Human Rights

Status Report: South African Women

Assistant Dean of Falculty at Pitzer College, Shelva Paulse, gives insight into her home country, South Africa, and the status of women after apartheid.

It is important that we as a people are constantly growing, through analysis of our present conditions. If we do not know where we stand as a collective, we can never know  what we need in order to move forward. It is great that we are able to be better connected with multitudes of people through the internet, and conversations with those from different backgrounds than of our own.

It was through the shared knowledge of Shelva Paulse, PhD., that I came to know more about the present state of South African women after apartheid. I live by the mentality that, you’re only as strong as your weakest link, and as wise as your strongest. So it is our duty to come to know what our collective strengths and weaknesses are in this world.


Shelva Paulse was born in South Africa during apartheid, and spent 11 years under the segregated system, and lived during the dismantling of the system. She is currently the Assistant Dean of Faculty at Pitzer College in California, and also a mentor to first generation, and Native American college students. During her presentation, “Status of South African Women,” she talked about the highlighted areas of life within South Africa.

One of the things that was discussed, was the segregated class system. To fully understand the present conditions, one must understand the class system and it’s advantages and disadvantages for the different groups. There are four different class groups, those being white, Asian (Indian), colored, black (all listed in the order of their hierarchy within apartheid). Each group, historically, had their own separate regions that was host to their schools, businesses, and cultural experiences. And for those of us within the states who are black/African-American, the difference between a black person and a colored person, is that blacks are full blooded black, while coloreds are a mixture of different backgrounds.


Based on Paulse’s presentation, funding for each group, or classification,was not, and presently is not, equal to the differing groups. For every $100 spent on the white group, only .76 cent is spent on Asians, .49 cent spent on colored, and .19 cent spent on blacks. This is unbelievable considering that blacks make up 79% of the population, coloreds 9%, 8.5% whites, and 2.5% of the population are Asian.

With that being said, it goes without saying that the black, and colored women (and people) are at a disadvantage of acquiring equal educations opportunities, and are therefore not attending higher education institutions like their white and Asian counterparts. Their presence within higher education, wasn’t really seen until 1983, and even still, they are being swayed away from STEM fields.

Women’s Movement

Paulse  discussed how women were, and still are, very active in closing the gap for women’s rights. Some of those moments in her-story include:

  • Winnie Mandela actively participating to end apartheid
  • Albertina Susulu- activist and wife to fellow apartheid activist Walter Susulu; developed a Freedom Charter in South Africa
  • 20,000 women who marched against the requirement to have passes to enter the white regions that they were able to work in, but not be in, without a pass. With the passes, they were required to sign-in and out as they entered and left the region.

Womens Day South Africa NLR Writes


Shelva also discussed the reproductive health and socioeconomic status of South African women, which can be heard in detail in the video. South African Women over the age of twelve have access to free contraception, which sounds great, but, to sum up the overall current status of South Africa women after apartheid, she ended with this:

“In spite of the progressive laws and the much celebrated gender machinery, these women were more interested in ‘bread and butter’ issues. ‘Paper rights’ have not yet been translated into substantive rights for South African women, especially for those who have been subject to the historical disadvantages that is the legacy of apartheid.” –The Politics of Rights: Dilemmas for Feminist Praxis 


During, and even after apartheid, the women who have, and currently benefit the most, are white and Asian women. Colored and black women are still at a disadvantage in education, socioeconomically, and in reproductive health as well. Though laws are transforming to be more inclusive of all the classes within South Africa, they hold little to no weight in their actual implementation.

One of the questions asked after Paulse’s presentation, was whether there was any white backlash like there is here in America; and there is. Due to aboriginal Africans wanting their lands back, whites in South Africa who influence laws, are making and implementing new land laws to stop this. We must support our brothers and sisters in the world who struggle to maintain their human rights. But we first must know their present conditions.

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3 comments on “Status Report: South African Women

  1. Great article.

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