We publish below a discussion article produced for the SRWP (it is not their official position). 

The roots of gender violence, how it is sustained and how to fight it

A brilliant source is the work by Engels and Marx on ‘The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State’. It is our duty as revolutionary Socialists to study this work. A copy can be downloaded from: https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/download/pdf/origin_family.pdf

We summarise the origin of the family and how it developed over time and how the state developed as a means of perpetuating violence against women.

It is interesting that the word ‘family’ has Greek origin:

‘Familus’ means domestic slave of the man

‘Familia’  means a group of the man’s slaves

The rise of the gens/ clan.Group marriage/ ‘Punaluan’ relations

Relations within society are influenced by the level of technical and economic development.

Homo Sapiens can be traced to Morocco (300 000 years ago), to Sterkfontein (Homo Naledi, 250 000 years ago) and Ethiopia (200 000 years ago). They were all using stone tools but the Morocco remains show smaller brain size. The predecessors of Homo Sapiens had been around for millions of years. From Ethiopia, Homo Sapiens spread into Europe and the rest of the world.  There is evidence of Homo Sapiens mating with their predecessors, the Neanderthals. There were several different human species at the time but they all died out and only Homo Sapiens survived.

The stone age lasted until about 12 000 years ago, even though their use of stone tools and weapons still persisted in lesser form even by 1066 (the battle of Hastings), but by then it was not in widespread use. Even in the period from 300 000 years ago until 12000 years ago there was the gradual discovery of metals and development of metalwork (copper and bronze) and the gradual development of techniques of domestication of animals and growing of food. These led to the development of villages and towns, which began to replace the migratory groups.


In the stone age period, the hunter and gatherer phase dominating, the level of technique was low. Humans were more likely to survive if they were in groups. The food gathered was directly produced and either was insufficient or just enough. There was no surplus and the group depended on collective sharing of the food and items gathered. Under these conditions there was ‘group marriage’. This meant that all the women were the wives of all the men and all the men were the husbands of all the women. Later forms of collective marriage developed where marriage between parent and child was forbidden, then brother marriage to sister was forbidden, then the marriage of cousins was barred, and later even marriage of second cousins and so on. Under these conditions of communalistic living the gens/clan developed. Under these conditions there was uncertainty over who the fathers were but what was certain was who the mothers were of the children. Thus relations were known from mother lineage. Over time it was the mothers who decided, even at birth, which men were going to be the future husbands of their daughters. At that stage marriage was always to those who were outside of the gens/clan. The men left their clans and joined the clan of their wives. There were no prisons, no courts, no police, only the communal traditions. The highest decision-making structure was the assembly of all men and women.

Men and women hunted. However there developed a division of labour in that men went out to get the food while the women took care of the household. This was possibly due to the hinderance posed by rearing children, although the children were communally cared for. The goods such as there was, was shared communally. Men and women were equal and participated as equals in discussions and dispute resolution. The council of the group comprised the men and women. The group had a better chance of survival by sharing all they created or collected. As groups grew to be a ‘gens’ or family group, they split into further groups. There was relative scarcity and the society was communalistic.


Over time, while the communalistic society remained there developed ‘pairing’, in other words that couples formed freely, out of choice. These unions were easily formed and dissolved, without any sense of grief or ill-feeling. There was still mother-right. There was still group marriage but the tendency for pairing arose within this environment. There were certain areas that were more rich in food and with better supplies of water. There was also the start of domestication of animals and of cultivation of food. All these created conditions for sufficient food to be available and even occasional surpluses. The development of clay pots and clay storage containers and even silos also occurred. Under these conditions of relative abundance ‘pairing’ started to occur. Men and women were still equal and both could freely participate in assemblies and election of leaders.

The rise of class divisions- the rise of gender violence- ‘Monogamy of the female’

Up to now the society was primitive, still ‘hunter-gatherer’. However there started to develop technique for growing foodand storing grain, for agriculture, for metalwork, for domestication of animals. In some parts of the world the land was more suited for this while in other areas the land was less suited. As the men had been tasked to get the food, the development of technique meant that the extra production came into their hands. The development of silos to store grain and the need to ration and protect these stores, especially in times of crop failure and seasonal scarcity, meant the appearance for the first time of a class of armed men who did not work but depended on the labour of others. The development of larger herds of cattle and more food also meant the need to gather more people to take care of them. Thus was the basis created for enslaving others to consolidate wealth accumulation. There now rose the question of inheritance of the extra production made. At first the inheritance was shared communally; later the inheritance passed to the children or relatives of the woman. ‘Pairing’ which was at first so easily dissolved, created a problem for the man and his relatives who were excluded from inheritance. Thus began a struggle for the man to ensure that the woman did not mate with anyone else, so that he could be sure that the children were his and thus he could secure inheritance for his offspring. The man still wanted to maintain his liaisons with other women but wanted to ensure the monogamy of ‘his woman’. Thus commenced a struggle to move from mother-right to father right.

