Course content Hide from category page Materials Minisite Rethinking Freedom

Feminism & Freedom

About this course

Various political traditions have been seized with the questions: “what is the meaning of freedom?” “who should enjoy freedom?” and “what is the content of this freedom?“. Different theoretical traditions provide different answers to these questions. The starting points are different, and so are the emancipatory visions. As an intellectual and political project, feminism grapples with women’s status in society, gender roles, gendered power relations and how various political traditions exclude women from their visions of freedom. From multiple angles, feminism provides a critical evaluation of the core claims and visions of freedom contained in political traditions such as liberalism, anti-colonial struggles, Marxism etc. This module will set up a conversation between some of the major currents of feminist thought, and political traditions such as liberalism, Marxism, and anti-colonial nationalism. With a focus on the different strands of feminism and where they stand in relation to these theoretical traditions, this module will explore broadened and enriched ideas of freedom. The module will also explore how – through interventions like queer theory – different currents of feminism have been challenged and critiqued for their incompleteness, blind-spots and exclusions. At the end of the module participants will assess whether feminism offers a radical vision of freedom in a world that is punctuated by horrifying levels of gender-based violence, inequality, the policing and surveillance of women’s bodies, and a lack of reproductive justice.

This module aims to answer these questions:

  1. How does feminism help us to defend freedom?
  2. How does feminism give us expanded notions of freedom?
  3. How does feminism give us insights that are neglected in other traditions?

Course outline

Day 1: Introduction

Day 2: Why Feminism

Day 3: Freedom and the Feminist Challenge

Day 4: Feminism, Freedom and Subversive Voices

Day 5: Wrapping Up

Materials Minisite Rethinking Freedom Video

Big Data & Freedom

Today, computers are integrated into everyday life and everything we do. Computer-mediated experiences – be they in the form of using a smartphone, social media, an app, email, location services, search engines – produce enormous amounts of data every day which can be analysed and used for various purposes by different actors in society such as businesses and government institutions. While many hail this as an era of great promise, recent developments have also opened up a discussion about the extent to which ‘big data’ is a threat to freedom.

Clip here for a quick run-through on this issue – it’ll take just 10min!

Course content Materials Minisite

Gender, Power & Consent Workshop

Part of our struggle as activists in creating a more equitable and just world is the need to rethink our ideas and practices around gender, power and consent. While the need for change in the world on these issues is overwhelming, the idea that we need to challenge our own practices in our movements and organisations is equally important. In an effort to contribute to this area of work, we at Tshisimani Centre for Activist Education have (in collaboration with Equal Education) created a set of materials for a workshop that can be run as presented here or adapted to your needs as required.

Key focus areas are:

  • understanding how gender stereotypes are constructed;
  • gender relations in organisational settings and social justice movements;
  • types of sexual harassment and understanding consent.

We suggest facilitators start by having a discussion with participants about the necessity of being sensitive and respectful during the process, and how feelings of discomfort and vulnerability might arise but are part of the process of learning and change.

In addition to this facilitators working with organisations or other groups that will continue to work together in the future should conclude with the drawing up of a charter outlining a way forward that will foster a progressive and welcoming space for everyone participating in that space going forward.

Download the full Facilitator Guide

Session 1: Introduction

Activity 1: Some facts on global gender inequality


This exercise is intended to highlight that the position of women is key to ANY struggle for social justice, whether it be health, housing, education, sexual harassment, or violence against women and girls.

Resources required:

Notes to facilitator:

Read the handout (there is a linked infographic that can be handed to participants to make the activity more visually engaging and accessible), and discuss responses with participants.

  • What do these facts tell us about the world and the position of women in it?
  • How do we feel about this?

Activity 2: What are the aims of this workshop?


To give participants a sense of the day to come, and the direction in which the facilitators will be heading.

