Gender in the 2009 South African election.
Subject: Women in politics (Growth)
Women in politics (Elections)
Women politicians (Growth)
Women politicians (Elections)
Political reform (Demographic aspects)
Elections (Demographic aspects)
Pub Date: 07/01/2009
Publication: Name: Sister Namibia Publisher: Sister Namibia Audience: Academic; General Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences; Women's issues/gender studies Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 Sister Namibia ISSN: 1026-9126
Issue: Date: July, 2009 Source Volume: 21 Source Issue: 2
Topic: Computer Subject: Company growth
Product: Product Code: 9100031 Elections
Geographic: Geographic Scope: South Africa Geographic Name: South Africa Geographic Code: 6SOUT South Africa
Accession Number: 212549476
Full Text: South Africa has soared from 17th to 3rd place in the global ranking of women in parliament following the 22 April elections that saw an 11 percent increase in women's representation in the national assembly, from 34 percent to 45 percent. Only Rwanda (56 percent) and Sweden (47 percent) are now ahead of South Africa. This is the largest increase since the first democratic election in 1994, in which women's representation jumped from 2.7 percent to 27 percent. At provincial level, women's representation has increased from 30 percent to 43 percent, with one province (Limpopo) having 53 percent women.

Elections run by women

The fact that two opposition parties (the Democratic Alliance and Independent Democrats) have women leaders; that the ANC has a woman spokesperson; that the Inkatha Freedom Party fielded a woman candidate in its stronghold Kwa Zulu Natal province and that one woman (the leader of Women First) mounted a party of her own all contributed to challenging the predominantly male face of politics in the elections.

Having two women--Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) chair Brigalia Bam and CEO Pansy Tlakula--running an exemplary election further advanced the standing of women in this election.

Women comprise 55 percent of registered voters. This debunks the myth that women are not interested in politics. However, according to media monitoring conducted by Media Monitoring Africa in the lead up to and during the elections, women comprised a mere 22 percent of news sources.

This shows that women in our society continue to be denied voice in public affairs. The peaceful conduct of the poll--despite this being the most hotly contested election since 1994--enabled women and men to vote freely across the country.

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On target for 2015

The results put the country firmly on course to achieve the Southern African Development Community (SADC) target of 50 percent women in political decisionmaking by 2015. Gender Links attributes the increase in numbers to the African National Congress (ANC's) and Congress of the People (COPE's) 50/50 election lists as well as improvements in women's standing in other opposition parties.

Gender Links congratulates the ANC and COPE for being the only parties in SADC to date to have heeded the targets set by the region. We hope that this will set a precedent for other parties and other elections, notably those soon to take place in Botswana, Namibia and Mozambique.

Fourty-one percent of the new cabinet ministers are women. Of the 14 ministries headed by women, at least eight are in non-traditional areas like correctional services; defence; home affairs; international relations and co-operation; mining; public enterprises; science and technology. This underscores a maturing of our democracy.

It is heartening to see women deputy ministers in the economic cluster, including the new ministry of economic development and the two deputy ministers of trade and industry. Fifteen years into our new democracy women still lag behind in all areas of economic progress; this is neither good for gender equality nor for economic development.

Pros and cons of the new gender ministry

While we do not subscribe to the principle of a women's ministry, we welcome the appointment of former National Education Health and Allied Workers' Union (Nehawu) President Noluthando Mayende-Sibiya, one of the most powerful and influential women in the trade union movement, to this post. Mayende-Sibiya also serves as a co-convener for the South African Progressive Women. She brings a keen appreciation of the role of women in economic development and is an advocate for the recognition and remuneration of the unwaged work of women.

A particular concern for Gender Links going forward is the weak state of the National Gender Machinery. Previously the Office of the Status of Women resided in the presidency, where it could perform a cross cutting function. We now have a ministry, on par with other line functions, that takes on board several other concerns, including youth, children and people with disabilities. We are especially opposed to women and children being relegated to the same ministry. Women are adults who should be empowered to exercise their agency while children need to be cared for by both women and men. This new structure has not been well canvassed or debated and requires clear conceptualisation to be effective in advancing women's rights.

Many challenges ahead

Of the 26 parties that registered, only four had women leaders. The DA, COPE and other parties did not field many women at the top of the national and provincial lists. Indeed even the ANC fielded two men as number one and two on the national list. In the ANC leadership struggle, the possibility of a woman alternative barely featured; not even from the party's own Women's League. The 50/50 principle has thus not been carried to the highest levels of government as South Africa no longer has a woman deputy president.

While President Thabo Mbeki had 60 percent women in deputy ministerial posts, this declined to 38 percent under President Motlanthe, and 39 percent under President Zuma. Deputy ministerial positions are often a training ground for ministers. This decline is therefore regrettable at a time when the ANC has committed itself to gender parity in all areas of decision-making.

The leadership in parliament is now heavily male dominated, with the Speaker, chairperson of the National Council of Provinces and almost all the chief whips and leaders of parties, except for the Independent Democrat's Patricia de Lille, being men.

Representation of women in the NCOP has dropped from 40 percent to 30 percent, with only two out of the 16 women in this structure coming from opposition parties. This again underscores the extent to which the progress towards women's equal representation and participation in decision-making in South Africa rests on the ruling ANC. It underscores the need for renewed vigour in advocating for a legislated 50 percent quota that binds all parties.

White men rule the Western Cape

The main opposition Democratic Alliance, despite being led by a woman, remains averse to quotas stating that it is only interested in "fitness for purpose." It is appalling that Helen Zille's new cabinet in the Western Cape is 75 percent white and has no women other than herself. To suggest that these are the only people "fit for the purpose" in the Western Cape is not only out of keeping with the march of history but may indeed be unconstitutional.

Polygamist president and women's rights

Although he was acquitted of rape charges, ANC leader Jacob Zuma expressed highly worrisome views on women's rights in his rape trial. He is a polygamist; a practice that, although not outlawed, is self-evidently patriarchal, unfair and in all likelihood unconstitutional.

Gender Links calls on President Jacob Zuma to show his commitment to the principles of gender equality enshrined in the Constitution by:

Encouraging debates that promote women's rights, including the debate that started during this election on whether or not polygamy has a place in a constitutional state with gender equality as a cornerstone of its democracy.

Establishing and supporting strong, independent and fearless structures for promoting gender equality, including addressing the current dysfunctionality of the Commission on Gender Equality.

Ensuring that the government of South Africa is at the forefront of the struggle to ensure that all 28 targets set by the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development are met. These include halving gender violence by 2015; ensuring women's equal participation in all areas of economic life; and recognising and remunerating the work of care givers.

This story has been compiled from the following two documents: Gender in the 2009 South African Elections, by Colleen Lowe Morna, Kubi Rama and Lowani Mtonga, Gender Links, 28 April 2009; and New cabinet and elections full of mixed blessing for gender activists, Press release by Gender Links, May 2009

From Gender Links
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