Veterans say women must determine own fate

Pillay said she was honoured and proud to have contributed to the legal system of a country where women were able to define a crime like rape (REUTERS/Ruben Sprich)

Coverage by Nathi Olifant of ACCORD's Women's Month event, featuring Judge Navi Pillay and Ela Ghandi.

Speaking at an African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes women’s month event in Mount Edgecombe yesterday, Judge Navi Pillay, a former UN high commissioner for human rights, stressed that the role played by women in society, politics and law had not been sufficient.

Pillay said she was honoured and proud to have contributed to the legal system of a country where women were able to define a crime like rape.

“In wars rape was never treated as a crime, but we argued that rape as a physical invasion should take the gender neutral definition because it affected both sexes, especially in wars. Previously, women were treated as trophies of war,” she said.

Pillay said when she took up her role at the UN her section was 64% westerners. Under her watch that changed to 48% as African and Asian women took up roles at the UN office.

Pillay recounted how, as the daughter of a housewife and a bus driver, and growing up with six other siblings, it took the intervention of her school principal to put together “pennies and shillings” to fund her university education at Natal University, where she studied law.

Gandhi, who only started school aged 10, said her political awakening and need to see women participating in the struggle was aroused when she heard late struggle veteran Fatima Meer speak at the inception of the Group Areas Act.

“I was curious seeing a woman speaking like that (during the time of the Group Areas Act). I also participated in a women’s sit-in in Phoenix, and I knew that women had a huge role to play.”

She remarked that even though the ANC was formed in 1912, women’s participation in the movement was unheard of until the 1930s.

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This ACCORD event, held on 26 August at ACCORD House in Durban, had as its theme, “Journeys Told and Untold” and focused on highlights from each of the panellists’ personal journeys as activists for women’s empowerment, and political empowerment.  The event was also attended by delegates from the “Training on Gender Mainstreaming in Curriculum Development for the Zimbabwean Curricular Advisory Bodies, Tutors and Lecturers” course, which was hosted during the week by ACCORD and UN Women. ACCORD’s work over many years in support of women’s empowerment and gender equality in the arenas of peace and security has allowed us the privilege of experiencing many journeys.

We welcomed the opportunity to share in the journeys of these distinguished panellists during Women’s Month 2015. Additional reporting on the event can be viewed at:

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