In the past the men and women could elect and remove a leader of the community. There were generally 2 leaders in the community, one was a more symbolic leader who helped mediate disputes, the other was a military leader. The women had equal say to remove or elect any leader. There were no police, no army, no prisons, no courts. Arming for a fight was spontaneous and not permanent. Because certain pieces of land yielded more that others it developed that certain families had more than others. There developed the need to protect the growing wealth and to subdue others. Out of this developed specialised armed groups to protect the wealth of certain men. The Touareg communities across Niger and Mali, even today, demonstrate the matri-lineage, mother-right and polyandry (where women can take several husbands at the same time). Even the mediator leader is female while already the military leader is male. However it is evidence of a past era of group marriage and evidence that leadership could be either male or female. In the time of Engels and Marx in the 1890’s, some of the North American Indian tribes still demonstrated female lineage as well as group marriage. However, already at that time in North America, the Indian tribes already had only male mediator leaders and male military leaders, even though men and women could still elect and depose them at will. There is now also evidence from France and Britain that some military leaders were women. This is also evidence of a past in the communalistic phase of the right of women to be leaders. The development of private property however, deposed women from leadership.

Side by side with the communal traditions, in Greece, there developed a new force, based not on blood-relatives but purely on the production of wealth. The earliest democratic constitution in Greece, under Theseus, now had a council only of men. For the first time, citizens were not only from tribal groups but also included the rich strangers who were operating their business in the cities. Voting for leaders was only granted to the rich men (the nobles) while the farmers and artisans had no vote but could attend the council. The military leader, whose prime function was to ensure the wealth remained in the hands of the rich men , was called the ‘patriarchus’. There had been no concept of nuclear family before. Now the family was formed, for the first time, based on the enslavement of the woman and her monogamy and based on the preservation of the wealth of the rich men. Household functions which had been done on a communal basis was now restricted to the home of the family (child care, cooking, cleaning, etc). The earliest democratic constitution, based on preserving the wealth of rich men came into conflict with the still existing gens/clan traditions, which still based itself on communalistic traditions. Thus arose the ‘familus’ , the domestic slave of the rich man and the familia, the group of slaves of the rich men. At this time arose laws and civil structures, courts, prisons, police, centrally as a means to protect the wealth of the rich men and to ensure the subjugation of women and the producers, the working class and poor peasants.

The upper layers of the army that now arose, was in the hands of the rich men while the lower layers were drawn from the poorer layers and freed slaves. In the heyday of Greek democracy the free men were outnumbered by slaves by 18 to 1. Slavery and thus the enslavement of women subsidised the rise of civilization in Greece. From this moment on, women, unless they happened to be the family of forward-looking rich men, were excluded from the further development of Art and Science.

The rise of monarchies

Within the communalistic tribes across the world there rose rich families. Whereas in the past any leader could be elected, increasingly the election of leadership landed up staying within the rich families. This later transformed into unelected male chiefs and monarchs. That some monarchs in Europe were female is a reflection of a time in the communalistic phase when men or women could be elected into leadership. However a female monarch was still in essence a representative of the rich families and rich men and thus of the enslavement of the poorer women as well as the working class and poor peasantry.  

In Zulu and Xhosa tribal culture, that the chief is today unelected and male, is a reflection of entrenched patriarchy. The chief is the richest person in the tribe and the traditions are around him maintaining his wealth. The chief being able to take the most wives, which is a reflection of wealth, while it is an echo from a past communalistic period of group marriage. The land may be held communally but the chief cannot be displaced. He appoints a council based on a past period when a council could be elected by the general council. This council cannot depose him, which shows that private property relations already dominate the communalistic traditions. The payment of a dowry or lobola is confirmation of the domestic slavery of the woman. The tasks of child care, cooking, washing, etc are no longer communal but by and large restricted to the nuclear household. That the Bapedi do not ask for lobola does not mean the absence of patriarchy and private property relations. The two families visit the man to see if he is by the means to afford the marriage. This is still a reflection of the domination of private property relations in matters of marriage and in the community. The poetic songs that the woman sings to a prospective father of her child is an a echo of past period when pairing occurred in times of communalistic living.

