Melanie Verwoerd

America's 'Khwezi moment'

2018-10-03 08:15
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. (Manuel Balce Ceneta, AP, File)

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. (Manuel Balce Ceneta, AP, File)

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Remember those brave few women who stood up with posters about Jacob Zuma's rape accuser, Khwezi, when he announced the 2016 local government election results? Well, last week America had their "Khwezi moment".  

Last Friday, moments before the Senate committee was due to vote on the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh's appointment as a Supreme Court judge, two women cornered Republican Party senator Jeff Flake. Flake had earlier declared his support for Kavanaugh. This motivated Ana Maria Archila and Maria Gallagher to confront him face-to-face.

As Senator Flake was getting into the lift to go to the committee meeting and with the video cameras rolling the women challenged Flake.

"Look at me when I'm talking to you! You're telling me that my assault doesn't matter!" one woman said.

Flake was clearly shaken by what had happened and a few hours later his intervention secured a FBI investigation into the accusations of sexual abuse levelled against Kavanaugh by Dr Christine Blasey-Ford.

"Now someone has to tell Trump," a shocked Senator Lindsey Graham lamented. "I guess it will have to be me."

It was clear: two ordinary women with no political experience had been able to shift the mighty and masculine political machinery – potentially even changing the course of history in America.

What happens in the next few days in terms of Kavanaugh's confirmation could not only have an impact on the Supreme Court, but also the composition of the House and Senate. The Republicans are in trouble with women – and particularly young women who will vote in the mid-term elections on 6 November.

Millennials for the first time make up the largest group of voters in America. Thus, the 18 to 35-year-old demographic could decide what happens in the midterm elections across the country.

And it is not good news for the Republicans.

According to data from the Pew Research Center, 70% of millennial women identify themselves as Democrats or supportive of Democrats (compared to only half of millennial men).

Donald Trump has certainly not helped with about 53% of millennial women saying that the Trump administration's policies have hurt women. According to a poll conducted in March, just 5% of women aged 18-34 have a very favourable opinion of Trump, compared to 56% who held a very unfavourable opinion.

The gender gap in presidential approval ratings under Trump is also big – about twice as large as those for presidents Obama, Bush and Clinton according to a recent article in The Economist.

This could spell a political shift to the Democratic party if women and specifically millennial women show up to vote next month. In fact, Republicans have admitted that should they confirm Kavanaugh, the House will almost definitely turn blue (Democrat) after the mid-terms as opposed to the Senate which would most probably remain Republican. 

But the outcome is heavily dependent on turn-out.

According to a study "Inside The Complicated World Of The Millennial Woman Voter," a survey from Refinery29 and CBS News, millennial women, like the women of other generations, are more likely than millennial men to get out to the polls come November. The problem is that only 30% of the 18.4 million millennial women in America said they will "definitely" vote in November.

As is the case in South Africa the older demographic have a much higher turn-out and it was this older grouping that secured a victory for Trump in 2016. Surveys show that they haven't changed their support.

In South Africa there is no gender-disaggregated data available of registered voters, or of those who actually voted in the past, but we do know that women constitute more than 50% of the population and could therefore form a powerful voting block.

The 2015 South African Social Attitudes Survey Social showed women were less satisfied with the country's political leadership than men. It is not clear whether this had any direct influence on the outcome of the 2106 local government elections, but times are changing.

With an increased focus on gender-based violence and a rising anger about the government's inability to deal with violence and other gender related issues, women and in particularly younger women voters could increasingly hold a powerful voting leverage which they should use.

This would require a more united voice, which given our history, is very difficult to achieve in South Africa.

In America party political alliances are also extremely strong, but if the polls are in any way to be trusted Trump and the Republican Party might come to learn what we have known for decades: "You strike a woman, you strike a rock. It will unleash a boulder that will crush you." 

- Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    republican party  |  brett kavanaugh  |  khwezi  |  donald trump  |  united states
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