South Africa Misses The Mark on Women in Politics

inequality politics women representation
Wednesday, 28 May, 2014 - 08:57

South Africa should embrace instruments such as the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, to advance women’s representation in all spheres of government 

Following the elections and President Jacob Zuma's recent cabinet appointments, South Africa has missed its last opportunity - so tantalisingly close - to achieve gender parity in politics ahead of the 2015 deadline.
 
The 50 percent target for women's representation in all areas of decision-making is enshrined in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development adopted in South Africa in 2008.
 
South Africa came under the spotlight at the SADC Protocol@Work summit on 27 May 2014, under the theme, ‘50/50 by 2015, and a Strong Post- 2015 Agenda’. The summit brings together 350 activists and government officials from across the region in the final countdown to 2015 - the deadline for the 28 targets of the Protocol.  
 
Women's representation in parliament dropped from 44 percent in the 2009 elections to 40 percent in the 7 May 2014 polls, while that of women in provincial legislatures dropped from 41 to 37 percent. Following the announcement of the new cabinet at the weekend, women in cabinet remain at 41 percent. The proportion of women premiers dropped from 55 percent in 2009 to 22 percent in 2014. In the 2011 local elections, women's representation dropped from 40 percent to 38 percent.
 
"South Africa is the one country that should have hit the bull's eye," said Gender Links chief executive officer, Colleen Lowe Morna. The reason for the drop, she noted, "is that South Africa has steadfastly refused to adopt a legislated quota, leaving this to the whims of political parties." 
 
The relatively high numbers owed to the ruling African National Congress' [ANC] 50 percent quota. "But the ANC has not always stuck to its quota. And as its majority has declined, both at national and local level, so has the representation of women," Lowe-Morna noted. "We rest our case: the issue is too important to leave to the fate of political parties."
 
The ANC adopted a voluntary 30 percent quota for women in 2002, and upped this to 50 percent in 2009. However, the party did not live up to this quota nor did they stick to the zebra proportional representation on the party list, since the first three people on the ANC party list are men.
 
Out of the 249 ANC seats at national level, 115 (46 percent) are held by women. This is a four percent decline from 2009.
 
The main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) has always been averse to quotas. Helen Zille came under fire for appointing an all-male cabinet in the Western Cape in 2009. Women hold only 27 of the 89 seats (30 percent). At provincial level, women's representation in the DA declined by four percentage points from 35 percent in 2009 to 31 percent in 2014.
 
In her Western Cape cabinet, Zille boasted that she had increased women's representation by 200 percent as she now has two women in cabinet. She added that she would not discriminate in favour of women because they have X chromosomes or against men because they have Y chromosomes.
 
"This is simplistic and it is disappointing, coming from a woman leader," commented Lowe Morna. "Zille completely ignores the historical imbalances between women and men. Nowhere in the world have these been corrected without deliberate measures to do so."  
 
The new kid on the block, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) got a whopping 25 seats in parliament of which only nine (35 percent) are held by women. At provincial level, the party has 38 percent women. During Women's Month last year, the EFF said they "view the deplorable condition of the majority of women as a slap in the face for women who sacrificed so much for our liberation". With that in mind, although higher than many other parties 35 percent of women is still a slap in the face to gender parity.
 
In another show of blatant gender blindness, the Inkhatha Freedom Party (IFP) continues to demonstrate a disturbing decline after each election. Out of the 10 seats in parliament, only two seats (21 percent) are held by women. This is a one percent decline from 2009, and a 14 percent decline from 2004. The decline also extends to the provincial level, down from 35 percent in 2009 to 20 percent women in 2014.
 
Agang, led by a woman, only got two seats. However party leader Mamphela Ramphele, said she is not going to Parliament because she wants to reflect on her party's disappointing performance, and is putting forward two male MPs.
 
In the 2009 elections, the ANC managed to get 50/50 representation of premiers. In 2014, of the eight provinces that the ANC won, men lead seven, while one province is led by a woman (13 percent). Nationally, there are seven (78 percent) male premiers and two female premiers (22 percent).
 
Cabinet is where women's representation should be equal to that of men as the President has absolute control. But women now constitute 15 (41 percent) of the 37-member cabinet, and 16 (44 percent) of the 36 deputy ministers.
 
Just before the elections, the national assembly passed the Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill. If approved by the National Council of Provinces, the bill will oblige both public and private entities to ensure gender parity. South Africa could have made a head start with its just ended elections. "Missing the mark at this place and time sends out the sad message that patriarchy is still alive and well," noted Lowe Morna.
 
- For more information about the Gender Summit underway as well as the figures of women in government, contact Katherine Robinson on 076 227 6517. A multimedia newsletter with pieces suitable for online radio, video will be sent out for your usage shortly.

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