The Mapungubwe community already showed signs of entrenched property relations that dominated the communal heritage. The rich men received the best land, lived higher on the hills while the poorer relations lived towards the bottom and thus were more exposed to the violence of possible raids from neighbouring tribes. There was developed metalwork as well as international trade. Therefore there was the first stages of civilization before the period of colonization. Once again, the development of civilization was based on the enslavement of women.

The process of stratification and class divisions within tribes and the development of nations occurred in Europe, in Africa, in Asia, in the Americas. The essence of the formation of a nation is the fusing of tribes through war, placing the rich families at their head.

Engels records that originally tribes traded with tribes through the chiefs of the gentes. However, as herds began to pass into the hands of individual owners, trade was more between individuals, until it was the only form.

‘Now the chief article which the pastoral tribes exchanged with their neighbours was cattle; cattle became the commodity by which all other commodities were valued and which was everywhere willingly taken in exchange for them- in short, cattle acquired a money function and already at this stage did the work of money.

The payments of dowries and lobola are thus a reflection of the enslavement of women as well as their commodification.

The fall of the Greek tribes, the rise of money, the state as an executive of the various branches of the rich

The rise of the monarchies out of the communalistic gens and clans led to the rise of production and hunger for more land by the rich. This gave an impetus to engaging in and expanding of trade. Thus rose money as a form of exchange. The land itself became commodified and the monarchs engaged in measures to bring as much land as possible under their control. The monarchs gained control of the land which was commodified and subject to mortgages and usury. The monarchs used the heritage of the communalist traditions to assert their control over the land. At the same time there was the development of trade and commerce that was not linked to family relations or tribal affiliation but gathered people from various areas based purely on the skills needed for the trade and commerce to flourish. There was a need to protect the trade and commerce and to subjugate slaves and workers. Thus there developed armed forces around this. The army was gathered from freed slaves although the upper sections of the army came from the rich traders and commercial owners (rich men). The commercial and rich trader operated on land that was subject to mortgage and usury imposed by the monarchs. There developed a tension between the monarchs on the one side and the commerce and trade owners and their army, on the other. There was thus the first revolution against the monarchs and their usury. This was in 594 BC in Greece. Engels records that all revolutions since then have been a revolution against one kind of property agents another. A powerful conclusion indeed. In this revolution all debts were declared void. All those who had lost their fields due to debt were allowed back to their lands. No more was it allowed to sell your family or yourself into slavery due to debt. The usury by landowners was curbed but not ended. The population was divided into 4 classes based on their production of grain from their property. Only those with property could elect officials and those with too little or no property could take part in discussions but could not elect the top officials. Thus the monarchy was partially renewed although limited. The richest landowners formed the upper parts of the military. The lowest class could take part in discussions and vote in the general assembly but the power remained in the upper council of the rich. Thus we see the origin of the two houses or upper and lower chambers. [The Congress and the Senate, or the House of Commons and House of lords, or Council of the provinces and general assembly, all have origin in the political revolution of 594 BC where the essence was to create a structure which ensured that the rich remained in power but limited them from excesses.

Later, the property clause was removed but the essence remained the same, namely that the state was an armed institution of rich men that ensured its wealth. The role of the state developed to be a balancing force between contending classes and the different factions of the rich men, to save the system of exploitation and thus to protect the wealth of the rich men. This was the origin of the courts, laws, prisons and other agencies of the state- nothing to do with the needs of all but centred around the needs of the rich men.

Property relations were only able to be maintained due to the continued violation of the property of others.

It follows that the maintenance of wealth in the hands of the rich men meant the ongoing violation of the rights of all women. It follows that freedom of women from slavery and oppression can only be achieved through the expropriation of the wealth of the rich men and the communal sharing thereof.

The transition from slavery to feudalism to capitalism- perpetuating the violence against women

From 12000 years ago to 594 BC the dominant mode of production was slavery. There were constant uprisings of slaves against the slave owners. Slaves did all the manual work while the propertied classes could hire skilled intellectuals. The problem was that slaves belonged to individual slave owners and rebellions caused productivity to be limited. Out of this arose a class of ‘coloni’, a group of freed slaves but who were still tied to the land, working in part for themselves and giving the bulk to the large landowner. Here rose the beginnings of peasantry and feudal lords.

