The Liberal Moment: Women and Just Debate in South Africa, 1994-1996


Walsh, Denise. 2006. “The Liberal Moment: Women and Just Debate in South Africa, 1994–1996.” Journal of Southern African Studies 32 (1): 85–105. doi:10.1080/03057070500493795.

Author: Denise Walsh


This article investigates the extent of women's participation in South African public debate during the Government of National Unity, a two-year period beginning with the country's first non-racial elections of 1994 and ending with the signing of the Constitution in 1996. The new democratic government established basic rights enabling all citizens, regardless of race or gender, to engage in public debate. Were women able to take advantage of this opportunity? What factors advanced or impeded their progress? The first section of the article draws upon analyses of deliberative democracy to construct a model for assessing women's participation in public debate. Part two evaluates the justness of South African debate in four arenas of civic performance, action and argument at three geographic levels. The article argues that the liberal moment in South African politics was dominated by a state that prompted significant institutional reform, dramatically opening the South African public sphere. Nevertheless, sexism, a lack of education, skills and resources minimised women's ability to take advantage of these changes.

Topics: Gender, Women, Governance, Constitutions, Political Participation, Race, Rights Regions: Africa, Southern Africa Countries: South Africa

Year: 2006

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