Men must stir the equity stew

2011-04-23 10:36

There have been numerous ­attempts to promote the ­participation of women in politics in southern Africa, yet the region is sadly still lagging behind in reaching these goals.

These attempts include the Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa which requires governments to “take specific positive action to promote the equal participation of women in the political life of their countries through affirmative action, enabling ­national legislation and other measures”.

Another is the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development, which provides that governments must “endeavour that, by 2015, at least 50% of decision-making positions in the public and private sectors are held by women including the use of affirmative action measures”.

It requires governments to adopt ­legislative and other measures that will enable women to have equal opportunities with men to participate in all electoral processes. South Africa has acceded to both of these instruments.

At national level, the electoral code of conduct enjoins every registered party and candidate to “facilitate the full and equal participation of women in political activities”.

Have we adhered to these standards?According to Stats SA’s 2009 mid-year population figures, women make up 52% of the population. About 55% of registered voters are women.

Unfortunately the statistics on the number of female candidates and elected representatives tell a different story.

The number of female councillors increased from 16% in 2000 to 35% in 2006. Female candidates for the coming elections are at a mere 37%.

This progress, small as it might be, must be welcomed in a country in which, 17 years ago, women suffered the worst forms of oppression and discrimination.

What steps must the government take to ensure that it achieves the SADC 50% quota in 2015?

It all starts with political parties. In the 2009 elections, only the ANC managed to achieve the quota. Still, the women’s share in political ­representation in South Africa is far short of an equitable quota.

It is a pity that it is taking longer than envisaged to eradicate the patriarchal ­system which undermines and oppresses and marginalises women.

Political parties should be pioneers of gender equality since their countries have signed declarations, which are binding.

Most developing countries introduced electoral gender quotas during the 1990s, mainly due to the influence of the UN Conference on Women being held in ­Beijing.

On the other hand, most developed countries adopted gender quotas 10 or 15 years prior to this conference.

A dramatic change has taken place in the established rank order of countries regarding the level of women’s political representation.

The Nordic countries, which for many years were almost alone at the top of the list, are now being challenged by amazingly fast developments in a number of countries across the globe.

For example, Rwanda superseded Sweden as number one in the world in terms of women’s parliamentary representation – 49% against Sweden’s 45%, and has more than 50% of seats for female legislators since 2008.

The only way South Africa can ensure that it fulfils its international and regional obligation of advancing the equal participation of women in politics is through the legislated quota system.

To rely on the good faith of political parties to do the right thing is not sufficient. Women alone will never address the root cause of the problem however creative the ideas might be.

Having more male gender activists is the real key to positive change.

South Africa’s traditions and cultures, which have deeply infused South African men’s notions about women’s proper roles, must undergo radical changes to adjust to a universal culture of real ­gender equality in all walks of life.

» Tlakula is chief executive of the Independent ­Electoral Commission

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