The rise of the Roman empire was still based on slavery but the state form was that of a military democracy. The rich men assigned groups of a hundred soldiers (centuries) that each elected a leader (centurion). The rich men were allocated more centuries and even though the smaller groups could also provide centuries, the rich men were always the majority. Through military activity and their own work the slaves could buy their freedom. This eventually posed a problem as there were now many freed slaves who now, by law, could not work. Work was only designed for slaves. Thus there rose greater parasitism as the emphasis was not on production in the core of the empire but on plunder from the outer reaches. Thus in the Roman empire period, women were still largely excluded from Science and Art. Freed women could not vote nor stand for office. Rape of freed/citizen women was punishable with death- which was a reflection of the patriarchal society which asserted the monogamy of women as a guarantor to the man that his wealth would pass to his offspring. If rape of a married woman was not proven then both the alleged perpetrator and the woman could be found guilty of adultery. Rape of an artist/entertainer or of a prostitute or a slave was not punishable at all. It was an acceptable social practice. Prostitution was legal. The rape of a slave could only be punished in terms of damaged goods of the slave owner.

Christian Emperor Constantine ruled that in case of an elopement, as it had broken from the rule of the patriarch, the woman could be put to death if she had consented to the marriage. The marriage was annulled. Even if she had been abducted against her will, she could still be disinherited as ‘she could have cried out’ to alert others.

Roman law thus evolved further than the Greeks by entrenching the rights of rich men, by classing women in general as second class citizens and developing different standards for working class/slave women. The parasitic relations in the Roman Empire reflected in the treatment of slave women and artists and prostitutes as expendable commodities.

Roman law is the basis for much of capitalist law around the globe today.

After Rome had ruled much of Europe and part of North Africa for about 1000 years, its fall came about 476 AD (with the fall of emperor Romulus) with the victory of the Barbarian tribes of Europe. While the Romans had defeated the slave-based monarchs, the fall of the Roman empire opened up a period of feudal-based monarchies. The German and Celtic tribes still had vestiges of the communalistic era and pairing was widespread although rich families dominated the tribes and male dominance was still the overriding feature. Land was still common property but privatization of the land into the hands of rich families was starting. There was even still cases of group marriage. Women could vote and no distinction was made between children born in or out of wedlock. The English expression ‘the 7 year itch’ referring to a man who had grown tired of his partner and wanted to move on, had its origin among the Celts. They had pairing laws to the effect that either male or female could freely dissolve marriage without any consequence at any time before 7 years was up. In fact it was up to 4 days before the 7 years were up. The heritage of this communalistic era was that water and forest were regarded as common ownership.

In the last days of the Roman Empire there was the rise of armed bands of mercenaries, many of whom originated among the German tribes. With the fall of the Roman empire the Germanic tribes imposed the gens/clan constitution. The armed mercenaries that were used to going on the rampage to search for booty and plunder, started to ally themselves with the rising monarchs. The armed mercenaries were rewarded by the monarchies by incorporation into the nobility. Whole communities and clans sought protection under the wing of some of these monarchs. The trade off was that they handed over the ownership of their land, and had to agree to hand over 5/6 of their produce, while keeping 1/6 for themselves. Thus arose the period of feudal monarchies. This was also how the Church achieved much of their land, by robbing the locals of their land in return for offers of protection. The many wars also impoverished the free peasantry, who had to give up their land to the nobility in return for survival. The period from 476 AD to the 1600’s was a period of wars that formed nations and the period in which small peasant agriculture dominated. By the year 1000 AD most of the free peasantry in Europe had been placed in bondage on the land of the nobility.

Free peasant women could own and trade land. However, the bulk of the land was in the hands of the male Lords and monarchs and the church. The peasants who were bonded to their lords or monarchs, had no rights, could not own property and had their marriages determined by their lords. Their position of bondage was hereditary. However, even the free female peasants could not be elected into any leadership position in the locality or municipality.

In some of the Celtic tribes the man had to pay the chief so that he would forgo his ‘right’ of the first night with the prospective bride. This is an echo of a period of group marriage but shows that the male domination over women was entrenched in feudal society. That the Catholic church forbids divorce and enforces celibacy on nuns and priests is a mechanism for retaining wealth within the ranks of the Church.

