This summer I interned at the Women’s Legal Centre, and I thought about feminism and women’s rights more than I ever have in my entire life. I chose to intern at the Women’s Legal Centre because of my interest in law, social justice and human rights. Before this summer, I didn’t even actively consider myself a feminist (largely due to the stigma associated with the word “feminist” among my peers and my own misunderstanding of what the word “feminist” truly means). I had always believed that men and women should have equal rights, but the topic was not one which I often pondered. I fortunately have never had an experience in which I was discriminated against due to my gender and I did not feel that my gender would impact my future success or lifestyle.
This summer has truly opened my eyes to a whole new branch of social activism: the campaign for women’s rights and gender equality. While South Africa has one of the highest rates of violence against women in the world, I feel that many of the realizations regarding women’s rights and gender equality which I have come to while working at the WLC are just as relevant within the United States. For instance, one of the research projects I did at the WLC was on the legal rights of female domestic partners who were separating from their male partners after years of performing household labor, or “informal sector” work, and raising the children. Such a separation clearly poses a women’s rights issue: the male partner is about to walk away with his salary and all of his savings while the woman does not have any source of income or money saved up. This scenario also occurs frequently in the United States.
Previously when I contemplated women’s rights under the law, I believed that women and men should be completely equal. However, after spending the summer at the WLC, I find the term “gender equality” to be somewhat misleading because it does not acknowledge the differences between the sexes and the different accommodations which need to be made for each gender. The woman in the aforementioned scenario was naturally placed into her role in the partnership, in which she stayed at home and took care of her kids, because she is female. As culture dictates, she is to raise the children and perform domestic duties because she is a woman; furthermore, she is the partner biologically impaired by the birth. Do equal rights in this scenario translate into gender equality, or does the law have to go above and beyond to protect women and guarantee an equal playing field?