Women’s and Gender Studies in South Africa

gender-lens2By Anna Concannon — So far, my posts have been about playing with kids, going to the beach, and seeing poverty in South Africa. I thought I should address the fact that I’m not just here on holiday!

As my three-week visit to South Africa comes to an end, I want to share a little about why am here and what I have learned so far.

I have been studying abroad with three other students and a professor from Marquette on a Women’s and Gender Studies program, through which we are learning about the many gender-related issues that exist in South Africa. The group and I have visited numerous agencies and non-governmental organizations in Cape Town relating to gender and sexual identity-related rights, roles, oppression, and violence. We have also read many articles and asked questions about as much as we can to get a more holistic understanding of these problems.

The group has also extensively discussed the country’s new democratic government as well as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), both of which have made many positive strides in the post-apartheid South Africa.

Two speakers have come to talk to us about their involvement with the TRC, one of whom is a human rights activist and worked as a psychologist with the TRC. The other was a man convicted of a politically-motivated murder, for which he was granted amnesty through the TRC in the late 90s. He has dedicated his life of freedom to helping at-risk children, like he himself was, with an afterschool program devoted to empowerment. These speakers were very inspiring and I am grateful to have heard their messages about doing right despite the many wrongs in the world.

In addition, as I have mentioned before, I have been doing Service Learning twice a week by helping out at a preschool. Finally, in my free time, I have done a lot of touristy activities and am trying to experience as much as I can.

Needless to say, I’ve been really busy!

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the connections between gender-related issues here and in the US. I have gained so much knowledge about the condition of this country by being here and talking with experts, learning much more about these issues than I knew about at home. I’ve seen that the inequalities and violence are much more extreme here; however, they still happen in the US. I have become very interested in finding out more about sexual violence in the US; I plan to look into organizations in my community that support survivors and find out how I can become involved.

I am so glad I chose this program and so thankful for the opportunity to be here. It has been an incredible educational adventure, one that has taught me so much about myself and about a country that is working towards gender equality.

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