Snubbing quotas for women in politics, snubs transformation

2014-02-17 00:00

WHILE South Africa celebrates 20 years of democracy this year, the country will also be holding its national election, for the first since 1994, without Madiba. If the past two months are anything to go by, we will surely witness one of the most interesting, perhaps entertaining, elections yet.

With a likely drop in the African National Congress (ANC) vote, we will also see a decline in women’s representation in government, hampering this major stride made in the past two decades.

Mamphela Ramphele’s recent floor-crossing fiasco between her own party, Agang, and the official opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), has squandered any potential increase in women’s representation that Agang or the DA-Agang union may have brought to the elections.

Although the Women Empowerment and Gender Equality (WEGE) draft bill would not have made a difference to the upcoming elections, the probable decline in women’s representation may compel naysayers to eat their words.

In line with the SADC Gender and Development Protocol that South Africa has signed and ratified, the WEGE aims to ensure 50% representation of women in all decision-making structures in government and private entities.

Last week, the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry snubbed the bill. Chamber president Janine Myburgh said, “It is time Parliament stopped wasting time on unrealistic legislation like the Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill, and dealt with the real problems of the country.”

Even more problematic, she implied that it is “natural” that some careers would be more appealing to men than to women.

After 20 years of democracy, women occupy only 23% of economic decision-making positions and make up only four percent of CEOs of private companies.

Women constitute 59% of those infected with HIV. Over three quarters (77%) of women in Limpopo, 51% in Gauteng, 39% in the Western Cape and 37% in KwaZulu-Natal, have experienced some form of violence in their lifetime. These are just a few reasons why gender inequality is a very real problem in this country.

There are some valid arguments against the bill. In addition, there are many gaps that fail to address the root causes of gender inequality. Furthermore, it seems absurd and counterproductive to have the Traditional Courts Bill, which seriously threatens women’s empowerment, pending at the same time. The primary argument against the WEGE is that it offers nothing new, and better implementation of the existing legislation is rather the key to gender equality.

Proper implementation of the many laws that have bearing on gender equality, such as our all-encompassing Constitution, the Equity Act, Domestic Violence Act and Sexual Offences Act, is undeniably the answer. However, this bill aims at enforcing implementation and does, in fact, offer something new: legislated quotas for women. Legislated quotas are anything but a “waste of time”. Evidence from all over the world shows that special measures are needed to ensure greater representation of women in politics.

Through mapping voluntary, constitutional and legislated quotas across southern Africa, the 2013 SADC Gender Protocol Barometer shows that in both local government (37%) and Parliament (38%), countries with quotas have a far higher representation of women than those without (16% for Parliament and nine percent for local government).

South Africa has no legislated quotas. The ruling ANC adopted a voluntary 30% quota for women in 2002. In 2007, it raised it to 50% at both national and local level. The ANC also adopted a 50/50 quota for national elections in 2009. It is currently the only party that has a voluntary quota for women.

Since 1994, women’s representation has steadily increased, primarily due to the ANC’s quota. Women’s representation in Parliament has risen from 28% after the 1994 elections, to 30% in 1999, 33% in 2004 and 44% after the 2009 elections. Local government representation followed a similar trend. However, in the 2011 local government elections, women’s representation declined from 40% to 38%, because of a decline in the ANC’s majority.

The ANC will almost certainly lose votes in the upcoming elections due to widespread dissatisfaction with ANC leadership. The discontent is attributable to a lack of service delivery, brutal and excessive force at the hands of the police, corruption, e-tolls and President Jacob Zuma’s R290 million Nkandla homestead built with taxpayers’ money. For similar reasons, in December 2013, the National Union of Metal Workers (Numsa), threatened to break away from the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and the Tripartite Alliance, saying it will not support the ANC in the next elections.

Julius Malema’s new Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has gained substantial ground with the youth and workers. Despite Malema’s poor track record and blatant opportunistic electioneering, the EFF is bound to garner votes that would have gone to the ANC.

These developments, and the probable distribution of votes away from the ANC, are positive shifts within our political landscape. They also demonstrate people’s desire for substantial change in this country. But, because parties have not taken gender parity in their political structures seriously and have snubbed quotas as they have the WEGE, all this will come at a cost. As always, women will bear the brunt. The over-reliance on the ANC’s majority to shore up women’s representation will demonstrate just how costly it will be in the next election.

Considering this country’s history, in 20 years South Africa has come exceptionally far. But with the inequalities and social injustices that persist, we have to admit that it has not been 20 years of democracy, but rather 20 years — ostensibly — towards democracy. When it comes to gender equality, it has been two decades of strides, back-steps and stagnation. Although numbers do not guarantee the achievement of gender equality and do not ensure change, critical mass remains a prerequisite for transformation.

• Katherine Robinson is the editor and communications manager at Gender Links.

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