Durban - The municipal elections have failed to give women a bigger role in local government, say activists,who have warned that no improvement was in sight and things could get worse.
And according to Statistics SA, KwaZulu-Natal, in particular, has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to giving women a fair shout in local government.
Activists Janine Hicks and Colleen Lowe Morna, writing for non-governmental organisation Gender Links, found that candidate lists submitted to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) for the elections last week showed that only 40% of the candidates were women.
“Despite the increase in the number of women candidates fielded by political parties for the 2016 local government elections, it seems inevitable that South Africa will fail to make significant progress in meeting its pledged commitment to making the 50-50 principle a reality,” the pair wrote in a paper before the poll.
They said gender disparities emerged when examining party proportional representation lists as opposed to ward candidates, however it appeared parties promoted gender equality in leadership positions.
This followed a “historic” decrease of women participation in local government from 40% in 2006 to 38% in 2011.
The duo’s analysis chimes with Statistics South Africa findings that, as at last year, only 3 792 (39%) of the country’s 9 676 councillors were women.
“There has been no change in female representation between 2011 and 2015, with 39% recorded both years,” the StatsSA survey said.
Mpumalanga and Limpopo had recorded the highest proportion of women councillors at 43%, while the Western Cape and KZN had the lowest, with 35% and 33% respectively.
StatsSA found that the representation of women mayors was lower than before in the 2011-15 period.
“Nationally, 277 of South Africa’s 278 municipalities had a sitting mayor, 106 (38%) were women,” it said.
It also found that gender representation among women mayors had dropped from 42% in 2011 to 38% in the last municipal elections.
Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga and Limpopo were credited for a rise in proportion of women mayors, according to StatsSA.
But, Hicks and Morna noted that the ANC was the only party that had adopted a voluntary 50% quota for women’s representation.
“This, coupled with the PR system, has been a powerful tool for increasing women’s political representation since the advent of democracy in 1994,” they wrote.
They said it was left to the parties to introduce measures to ensure women’s equal representation in the absence of a mandatory 50% quota system.
“All South African parties argue that this should be left to voluntary quotas. The Commission on Gender Equality (CGE), the South African Local Government Association’s Women’s Commission and Gender Links, have long argued that the issue is too important to leave to their whims,” Hicks and Morna said.
On Monday, CGE spokesman, Javu Baloyi, said the absence of a government policy forcing parties to adhere to 50-50 quotas was a major challenge.
“We are calling for the system whereby all the parties who submit to the IEC to do 50/50, if not the IEC should reject their submission.
“As a commission we must ensure the parties are educated that they have to empower women.”
Baloyi also said it was important that women had a higher representation as councillors.
“More women should represent in higher positions so that it can be ensured that more women are represented,” he said.
“We need to sit with them (political parties) and address the issue,” Baloyi said.
DA KZN leader, Zwakele Mncwango, said the party did not believe in a quota system.
“We believe in equal opportunities for all. Our selection of candidates is based on merit and we don’t neglect diversity,” Mncwango said.
“We champion diversity. When you talk of candidates in DA, they must be diverse,” he said.
Mncwango also said it did not matter how many women candidates there were on their lists so long as they were represented.
They should qualify to be on the list on merit, he said.