Old forms persist- slavery and semi feudal relations

History is not a straight line and often old forms persist under new conditions. The rise of the feudal monarchies did not abolish slavery completely.

The period of 700 AD to 1400 AD, the heyday of the Islamic Caliphates were essentially slave-based societies where, as in Western Europe and North Africa, slave rebellions and class struggle reshaped relations, forcing the gradual abolishment of slavery. Slavery was only abolished in Saudi Arabia as late as 1962. Nevertheless, women had won the general right of inheritance although at a lesser scale than men. The Islamic society was patriarchal and art, science and culture was limited to privileged women but dominated by the rich men. Vestiges of group marriage and pairing is evident in the Islamic texts which speak to pairing as well as polygamy. Women have on occasion been the de facto political heads of some of the Caliphates, again a vestige of the past communalistic era.

Slavery and feudalism placed limits on the development of the productive forces. Within trading and merchant activities there started to develop artisans and mass production manufacture. This posed a problem as the peasants were tied to the land and slaves tied to a particular owner. There were too few workers for manufacture to develop. Thus arose once again a conflict between different factions of property. The rising capitalists, based on commodity production came into conflict with the large slave owners and the feudal nobility who kept the peasants in bondage on the land.

The first revolution that overthrew the feudal monarchy was in 1789 in France. The capitalist class was at the head of the peasants and workers in revolt. Women had formed revolutionary associations and clubs and several had joined the demonstrations, arms in hand. Women were also part of the assemblies. However the leadership of the revolution was exclusively in the hands of male revolutionaries. The monarchy was uprooted. Women demanded the right to vote and the right to be elected into parliamentary leadership.

Women also demanded price controls on bread. This split the women as the market and capitalist women opposed this. Thus class divisions opened up among the women. The capitalist representatives at the head of the revolution also opposed price controls. The Jacobin regime disarmed the women, shut down the women’s clubs and the women revolutionary association. They also refused to allow women to vote nor allowed them to be represented in parliamentary structures. Thus the first regime that represented capitalist commodity production was also based on the interest of the rich men and the suppression of the democratic rights of women. The feudal nobility was overthrown and so began a period of growing dominance of the capitalist regimes.

However this did not mean the end of all monarchies as they persist even up to today, often as fractions of big capital and not as feudal lords.

Women in the USA only gained the right to vote by 1920 after many decades of struggle by women, supported by the workers’ movement. French women only gained the right to vote in 1945 and even then only if they were literate and 30 years or older. French women only gained the unrestricted right to vote by 1965.

The profound consequences of the 1789 French revolution, with its disarming of the militant women and the refusal to grant women the right to vote nor to even grant price controls, demonstrates that even at the dawn of capitalist rule, the capitalist class is incapable of conceding the complete democratic demands, that it is in essence the violent rule of the rich men. The essence of the capitalist state is the protection of the interest of rich men. It follows that the full liberation of women and an end to gender violence can only come through the total expropriation of the rich (men) and the communal sharing of the wealth created by the working class, under its direct control. The capitalist state is the root cause of gender violence internationally.  

Engels writes:

...to emancipate woman and make her equal of the man is and remains an impossibility so long as the woman is shut out from social productive labour and restricted to private domestic labour. The emancipation of woman will only be possible when woman can take part in production on a large social scale and domestic work no longer claims anything but an insignificant amount of her time. And only now has that become possible through modern large scale industry, which not only permit the employment of female labour over a wide range but positively demands it, while it also tends towards ending private domestic labour by changing it more into a public industry’.

Thus it is not sufficient to expropriate the monopoly capitalists (the rich men) and place this wealth under workers’ control. We have to demand the socialisation of all so-called traditional tasks of women:

State-funded creches in local areas as well as company-funded creches at workplaces

Work for all

Cheap, public laundries

Cheap, healthy, public eating houses

Free-quality education for all, from the cradle to the grave

Shorter working hours so that men and women and couples that are non-binary, can share equally in whatever housework there is.

Dismantling of all capitalist states and the setting up of direct democracy, Socialist workers’ states

Gender violence in a semi-colony- the case of South Africa

As the capitalist class in various countries of Europe completed the total expropriation of communal land on home soil there began the impulse to seek new lands to exploit. Once the home market was saturated the only way for capital to grow was through its export. Thus began the impulse to colonise the world under the control of the rich men of Europe.

In 1652 began the colonisation of South Africa by the rich men of the Dutch East India company (VOC). These were the last days of feudalism in Europe where capitalism was starting to become the dominant mode. They found a land still under communal relations even though patriarchy and the start of class divisions were already existing. Through wars and disease the Khoi and San were largely exterminated. What was common between the Khoi, the San and the Nguni tribes and clans was that the land was still largely communal, although among the Nguni tribes and clans there was already hereditary male chiefs and no longer election of leaders. Patriarchy was already entrenched more among the Nguni than the Khoi and San. Some of the white settlers from Europe broke free from the VOC and started to move inland. So developed the Afrikaner agricultural class, themselves imposing feudal relations on their farms. Due to the resistance of the Khoi, San and Nguni to work for the VOC, there began the import of slaves from other parts of the Dutch empire. The French and British colonial powers continued the practice of slavery. The growing feudal and capitalist relations by the colonisers was also based on the perpetuation of the domestic enslavement of the white women. The Dutch Reformed Church and the missionaries perpetuated the subjugation of all women. Slaves could only be freed if they embraced the Dutch Reformed Church. There were many slave uprisings, notably including the one in 1808 when male and female slaves marched for the Castle from the farms just north of Malmesbury, hoping to win their freedom. However they only held out for 36 hours before being defeated by the Cavalry at Salt River. Nevertheless slavery was abolished in the British empire by 1834 due to the slave resistance. The imperialists needed a new form of control. Semi-feudal relations remained on the farms while there was growing capitalist relations.

The Afrikaners kept moving north and through war and dispossession established the so-called Boer republics (Free State and Transvaal) based on semi-feudal relations. The discovery of gold and diamonds in the Free State and Transvaal spurred on the British colonialist to subjugate them to the domination of imperialist-capitalist control. This was the main driver behind the Anglo-Boer war 1899- 1902, which the British won. This was a clash between capitalist property and feudal property. Although British capital won the state represented the interest of the rich Boers and the British imperialists. The British controlled the mines while the rich Boers had control of farm land on which semi-feudal relations were maintained. This was a de facto agreement between the rich men of the British imperialists with the rich men among the Afrikaner boers, although the British imperialists were in the dominant position.

The 1913 Land Act, which was introduced by the British imperialists, via the forerunner of the DA, the United Party, sought to confiscate 87% of the land which was still subject to communal relations and to place it in the hands of the British imperialists. Seeing as the communal lands were largely in the control of unelected male chiefs, the imperialists bought them off with guarantees for their own fiefdoms while the males were sent to be wage slaves on the mines while the women were kept in domestic slavery. Thus on the altar of super-profits for the imperialist capitalist class, tribal property relations were maintained in the bantustans while the men could be paid much less as they were only on the mines for a temporary period. The tribal communalistic patches under the dictatorship of male chiefs therefore subsidised huge profits for the imperialists while keeping women in the position of domestic slaves to the male chiefs. Thus capitalist relations in the semicolony South Africa was based on the suppression of the indigenous capitalist class as well as super-exploitation, aka cheap labour. 1913 also marked a period of revolts by women against pass laws and against the super-exploitative capitalist relations. It was out of revolts by Black men and women that urbanization took place. On the other hand there was also the need for more black labour in urban areas due to the growing capitalist economy. However the control by imperialism capitalism meant that South Africa, like countries in the rest of Africa, was reduced to a supplier of raw materials to the imperialist centres. Due to the limit of the world capitalist economy if the economy in SA were to really develop a large industrial manufacturing base it meant that the economy in the imperialist centres would decline more. Thus the armed might of the state, the courts, the laws, the universities, the prisons, the churches all united, from different angles to ensure that imperialist capitalist control remained intact and that there would be a permanent cheap labour economy. It follows that in times of world capitalist crisis, the full effect is first felt in the semi-colonies and colonies and thus the social degradation that goes together with high unemployment and overcrowded dormitary suburbs and shanty towns flows from the dictatorship of rich white men from the imperialist centres.   

