In October, UN Special Rapporteur Dubravka Šimonović presented her report to the 73rd UN General Assembly. The content - violence against women in politics.
In the 21-page report, Šimonović highlighted how women across the world remain under-represented at all levels including those involved in political decision-making.
The report quotes her indicating that only 7.2% of heads of State, 5.7% of heads of government and 23.3% of members of parliament are women.
She further maintains that violence against women in politics is often aimed at preserving traditional gender roles and stereotypes and forging ahead with structural and gender-based inequalities.
Šimonović says these inequalities often take different forms which range from misogyny, sexist verbal attacks, sexual harassment and even femicide.
Šimonović includes a few incidents such as the murder of Jo Cox, a British female politician who was shot and stabbed multiple times in Birstall, West Yorkshire in 2016.
She also includes the death of Afro-Brazilian human rights defender Marielle Franco who was shot four times in the head by assailants in a passing vehicle. Franco, dubbed a brave feminist, was well known for standing up for the rights of the LGBTQ community in the South American region.
In South Africa, ANC ward councillor Esther Mutumane, 43, of ward 19, was in September this year shot and killed in front of her young children in Winterveldt, north-west of Pretoria.
Perhaps the frequency of women politicians killed in South Africa is not at an all-time high. However, SA is a nation confronted by grim levels of femicide. Women from all walks of life continue to perish from violence.
As we head to the polls in the new year, we ought to pause and reflect on what it not only means to be a woman in this country but also what the consequences are for female politicians. Post-1994, we have seen a significant number of women standing up and vying for certain positions in Parliament and municipalities.
The figures are telling of those who, such as Mamphela Ramphele and Patricia De Lille, have sought to establish their own political parties. While their success at leading these parties is subject to great debate, it is necessary not to only look at them but also consider those women in the trenches - the ones at political party branch levels or those who work behind the scenes - and ask ourselves if the political landscape in SA is conducive for them to thrive in.
Goal 8 of the UN calls for gender equality. This call implores all nations to ensure that women and men have the same opportunities. World leaders have given themselves until 2030 to achieve this goal. As a country, we only have 12 years to ensure that women in all spheres of our society are on par with their male counterparts.
Getting women there is not a problem. The challenge, however, is establishing if they can peacefully flourish in spaces that have been long dominated by patriarchy without being threatened with violence or have their credibility questioned. As female councillors contend by-elections, we need to ask ourselves if they have the freedom to do so without guns brandished at them or their families threatened?
Are they able to speak out on corruption and not be sexually violated? If anything has been clear in the history of this country it is that women are not fearful of tackling challenges head-on. The most relevant of these examples is the women of 1956 who, across all races, marched to Pretoria against abusive pass laws.
Let it not be misunderstood. Women in the political arena are well aware of the environment they function in. Even with this knowledge, one is tempted to ask what threat councillor Mutumane posed? What was it about her work or her character that warranted her assassination? In this country, we have seen time and time again moments in which organisations congratulate themselves with how far they have come in closing the gap between female and male leaders.
They have done this by promoting women to higher positions in the hope that they, too, will be recognised as being “pro-woman development”.
The election of Zingiswa Losi as the first Cosatu female president this year is a case in point. But we have to ask ourselves if, in 2019 and going forward, we should still accept that there has to be loud cheers and fanfare whenever women, who are rightfully qualified, are elected to top positions?
We have to ask ourselves why the ANC still has only one woman in its top six? We need to ask ourselves if female politicians in this country truly count for something.
Further, in her report before the UN, Šimonović maintains that violence against women in politics is often not only carried out by state and non-state actors but includes members of political parties, fellow or opposition parliamentarians, voters, media representatives or religious leaders.
She says the discrimination takes place primarily in public but can also occur in the private or domestic sphere. She also points out that perpetrators are not confined to political adversaries adding in many cases, they can be women’s peers, family members or friends trying to discourage them from being politically active.
When we talk of women development in the coming year, can we ensure that we are genuine in our conversations and that political parties and their cadres protect all female politicians against verbal harassment and misogyny, not because they are weak, but because they have a lot to contribute in society.
* Mokati is development content editor at Independent Media