African Feminist Resources - Our Voices

Shamim Meer

I was active as a student and community activist in Durban in the 1970s. My emerging political identity and consciousness were influenced and inspired by the black consciousness movement in South Africa and by ideas emanating from the civil rights and student movements of the USA and Europe. Towards the late 1970s I became a conscious feminist – influenced by third world women’s struggles within national liberation movements and by the women’s liberation movement in the UK. In particular the issues and activism of black women in the UK and USA were important in shaping my ideas as a feminist.

As part of my involvement as a community activist in Durban from 1978 to around 1982 I facilitated the organisation of grassroots women’s organisations within broader housing struggles. It was from this location that I became involved in the Durban Women’s Group and went on to co-found the magazine SPEAK in 1982.

We started SPEAK as a newsletter for grassroots women to share with each other their life experiences and their achievements in organising and taking up their concerns. Ours was a feminist agenda – that is an agenda informed by an understanding of the structural causes of women’s subordination and fired by a determination to eradicate women’s subordination. We were concerned to make sure that women and their concerns were part of the broader community and trade union organising initiatives unfolding in South Africa at the time.

As organisation grew in the country so did our newsletter. More and more organised groups were interested in receiving copies of the newsletter and in contributing their experiences. The newsletter grew into a national magazine with distribution mainly through trade unions and community groups. SPEAK magazine through its content was able to raise key issues of concern to women – such as violence against women, the unfair workload resulting from women’s reproductive roles in the home, sexual harassment, the subordinate position of women in trade unions, the specific experiences of women workers given systems of gender oppression and exploitation, women’s struggles within community organisations. In each magazine we included a section on women’s health with a key focus on reproductive health. Later issues of the magazine dealt with women and HIV/AIDS as a regular feature. In 1994 we published the last issue of SPEAK magazine and the magazine came to an end mainly due to the movement of key SPEAK staff into other media opportunities that had opened up. However in 1997 we published a book which brought together key articles from the pages of the magazine together with updated assessments of key sectors – the book is entitled ‘Women SPEAK – reflections of our struggles 1982-1997’.

In 1978 I was involved in co-founding Agenda, a journal about women and gender. Our aim with agenda was to make sure that women and feminist concerns entered the political debates of the time. Agenda continues to be published and raises key debate and discussion of relevance in the present context.

Since 1994 I have been working as a freelancer – attempting to bring feminist thinking and activism to development concerns. My work has involved training, research and writing. The publications I have been involved in are listed below:


  • 2005. “Freedom for women: mainstreaming gender in the South African liberation struggle and beyond” in Oxfam Gender and Development July 2005 issue on Gender Mainstreaming : A Critical Review.
  • 2005. “Citizenship Rights and Participation: Advancing women’s voice and agency in development thought and practice” in Global civil society, world citizenship and education edited by Caroline Suransky, Ireen Dubel and Henk Manschot.
  • 2004. Creating Voice and Carving Space: Redefining governance from a gender perspective co-authored with Maitrayee Mukhophadhay, Amsterdam : Royal Tropical Institute.
  • 2004. Overview Report on Gender Citizenship and Development for Bridge Cutting Edge Pack with Charlie Sever
  • 2003. Creating Voice, Carving Space: Defining Good Governance from a Gender Perspective, Final Research Report Gender, Citizenship and Governance Programme, co-authored with Mukhopadhyay M, and Appel M., Amsterdam: Royal Tropical Institute.…
  • 2003. Closing the Gap: South Africa. Report exploring EU and UK gender policy and practice on gender mainstreaming, London : One World Action.
  • 2003. Coming Home: The Juggernath Family in Group Portrait South Africa: Nine Family Histories edited by Annari van der Merwe and Paul Faber. Kwela Books – KIT Publishers.
  • 2003. Que trabalhadores, que mulheres, que interesses? Raca, classe e genero na Africa do sul do pos-apartheid, in Reconhecer Para Libertar edited by Boaventura de Sousa Santos, Rio de Janeiro: Civilizacao Brasileira
  • 2001. Women, tenure and land reform: the case of Namaqualand ‘s Reserves co authored with Fiona Archer in Gender Perpsectives on Property and Inheritance: A Global Sourcesbook. KIT (Royal Tropical Institute) The Netherlands / Oxfam GB
  • 2001. From Crisis to Development: A record of the Transitional National Development Trust co authored with Bobby Rodwell TNDT. Johannesburg
  • 1999. The Demobilisation of Civil Society: Struggling With New Questions article in Development Update. SANGOCO and Interfund. Johannesburg.
  • 1999. Constraints to Land Reform and Gender Equity Goals in Agenda AGI Monograph 1999. Durban.
  • 1998. Compiled Women Speak: Reflections on our struggles 1982 to 1997, Kwela Books in Association with SPEAK. Cape Town.
  • 1998. Edited Learning from the Field. National Land Committee. Johannesburg.
  • 1998. Possibilities for Redistribution – Rural Women in South Africa, in Gathering Voices: Perspectives on Social Science from Southern Africa edited by Silva Cruz T and Sitas A. International Sociological Association. Montreal.
  • 1997. “Land Affairs and Agriculture”, in The Second Women’s Budget edited by Debbie Budlender. IDASA Publications. Cape Town.
  • 1997. Gender and Land Rights: The struggle over resources in post apartheid South Africa in IDS Bulletin, July 1997. University of Sussex, Brighton, United Kingdom.
  • 1997. Feminist Agendas in Activism and Academia – The Challenge for Agenda in Agenda No 34 1997, Durban.
  • 1997. “Women, Tenure and Land Reform: The case of Namaqualand ‘s Reserves”, co-authored with Fiona Archer, in Women, Land and Authority edited by Shamim Meer, David Philip. Cape Town. / Oxfam UK and I.Oxford United Kingdom.
  • 1997. Edited Women, Land and Authority, David Philip. Cape Town. / Oxfam UK and I. Oxford United Kingdom.
  • 1996. A Gender Vision for Land Reform in South Africa National Land Committee. Johannesburg.
  • 1994. “Women’s Access to Land in South Africa ‘s Bantustans “, Unpublished Masters Thesis for Degree of Master of City Planning, MIT, USA.
  • 1990. Contributed to, co-ordinated and conducted research for “Black Women Workers – A Study in Patriarchy, Race and Women Production Workers in South Africa ” by Fatima Meer with Sayo Skweyiya, Sheila Jolobe, Jean Westmore and Shamim Meer. Institute for Black Research. Durban.
  • 1988. Conflict in the Communities and in the Factories in South African Labour Bulletin Vol 13 No 3 and Vol 13 No 4/5. Johannesburg.
  • 1986. Divide and Profit – Indian Workers in Natal, Worker Resistance in Natal Project University of Natal, Durban.

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