The earliest recorded demand for women to vote came in 1843 from the Afrikaner women in Natal, who demanded that the British grant them the right to vote as they had actively supported the British war efforts to subdue the Zulu tribes. It was not until 1930 (some 278 years after the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck) that white women were allowed to vote for the first time. Even then it was used by Herzog to reduce the weight of the Black males who were allowed to vote in the Cape Colony albeit based on proof of property of 25 pounds. The white suffragettes were a middle class movement and were more interested in curbing the use of alcohol than rights of women. Olive Schreiner and and handful of progressive liberals had argued for the right to vote to be extended to all women but were defeated. Thus the state still represented the interests of the rich white men. It did not represent the interest of the rich white women in any deep sense as they accepted their position of subservience to the white males. Tribalism and patriarchy ran deep in the workers movement. The SA Labour Party argued alone at first for the right to vote for white women but out of fear of the numbers of the Black electorate. The ANC only allowed women to join as full members in 1943. For a long time women were regarded as subservient within the workers’ and liberation movements. It was the Communist Party that championed the rights of women. They contradicted themselves by placing the patriarchal ANC as the political leader of the liberation movement.  

While Black men voted for the first time in 1843, Black women only voted on a non-racial basis, for the first time on 27th April 1994, the first democratic elections in the country.

There have been many struggles against pass laws as well as the right for decent housing in urban areas. There have been many struggles against the various aspects of cheap-labour-based capitalism in SA and the rest of Africa. They may have been social or economic in form but in essence they have been political. Often the various political parties and trade unions have self-limited these struggles to the purely economic or social terrain.

The 1994 election was based on the private property clause, in other words, maintaining the system of continued wealth extraction for the rich men in the imperialist centres. It follows that there will always be mass unemployment, low wages, high profits for the monopoly capitalists. It follows that the courts, the police, the army, the universities, the Churches, the universities are all geared for this central aim. Social degradation as a result of permanent, high unemployment is a result of these capitalist relations and imperialist exploitation. Thus there is the structural perpetuation of violence against all women and more generally against working class women in particular. The current regime still subsidizes the existence of unelected chiefs. They perpetuate tribalism and the areas of the former bantustans. Therefore they sustain the cheap labour system which has it starting point the domestic slavery of women and the sale of the young men into wage slavery on the mines.

Democratic advances of the rights of women has only come through class struggle.

The most recent example of this has been the Lanxess Chrome mine occupation by both male and female workers in defence of a female worker who had been sexually harassed by a supervisor that management refused to discipline. We also need to support organization of working class women but also of any partial struggles for women’s rights.

Ultimately, only the overthrow of capitalist relation and the establishment of Socialism, based on the socialization of all ‘women’s work’ can end gender violence.

Combined with this we list a set of demands and steps that can immediately be fought for. These will help reduce the violence against women. However to limit our struggle to these demands below will NOT end gender violence. These are reforms and steps to be taken right now. The very fight for these demands will help the masses realise that only the total overthrow of capitalist relations and the establishment of Socialism will end gender violence once and for all.

How to start to fight gender-based violence?

  1. There should be mass awareness campaigns in every classroom of every school (primary and high school), college, university, every workplace, at least once a week.
  2. We should demand the socialisation of all so-called women’s work - see demands on page 10 above
  3. Equal pay for equal work
  4. For work where female workers get home after dark there should be paid transport to drop the worker at their front door
  5. There must be adequate street lighting at night, for all
  6. All unelected tribal chiefs should be abolished; any female should be allowed to stand for leadership of any communal land that still exists
  7. There should be a revival of street, area and block committees that take on the task of patrolling and self-defence of women from any threat of violence, or acts against any gender-based violence. There should be a presence in the mornings and evenings when females are on their way to or from work.
  8. There should be 24 hour places of safety in every ward.

Therefore, also, the above demands must be linked to the demands for the expropriation of the large commercial farms, the mines, the banks and other monopolies, without compensation and for these to be placed under workers’ control. Socialization of the wealth will create the basis for the thoroughgoing socialization of all that is regarded as women’s work. Only then will the woman step onto the political, social, cultural and economic stage as an equal.


28 Oct 2019

Shaheed Mahomed- member of the SRWP


  1. http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/human-fossils/species/homo-sapiens
  2. https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/6/7/15745714/nature-homo-sapien-remains-jebel-irhoud
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexuality_in_ancient_Rome accessed 19.10.2019
  4. https://www.sahistory.org.za/archive/womens-suffrage-movement-politics-gender-race-and-class-cheryl-walker


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Without exception,ALL the parties taking part in the elections,despite their promises, will deliver a future of more unemployment, lower wages, more hardship, more evictions, more homelessness, more exclusion from education, death and destruction through starvation and Aids.

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