Where are the women in our testosterone politics?

2012-05-05 11:31

There is a whiff of testosterone about the ANC’s early horse trading for its top six leadership positions.

Less than eight months before the party’s elective congress in Mangaung, the ANC’s women seem to have given up the fight for equal representation at the very top of the party’s leadership.

The candidate lists in circulation all feature only one or two women in these positions, seemingly placed there as an afterthought.

The ANC will discuss women’s leadership again at its policy conference next month, but for the ANC Women’s League, the debate will not be about numbers but rather about “genderising the discussion documents” – making sure that women are on top when it comes to policy.

The gender lobby scored a victory of sorts at the ANC’s 2007 congress in Polokwane by getting equal representation on the party’s powerful national executive committee (NEC).

But for the six really important jobs – president, deputy president, secretary-general, deputy secretary-general, chairperson and treasurer-general – no quota was set and women were elected in the least powerful of these: chairperson (Baleka Mbete) and deputy secretary-general (Thandi Modise).

Mbete’s is the highest position to which a woman has ever been elected in the party.

The ANC’s discussion document on organisational renewal says the party should talk again about how its top six officials are defined.

The party wants to amend its constitution “to include the officials as one of the leadership collectives with clear collective responsibility and accountability”.

Should the gender lobby push for officials to be defined as a structure, it will be able to argue that 50% should be women because it is ANC policy to fill half of all its structures with women.

But ANC Women’s League president Angie Motshekga said this wasn’t on the cards for now. The league will discuss ANC policy issues at the end of the month.

“The numbers were not one of the issues,” Motshekga said; whether ANC policy generally focuses on giving women a better deal was.

She admitted there was some concern over women being squeezed into apparently less powerful positions – such as deputy secretary-general.

Across the branches, only 27% of chairpersons are women.

“We must get the number of chairs right,” she said. “Politics is about power, not just about members.”

Motshekga said this issue wasn’t fought on principle in Polokwane.

“It was about a certain slate (candidate list) and not about pushing women – that is why it didn’t get lots of support. The women’s league refused to go along with this.”

But an ANC NEC member who supported former president Thabo Mbeki said: “The top six officials are a strategic political apex of the ANC and you can’t have it not reflecting what the party stands for – non-sexism and equality.”

Mbeki’s list had Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma for deputy president, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka for treasurer-general and Thoko Didiza for deputy secretary-general. Zuma’s slate had Mbete for chairperson and Modise for deputy secretary-general.

In the ANC’s discussion document on gender, the league says there is a need to create “a women-friendly environment that is gender sensitive”.

It remains to be seen if they’re prepared to push the issue any further than that.

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