News & events


Changing Social Norms Around Gender-Based Violence: What is the Relationship Between Social Norms and Material Conditions?

27 November 2009
12:00 - 14:00

Date :

27 November 2009

Time :

12:00 – 14:00

Presenters :

Dr Yvette Abrahams, Commissioner, Commission for Gender Equality


A Brief Overview: 

The first part of the title  refers to the Network On Violence Against Women’s current campaign, which is easily the most ambitious effort hitherto to change patterns of Gender Based Violence (GBV). It is a fantastic experiment in social change, and my few comments are intended to be of some humble use in their work.

The question is: If one analyses GBV as a method of extracting free labour from women (currently about 30 % of GDP), and compulsory heterosexuality -which implies women’s sexual availability to patriarchs – as a means of reproducing abundant cheap labour power for capitalist production, then how far can we go in changing social norms without changing the material conditions in which these norms thrive? Clearly, the relationship between norms and material conditions is not mechanistic.

Our 1996 Constitution, for instance, is a clear example of a case where norms and values lie far ahead of our ability to deliver. However, it is equally clear that norms and values do not exist in isolation. When an abused woman, for example, is not able to gain access to a women’s shelter because ithe shelter has a six-month waiting list, cannot acquire independent title to a house, and (like farm workers) hold only an informal title to a job mediated through a husband or male partner. Such a woman may develop norms and values that enable her to live with a situation of intolerable violence. She may pass such norms on to her daughter.

In short, my presentation will look at the extent to which women are able to become a “class” for themselves. That is, the extent to which they are able to mobilise a collective activist consciousness that strives to liberate women rather than enable them to endure, under currently existing material conditions.   In this respect, it is going to be incredibly exciting to follow the work of the Network, which will explore empirically what I discuss here theoretically.

Download the presentation from the seminar


The audio presentation from the seminar is available for download


Kindly RSVP by 25 November 2009


HSRC Cape Town: HSRC, 12th Floor, Plein Park Building (Opposite Revenue Office), Plein Street , Cape Town. Contact Vuyokazi Ngxubaza, Tel (021) 4668004, Fax (021) 461 0299, or, Cell: 082 0508453.

HSRC Durban: First floor HSRC board room, 750 FRANCOIS ROAD, Ntuthuko Junction, PODS 5 and 6, Cato Manor. Contact Johannes Khoele, Tel (031) 2425400, Cell; 084 2406 003 or

HSRC Pretoria: HSRC Video Conference, 1st floor HSRC Library Human Sciences Research Council, 134 Pretorius Street, Pretoria. Contact Arlene Grossberg, Tel: +27 (0) 12 302 2811, e-mail: or Baby Twala, Tel: 012 3022368 – E-mail: