminism among many. These theories shape advocacy and interventionist strategies to address gender discrimination. Advocacy denotes strategies, actions taken and solutions proposed to promote or influence decision making at the local and state level to create positive change for people. Within the context of Zimbabwe, Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs) have employed varied advocacy and interventionist strategies to address gender discrimination in all aspects of life. Gender discrimination refers to unequal treatment or unfair practices based on socially constructed roles for men and women in society. This paper seeks to show how feminist theories help understand the social and economic position of African women with a particular focus on Zimbabwe. The paper also highlights some of the main advocacy and interventionist strategies being used by NGOs to address gender discrimination.
Feminisms- incorporates both a doctrine of equal rights for women and an ideology of social transformation aiming to create a world for women beyond simple social equality
Gender- A culturally shaped group of attributes and behaviors given to the female or to the male
Universalism- The view that all women, whatever their race, religion, class or sexual preference, have something fundamentally in common
Gender roles- the set of perceived behavioral norms associated particularly with males or females, in a given social group or system
Oppression -unjust or cruel excessive exercise of power
Gender inequality refers to disparity between individuals due to gender. It emerges from differences in both socially constructed gender roles as well as biologically through chromosomes, brain structure, and hormonal differences
Discrimination is the prejudicial or distinguishing treatment of an individual based on his or her membership - or perceived membership - in a certain group or category
Women's rights are the rights and entitlements claimed for women and girls of many societies worldwide.
Background to Feminist theories
Feminist theories are informed by the feminist perspective in explaining the position of women within the broader society. The feminist perspective posits that structured social inequality is created and maintained by ideologies that are accepted by both the privileged (men) and oppressed (women). To the feminist perspective the starting point is that, society is highly patriarchal or male dominated to the extent that the socio- economic- politico rights of women are negated. In the male dominated society, women suffer widespread gender discrimination which compromises their social and economic positions in society.
In Africa, owing to conservative cultural considerations, most African societies are highly patriarchal, characterized by systemic violations of women’s social and economic rights. Patriarch dominance has replicated itself in all aspects of social life in Africa. As a result women tend to occupy inferior positions in both the social and economic domains on the basis that they lack power and control of the means of production (land and capital) for them to make critical resource allocation decisions. Thus the feminist perspective focuses on the asymmetrical power relationship between men and women from the stand point of women who are ruled by men in all aspects of social life.
It is the author’s view that these theories have not been properly coordinated. There is so much conflict between the modern educated woman and the religious woman, who has and indeed bases their feminists’ theory on different baselines and philosophies to the detriment of the greater emancipation of the total woman.
Feminist theories, in their various conceptualizations, assume an emancipatory approach when it comes to the improvement of the position of women in society. In a broad sense, feminist theories provide a sound framework to transform women’s inferior social position and the social, political, and economic discrimination that perpetuates it. Feminist theories thus seek to end sexism and sexist oppression by empowering women. At the heart of feminist theories is the need to empower women such that they occupy equal social and economic positions as their male counterparts. While it is true that feminist theories converge on the need to empower women they diverge on how the women should be empowered. This has witnessed the emergence of various strands of feminist theories with focused strategies or blueprints on how the empowerment of women should be done. It is instructive at this point to examine some of the feminist theories as a way to understand how they portray the social and position of women.
The liberal feminist theory
This is one of the feminist theories that try to cast light on the social and position of women in society. Liberal feminism is a moderate branch of feminism. The liberal feminist theory holds that society does not have to be radically transformed to achieve the empowerment of women and to incorporate women into meaningful and equitable roles. Liberal feminism is based on the proposition that all people are created equal and should not be denied of opportunity on the basis of gender. It goes further to state that women should mobilize themselves and society at large to effect positive and productive social change. Liberal feminism is embraced by professional and educated women who place a high premium on education and achievement. Educated and professional women possess economic resources to compete with their male counterparts for social and employment opportunities. Viewed in the context of Zimbabwe, liberal feminism has been accepted by educated and professional women who feel that they have the same capabilities as their male counterparts. In the social spheres women take up responsibilities that give them similar visibility to their male counterparts. Economically, women who possess requisite educational qualifications and wealth own the means of production. Well educated women in Zimbabwe such as Jane Mutasa, Joice Mujuru, Hope Sadza and Olivia Muchena possess the economic resources that make them capable of competing with their male counterparts for influential social and economic positions. However, the liberal feminist theory is blamed for maintaining the status quo that keeps women under patriarchal control. In Zimbabwe, structural societal gender equalities keep women disadvantaged in the education sector which is seen as the source of women empowerment. As a result a few women break the proverbial glass ceiling that places them on equal footing with their male counterparts. Thus a few women assume positions of control in the social and economic spheres. Be that as it may, the liberal feminist theory shows that women can assume important social and economic positions if they are empowered through education.
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 Ibid p4.