Resources required:

  • N/A
  • N/A

Notes to facilitator:

Outline the programme and the intended objectives:

  • Understanding gender, gender stereotyping and discrimination, patriarchy and positionality;
  • Understanding how these play out in our personal lives, and in our social and work spaces;
  • Understanding consent, and which behaviours are unacceptable and harmful (such as sexual harassment);
  • Developing a set of principles to foster an organisational culture that is a welcoming and safe space for all staff, in our day-to-day interactions and practices.

Activity 3: Our position


Reinforce the need to see gender equality as part of a prefigurative politics and successful movement building, and to highlight the link between the personal and political.

Resources required:

Notes to facilitator:

Read and discuss with participants the provided quotes by Thomas Sankara and bell hooks and lift out any insights and comments participants may have. What do they have in common? What differences do they have in emphasis and focus?

Activity 4: Sex, gender and sexuality


To understand the difference between sex, gender and sexuality.

Resources required:

Notes to facilitator:

Divide the group into three small groups (depending on the number of participants). Each small group is given a A1 sheet of card/paper to write on.

  • Each person in Group 1 will write down what they understand the term ‘sex’ to mean.
  • Each person in Group 2 will write down what they understand the term ‘gender’ to mean.
  • Each person in Group 3 will write down what they understand the term ‘sexuality’ to mean.
  • Allow participants 5 minutes to complete this task.
  • Display these on a wall or flipchart, and read the results to plenary. Note the similarities and discrepancies in the responses.
  • Explain each term to the plenary group, and discuss.

Session 2: Gender stereotyping & power relationships in society today

Activity 1: Addressing our own gender stereotypes. What does it mean to be told to “man-up” or “act like a lady”?


To lift out the gender stereotypes in our society, and to look at the negative biases they carry.

Resources required:

  • Markers; paper/card/Box Stereotypes; brightly coloured sticky notes; prestik

Notes to facilitator:

Ask the participants to draw from personal experience, and think about what it means when they are told to “act like a lady” or to “man-up”.

Divide participants into small groups and give them these instructions:

  • Draw 2 large boxes on each sheet of paper (or print out the large templates provided to A2/A1 size), one titled “man up!” and the other, “act like a lady”.
  • Using the sticky notes and markers, write down the words or phrases that describe how you are expected to act when these ‘instructions’ are given to you. Stick these onto the drawn boxes/provided template on the wall.
  • Think of how you might be perceived (by colleagues, comrades, family, community etc.) when your behaviour doesn’t fit into these boxes. What are the words or phrases that describe this? Each group should have an anchor person who will write the associated words and phrases outside of the boxes.

Discuss reflections and commentary in plenary.

Activity 2: Introduction to the social construction of gender


To encourage participants to challenge socially-constructed ideas about gender.

Resources required:

Notes to facilitator:

Use slide presentation 2 to understand the following concepts:

  • Social constructs
  • Gender stereotypes
  • Evolving cultural perceptions around gender
  • Gender as performance
  • The gender binary vs gender as a spectrum

Activity 3: Gender stereotypes in our society and organisations


To highlight the prevalence of prescriptive gender roles and the ways in which they can be harmful to individuals and organisations involved in social justice work.

Resources required:

Notes to facilitator:

When are gender stereotypes or stereotypical ideas of gender roles harmful/dangerous in organisational or activist spaces? How do these understandings of gender hinder social justice work?

Facilitators can choose from the selection of readings provided on women’s struggles in the workplace, social movements or other organisations.

Ask the participants to read the text/s in groups of no more than 5 (where possible) and use the following question as a guide for a discussion:

  • In what ways do sexism and prescriptive gender roles play out in your workplace or organisations?

Groups to report back in plenary.

Session 3: The insidious nature of sexual harassment – creating a comfortable and welcoming environment

Activity 1: Sexual Harassment World Café


To lift out the various behaviours that are inappropriate and cause discomfort in the workplace or organisations. The process should clarify the more subtle micro-aggressions people experience, how to tell the difference between welcome and unwelcome gestures, and help participants understand why these are problematic.

Resources required:

  • 3 A0/A1 sheets of card (contrasting colours); Labels

Notes to facilitator:

Introduce the participants to the notion that while there are clearly defined cases of sexual harassment, there are many more subtle interactions that can leave people feeling exposed, vulnerable and disempowered. These behaviours can create an uncomfortable, even toxic working space, and be difficult to confront due to a multitude of reasons including the fear of repercussions or of not being taken seriously.

It is important to provide a trigger warning at this point, as the exercise may surface some uncomfortable emotions and experiences.

Divide the participants into 3 groups and task each group to take a sheet of card, markers, and one of the labels. Ask each group to create a list on the card under one of the following labels:

  1. Unwelcome interactions between co-workers which are non-verbal & non-physical and make individuals uncomfortable.
  2. Unwelcome interactions between co-workers which are verbal and make individuals uncomfortable.
  3. Unwelcome interactions between co-workers which are physical and make individuals uncomfortable.

Once completed allow groups to view each others’ lists of unwelcome interactions, and then bring them to the plenary group for discussion. Go through each list and facilitate a discussion in which participants explore the commonalities between their experiences, what they find surprising, what the differences are between welcome and unwelcome behaviours and how to recognise, and why they think these behaviours continue to flourish.

Session 4: Sexual harassment, consent and power

Activity 1: Introduction – Sexual harassment in organising spaces


To highlight how prevalent sexual harassment is and how it manifests in movements/organising spaces.

Resources required:

Notes to facilitator:

Building on the ‘Sexual Harrasment World Café’ activity, provide an overview of sexual harassment and its prevalence in activist/organising spaces.

Sexual harassment is pervasive across many social spaces and institutions:

  • Workplaces (factories, offices), universities, religious institutions, trade unions, student organisations, social movements, civil society.
  • It is one of the major indicators of unequal relations in society, especially between men and women.
  • While most organisations commit to an environment that is free of sexual harassment, there are still far too many cases of sexual harassment within movement spaces.

Sexual harrasment can take many forms, including the following:

  • Unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct. Physical conduct of a sexual nature includes all unwanted physical contact, ranging from touching to sexual assault and rape.
  • Verbal forms of sexual harassment include unwelcome innuendoes, suggestions and hints, sexual advances, comments with sexual overtones, sex-related jokes or insults or unwelcome graphic comments about a person’s body etc.
  • Non-verbal forms include unwelcome gestures, unwelcome sexually explicit electronic messages, indecent exposure, and the unwelcome display of sexually explicit pictures and objects.
  • Quid pro quo harassment occurs where a person with more power, undertakes or attempts to influence the process of employment, promotion, training, discipline, dismissal or other benefits of a person with less power, in exchange for sexual favours.
  • Sexual favouritism – a person in a position of power and authority rewarding only those who respond to his/her sexual advances.

Activity 2: Sexual harassment myths and realities


There are many commonly held ideas about sexual harassment that are taken as true and uncontested. This session aims to explore some common myths about sexual harassment and the implications they carry for the struggle against patriarchy.

Resources required:

Notes to facilitator:

Divide participants into groups. Give each group a short statement that introduces a popular myth about sexual harassment in the workplace. On a worksheet, request the participants to share some thoughts about the statement:

  • Where have you heard this before?
  • Do you agree with the statement? Is it myth or reality?
  • What are the implications of this statement/belief?

While some statements may appear obvious, some will be harder to determine and members of each group will most likely debate and have disagreements about them. It is important for the facilitator to encourage respectful discussion and active listening.

Reconvene the groups in plenary to share their reports on the discussions. The facilitator can open the discussion to the floor. It is important to note that these myths are context-specific. Feel free to draw your own list of myths that might be more applicable to your context.

As a facilitator, be ready provide additional examples and to elaborate.

Activity 3: Envisioning a culture of consent


To encourage participants to think more deeply about consent and identify when it is and is not given.

