File photo: Ayanda Ndamane / African News Agency (ANA)
File photo: Ayanda Ndamane / African News Agency (ANA)

Glass ceiling in politics for women needs to be smashed

By Lefatshe Moagi-Venter Time of article published May 16, 2019

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Women make up 29 545 500 of the 57 725 600 population in South Africa, according to the most recent Statistics SA release.

The country has just ended its 2019 elections, which have been declared free and fair.

Yet, is this fair in relation to women’s representation? It is unfortunate that several political analysts overlooked the manner in which gender representation was being touted in the elections, and this comes predominantly from political parties not having a fair representation of women in leadership positions.

In the run-up to the elections, political party manifestos were merely describing the needs of women as subjective, not as direct participants.

There is a lack of commitment from political parties to promote quotas for women in leadership positions. According to the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC), 14 706 694 million females registered to vote and tens of thousands of young people aged between 20 and 29 registered for the elections but did not vote.

We must ask why women are not well represented within political structures but outnumber males in the country.

Also, there seems to be no stability for women leaders in politics. Take the case of Mamphela Ramphele, former leader of Agang SA, who eventually left the party, and the dilemma of Makhosi Khoza, who formed the African Democratic Change party.

Both parties were formed by women, yet led by men. Also, both parties were never eligible for a seat in Parliament.

Out of 48 political parties which contested the elections, fewer than five were led by women, including Women Forward, the National Freedom Party and the Good party.

Some political parties may have a 50% party representation on their list, yet there is no political will to encourage women to put themselves forward for positions in government structures and the cabinet.

We need a programme to be initiated by the government on the grassroots level to promote women in politics. We need to encourage capacity building and mentorship programmes for women, and they must be enforced to enhance the development of youth and women.

We have seen women representation in the National Assembly trickling down from 43% in 2009 to 41% between 2014 and 2017.

The leadership representation in governance structure does not mirror the similar representation on a national level of 52%.

Structures such as the IEC should make it a comprehensive policy not to allow political parties access to register for elections if their leadership hierarchy doesn't provide for women leaders. If such measures were taken, perhaps the representation of women would change.

The government and IEC have to encourage the transition of leadership to accommodate women and encourage gender development through political party representation.

South Africa needs to ensure that female representation is on a par with other countries globally.

As it stands, with the elections over, we will see if the state is determined to change the trajectory of the participation of women in decision-making. To do so, women need to be well represented in the cabinet.

The UN has long argued it is fundamental for women and youth equality for them to be in decision-making structures.

The absence of gender-quota legislation will see a low representation of women, and political parties not being accountable to the commitment of empowering women.

Moagi-Venter is a lecturer for the International Relations Unit at Unisa and the Afrikan feminism co-ordinator: Thabo Mbeki African Leadership Institute

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