Gender mainstreaming in political party manifestos: We are not there yet


The gender disaggregated information received from the IEC showed that there were many women registered to vote in the recent national and provincial elections that took place on the 8th of May.

Past patterns have also shown that more women votes were cast at the polls in previous elections. However, the top 6 political parties, the ANC, DA, EFF, IFP, UDM and the VF+, have generally only scraped the surface when addressing issues of gender mainstreaming and women empowerment in their manifestos.

The purpose of this article is to provide commentary on the depth of consideration for gender mainstreaming by these parties in their manifestos, with emphasis on issues related to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer or questioning, and asexual (LGBTIQA+) community, access to land, gender-based violence (GBV), sex work, and labour.

South Africa has made several commitments to gender equality by acceding to and becoming signatory to various regional and international treaties, covenants and conventions.

These international instruments, such as the Convention of All forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Beijing Platform for Action and Goal five of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aimed at achieving gender equality, emphasise the fact that gender mainstreaming is a cross cutting issue that should be applied to all planned policy actions, legislation and programmes in all areas and levels of society.

Political parties, however, tend to have confined issues of gender equality to safety and security and gender-based violence.

The EFF manifesto appears to be an exception, as the party has detailed the road map on how they will champion gender mainstreaming by decisively enforcing the Equality Act and other related legislation to end unfair discrimination by government and private organisations, in relation to the employment of women and the LGBTIQA+ community among others.

The EFF did well to mainstream the role of women across different fields and were thus considerate of their role and impact within society. The only challenge is with the financial implications brought about by the vast areas of commitment from the party. Presently the implementation of a number of their impressive commitments may not be financially viable or practical.

For the DA, despite its manifesto designating a section to eliminating gender inequality, the party failed to comprehensively mainstream gender across various policy priorities detailed in their manifesto. The ANC, UDM, IFP and VF+ also have sections dedicated to gender but mainly address the issue of GBV.

The LGBTIQ+ community

Twenty-five years after the advent of democracy, the LGBTIQA+ community are confronted by violence, seclusion, discrimination, hate crimes, unfair labour practices to name a few. While some political parties have addressed their plight and ways to address their challenges in their party manifestos, others have not.

The ANC mentioned in passing how maternity benefits will also transcend to the LGBTIQA+ community and how the party had a history of championing their rights, which is a questionable statement given the lack of mention by the party on the LGBTIQA+ community in their 2014 manifesto.

The DA on the other hand advocates for educational programmes to address issues of corrective rape, as well as commits to the establishment of a task team on LGBTIQA+ as a new area of focus.

This is true as the party did not address the LGBTIQA+ community at all in their 2014 manifesto. Although the DA’s section on eliminating gender-based inequality deals with safety and security issues regarding the LGBTIQA+ community, very little is mentioned on the mainstreaming of this community in other areas.

The EFF expanded on the little that was attributed to the LGBTIQA+ community in their 2014 manifesto.

In addressing the LGBTIQA+ community, the EFF focuses on safety and security, adoption, health and sanitary issues, however, unlike the party’s position on women, the LGBTIQA+ community is not mainstreamed to other areas such as mining. Neither the UDM, nor the IFP and VF+ mentioned anything in the area of the LGBTIQA+ community in their manifestos.

Land ownership

The issue on land has gained traction with political parties and the South African public at large, while some have driven the narrative around land as a means of garnering voter support, other political parties have been less forthcoming.

The reality is that many women across the country are highly disadvantaged when it comes to land ownership and the issuing of land in rural and other communities, such that in some instances only through one’s male spouse are women illegible to own land.

Although the ANC addresses land reform through the advancement of access to land and participation in agriculture and rural economies for women, no other details exist on how this will be accomplished.

Unlike the ANC, the DA does not believe in the expropriation of land without compensation nor amending the Constitution. Despite the political party speaking at length about their intentions in land reform, there is no mention on the role of women in their land reform strategy.

Not enough detail exists on the land reform policy from the EFF as well, this is despite advocating for redistribution of land where women and youth would receive a 50% stake in ownership.

The IFP also addresses the issue of access to land and unlike the EFF’s expropriation without compensation, the IFP wants for fair compensation for land. Their manifesto however does not provide details as to how the party will ensure that women will benefit from their land policy.

The UDM provides options and initiatives as to how to deal with rural revitalisation and commendably acknowledges that rural communities suffer from poverty and other disadvantages, with rural women often at the receiving end.

However, the UDM makes no mention of the role of rural women in their land acquisition strategy.

Interestingly the ANC, the EFF, the UDM and the IFP are in favour of continuing and sustaining the status quo and advancement of traditional authorities in their land reform policy, however, none address how women were already disadvantaged by traditional structures in owning land.

