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The rock and the hard place: an investigation into the social support services provided by non-governmental support groups for women in Pietermaritzburg post-1994.

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In the post -1994 era, the new government of South Africa and its legislation intended the eradication of gender inequality and gender abuse and the empowerment of women at all levels of South African society. This principle is enshrined in the country’s constitution and is further legislatively supported by other laws and state organizations. Whilst it may be argued that the new democratic South Africa has made great strides in many spheres, many women, including those who are economically empowered, continue to experience gross oppression and abuse in various spheres of their lives, especially within the domestic context. The aim of this research is to investigate and identify whether support groups, fundamental to eradicating gender inequality and to the empowerment of women, have been established in Pietermaritzburg and to assess the extent of their efficacy and success. Whilst the latter is relative and difficult to measure, the effect that the support provided by support groups has had on women, will be used to determine the extent of their success. The research also aims to investigate the role and intervention of the state and its related machinery in the functioning of and provision of services to these support groups. The research is conducted using mainly qualitative analyses and methodology. Inquiry is made from a wide spectrum of sources relevant to support groups in order to establish credible conclusions. This approach is undertaken mainly within a feminist poststructuralist theoretical framework as it supports the complex, multi-faceted experiences and contexts of South African women whilst transcending the confines and limitations of mainstream feminism. Post-structuralism critically analyses the ways in which power relations are structured and maintained through legitimate functioning which also enables the control of people over others. Whilst a feminist poststructuralist framework enables understanding of the constructs of support groups, discourse around them, as well as possibilities for change in women and their lives, it also provides for discourse around how social power is exercised, in the context of this research, within the groups themselves and more significantly, by the state. The concept of intersectionality will also be applied in the analysis of how different groups seem to construct their identities and services rendered. Intersectionality is a feminist theoretical framework which examines how race, gender, class, ethnicity and other social divisions intersect in the discrimination of women. Furthermore, intersectionality will be used to explain how differences amongst women and groups may be transcended to construct solidarity mobilisation for transformation.


M.A. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg 2013.


Women--Services for--South Africa--Pietermaritzburg., Non-governmental organizations--South Africa--Pietermaritzburg., Women--South Africa--Pietermaritzburg--Social conditions., Theses--Gender studies.