The 1950s and 1970s were a time of great social and political change in South Africa. During this period, the country underwent a period of rapid transformation as it moved from a rural, agrarian society to an industrialized, urban one. As a result, women’s identity in South Africa underwent a dramatic shift as well. This article will explore how women’s identity in South Africa changed from the 1950s to the 1970s.
1950s: Women’s Identity in South Africa
In the 1950s, South African women’s identity was largely defined by their roles in the traditional patriarchal society. Women were expected to be subservient to their husbands and fathers, and were viewed primarily as homemakers and caregivers. Women were also expected to be obedient and submissive, and were discouraged from engaging in any activities that were deemed to be too "unfeminine" or "unladylike". Despite this, some women were able to break away from traditional gender roles and pursue careers in education, medicine, and other fields.
In addition, the 1950s saw the emergence of a female liberation movement in South Africa. Women began to fight for their rights and to challenge the patriarchal system that had long oppressed them. The National Union of South African Women (NUSAW) was formed in 1954 and was the first women’s organization in South Africa to focus on women’s rights. The organization fought for women’s suffrage, equal pay, and other rights.
1970s: Women’s Identity in South Africa
By the 1970s, women’s identity in South Africa had undergone a significant shift. The women’s liberation movement had grown in strength and had helped to challenge traditional gender roles and expectations. Women were now seen as more than just homemakers and caregivers; they were viewed as capable, independent individuals who had the right to pursue their own interests and dreams.
The 1970s also saw the emergence of a new wave of feminism in South Africa. Women began to challenge the oppressive structures of patriarchy and to demand equal rights and opportunities. The Black Consciousness Movement, which was led by Steve Biko and other activists, was particularly influential in this regard. The movement helped to empower black women and to give them a voice in the struggle for liberation.
The 1970s also saw the emergence of a new, more inclusive form of feminism. This new feminism was focused on fighting for the rights of all women, regardless of race or class. This was a significant shift from the 1950s, when women’s rights were largely seen as a white, middle-class issue.
Since the first settlement of South Africa by European settlers in 1652, the role of women in society has been heavily influenced by long-held, traditional patriarchal values and norms. From the 1950s to the 1970s, the young Republic of South Africa was a nation in a state of evolution. This evolution included the evolution of gender roles and what it meant to be a woman within the South African culture, as well as in terms of identity and visibility.
In the 1950s, South African women were largely viewed through the lens of patriarchy. Women were expected to ensure the maintenance of their households, conform to social conventions, and not challenge the deeds of men. Their identity was fixed within predetermined containers such as race and class, which were used to limit their rights and access to education, opportunities, and resources. Marriage was seen as a woman’s only route to financial and life security, and the role of wife and mother was the only future they were socially allowed to pursue.
However, the climate of South Africa in the 1950s-1970s was one of rapid social and political change, the evidence of which can be seen in the many women’s organizations and advocacy groups that began to form during this period. The South African Women’s League and the Women’s Program of the African National Congress, for example, fought for equal human rights and opportunities for all people, regardless of gender, under an ever increasing apartheid regime.
In addition to these organizations, the 1960s introduced a wave of ’emancipation’ for women, empowering them to enter into professions traditionally dominated by men and giving them the chance to enter a new era of self-expression and independence. Women from all walks of life fought for equal pay, media representation, and reproductive rights. The main thrust of the Women’s Movement was to challenge the gender imbalances inherent in South African society, both within the public and private space.
By the 1970s, it was evident that the Women’s Movement had been successful in shifting many social values and norms. Women were slowly being recognised as influential political and social figures within South African society. As a result, their newfound identity was no longer defined by labels or professions; instead it was a statement of an identity created and owned by the individual.
All in all, the period of the 1950s to the 1970s was a transformative era for South African women. Over the course of these two decades, women activists and advocates worked tirelessly to redefine the role of womanhood and create a new, independent woman’s identity that went beyond the boundaries of race, class and gender. This period laid the groundwork for future social and political developments in South Africa, setting the path for a more equitable gender balance and offering hope for a more inclusive and empowering future for all South African women.