The VF+ does not believe in expropriation without compensation but believes that enough land is already owned by the state and available for redistribution, however the VF+ makes no mention of the role of women in this process.

Gender-based violence

At face value, all six major political parties featured in this article appear to be concerned about the endemic levels of GBV in the country.

Specific mentions of the issue of GBV are made in these parties’ manifestos which can be easily interpreted as indicative of the parties’ seriousness and commitment towards tackling the scourge of violence against women and children.

A closer look at pronouncements made on how parties intend to grapple with GBV however raises concerns.

This is because while a side by side analysis of the manifestos reveals similarities among some of the parties’ priorities, such as the need to strengthen the criminal justice system, the overall depth of focus and strategising around the issue however, appears to have been a lazy exercise for some of the parties compared to others.

The idea is not for parties to agree or mimic each other as political parties are traditionally known to differ on ideology and rhetoric.

However, with women constituting the majority of registered voters and generally the majority in terms of the total population, constituting 51.7%, it would be expected for parties to address issues related to women in a more comprehensive and convincing manner.

Where parties appear to have comprehensively conceptualised strategies for tackling the challenge of GBV, such strategies may not be sustainable as parties have failed to demonstrate how GBV programmes will be funded directly from the fiscus.

The DA in particular is guilty of this as it has not identified any new strategies but mostly proposes to improve existing programmes of the ANC led government.

Most of these programmes, however, such as Thuthuzela Care Centres and victim friendly rooms in police stations are currently deteriorating due to lack of budgets and resources.

The DA does not address the issue of funding of GBV programmes satisfactorily.

In the case of the ANC, commitments made by the party appear too weak and vague, which may be a deliberate move by the party considering that most strategies of the ANC led government have in the past either failed completely or are barely clinging on to life.

Programmes such as the 365 Days to end GBV, the accompanying National Action Plan, as well as the National Council on GBV have previously failed and subsequently died out.

The implementation of the Service Charter for Victims of Crime (Victims Charter) on the other hand is neither here nor there.

The EFF has identified a number of approaches with regards to GBV, however, unlike in other sections of the manifesto where the EFF details numbers and figures clearly, nothing is said on funding with respect to GBV.

The IFP, UDM and VF+ manifestos do mention one or two strategies, which suggest that these parties may not fully understand the challenge of GBV or are simply just reluctant to address it.

Sex work

On the topic of sex work, manifestos for the political parties IFP, UDM, VF+ and ironically the ANC are silent and have failed to at least identify the link between sex work and GBV. Sex work is currently criminalised in South Africa and as a result, sex workers are vulnerable to gross human rights violations and stigma.

Human rights violations range from denial to healthcare services by health care workers, as well as rape and harassment by police officers. At the ANC’s 54th national elective conference in 2017, the party took a resolution to decriminalise sex work.

The current president of the ANC and of the country, Cyril Ramaphosa has on several occasions stated that government is working towards decriminalising sex work, the ANC manifesto however, is silent on the matter.

The DA is vague on its position and states that the party would combat the sexual assault and murder of sex workers by “exploring possible legal models around sex work and adopting an alternative legal framework that will reduce exploitation, abuse and rape of young women and men.”

The party’s ambiguity in this regard is unhelpful for sex workers who are currently operating under challenging and life-threatening circumstances. In the case of the EFF, the party has in various public platforms stated that it supports the decriminalisation of sex work.

In its manifesto however, the party commits to the legalisation of sex work instead. The legalisation of sex work as a model is less favourable than decriminalisation as under legalisation the state may still set a number of parameters for sex workers such as subjecting them to mandatory health screens.

Whereas decriminalisation of sex work entails that sex work is not criminalised but functions under the existing framework of labour laws which views it as “real work”.


Although the ANC, the DA, and the UDM acknowledged challenges in labour such as unequal pay, they did not clearly outline how this challenge was going to be dealt with.

The above parties do not indicate much in the breakdown of labour within the South African landscape, particularly how job opportunities tend to favour more males than females as a result of patriarchy and inequality.

This is also despite the Global Wage Report for 2018/19 that revealed that the gender pay gap is as prevalent as ever in South Africa, with women on average making 28% less than men in equivalent positions.

Furthermore, the top six political parties in their manifestos did not clearly delve into mechanisms of addressing this inequality conundrum in the workplace.

It is only the EFF that coherently outlined its plan on dealing with gender inequality in the workplace with the enforcement of already existent policies and the awarding of penalties through the Department of Labour for those failing to comply.

Naledi Selebano, Velenkosini Thubelihle Zitha and Mojalefa Dipholo are Researchers at the Commission for Gender Equality

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