Resources required:

  • N/A
  • Flipchart; coloured card; scissors; markers

Notes to facilitator:

Based on discussions around the popular myths on sexual harassment and assault, ask buzz groups of between 5 and 10 participants to identify key words associated with a culture of consent. These words will be used to populate a chart on Consent Culture.

Together in plenary, ask the participants to explore a separate and contrasting chart that depicts what consent is NOT. Wrap this activity up by reinforcing the discussion on the pervasive nature of sexual harassment and its implications for activists and their movements.

Session 5: A charter to foster a progressive and welcoming space

Activity 1: Creating a charter


To develop a shared set of principles and guidelines which will enable everyone to feel comfortable and welcome.

Resources required:

  • N/A
  • Flip-chart paper; markers

Notes to facilitator:

Ask participants to break into small groups of no more than 10, and discuss how their gender effects their experience of life and work.

Have them draft a set of principles that will foster an organisational culture that is welcoming and create a safe space for all within it.

Participants should report back to plenary to combine the principles into a single charter that everyone can unite around.

Other resources & activities

Resource/Activity 1: Visual glossary


To develop an understanding of the terms and issues around gender, sexuality, sexism and patriarchy.

Resources required:

Notes to facilitator:

This a visual glossary that can be used as a short game to encourage learning and discussion, or the completed version can be used as a take-home resource.

As a game, split the participants into groups of 2–4, and task the participants to place the correct definitions next to the terms on the handout.

Once the participants have completed this task, ask them to discuss in plenary what they have learned, and what terms they felt were missing.

Resource/Activity 2: Tea & Consent


To provide a simple explanation of how consent works, and its importance.

Resources required:

Video Linked below:

Notes to facilitator:

Because this resource uses the technique of metaphor, it is crucial for the facilitator to distill the important messages and ideas it communicates after the clip has been shown.

Public Series & Schools Umthombo Wolwazi

Umthombo Wolwazi Facilitator Camp 2020

Mon 30 Nov – Thu 3 Dec 2020

Umthombo Wolwazi is changing. After three years of study, we now have a cadre (group) with a deep understanding of history, politics and ideas. We have studied The Communist Manifesto and interrogated the relationship between race and class in explaining the South African reality. We have studied the theory and history of revolutions in Cuba, Venezuela, Burkina Faso and Germany, as well as contemporary struggles for freedom in Sudan and Zimbabwe. We have studied decoloniality, COVID-19 and our world, and the transition to democracy in South Africa.  

The sessions we have hosted on Fridays, twice a month in Khayelitsha, have been designed and facilitated by Tshisimani staff.  Umthombo members have given input about what we should study and, at times, decided what this should be. In the past, comrades have done research and prepared presentations, and at every session there is group-work and report-back from participants, often in quite creative ways. Participants are involved in setting up the venue, distributing food and masks, and making sure that comrades sign the register. 

However, what was contemplated from the end of 2020 goes much further than this. The core cadre (group) of Umthombo Wolwazi will be trained and supported to play an active role in content creation and facilitation of sessions, and this cadre will eventually start their own reading groups in their organisations and communities. The intention of this is to allow for the personal and political development of this cadre, decrease reliance on Tshisimani and expand the reach of political education.  

This Facilitator Camp is the first, exciting step in this process. Over the four days, we combined theory and praxis (action and reflection), used active learning strategies, and consistently analysed and reflected on the learning process.   

Full Programme of Camp

Day 1: Connecting the personal and the political through popular education

We learn about the roots and principles of popular education and The Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Paulo Freire), and think through active learning strategies that enable us to establish a democratic and dialogic learning space.

Day 2:  Facilitation

We discuss what makes a good facilitator and what every facilitator should be thinking about and trying to achieve.

Day 3: Designing a learning event

We come to understand the different elements that go into designing a learning programme, and practice these skills by designing workshops of our own.

Day 4: Evaluation

We evaluate the Camp and look to the future, discussing Umthombo Wolwazi in 2021 and beyond.