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More women needed in local government

In most communities women are responsible for the well-being of their families through the provision of adequate clean water, safe sanitation and electricity, says the writer. Picture: erinbetzk/Pixabay

In most communities women are responsible for the well-being of their families through the provision of adequate clean water, safe sanitation and electricity, says the writer. Picture: erinbetzk/Pixabay

Published Oct 30, 2021

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By Dr Nozi Mjoli

Although the right to gender equality is enshrined in the 1996 Constitution of South Africa, the majority of women continue to be excluded from participating in decision-making positions within public and private sector institutions.

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This exclusion is responsible for keeping the majority of women living in extreme poverty with a high dependency on social grants.

In most communities women are responsible for the well-being of their families through the provision of adequate clean water, safe sanitation and electricity or alternative sources of energy. Therefore, it is mandatory to include women in decisionmaking structures of municipal councils that approve plans and budgets for sustainable service delivery to local communities. Poor service delivery puts a heavy burden on women who are responsible for taking care of their families.

The local government policy and legislative framework put emphasis on the importance of community involvement in local government decision-making structures to ensure that local service delivery responds to the high priority needs of beneficiary communities. For its part, the national democratic government has put in place enabling policies that enable the promotion of gender equality.

An analysis of the 2016 local government election results showed that 58% of voters were women. This demonstrates that women have the voting power to ensure gender equality in local government by voting more women into leadership positions. It is worth noting that during the 2016 local government elections the ANC had 61% women elected into municipal councils, followed by the EFF with 50% and DA with 34%.

This significant increase in the representation of women in municipal councils could be attributed to the excellent work done by the Salga Women’s Commission on the Journey to Gender Equality (20102016). This commission was launched in 2010 with a mandate of promoting the interests of women in local government through the 50/50 campaign.

It is important to ensure the increase in the representation of women in municipal councils is not limited to meeting gender quotas but is coupled with improvement in local service delivery by drawing from the insights of women, who have a better understanding of the impact of local service delivery on the quality of life for their families and communities.

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Women as managers of households are in a better position to ensure that municipal budgets are allocated to service delivery projects that have the highest impact on the quality of life for their communities.

The following are some of the major constraints to meaningful participation of women as leaders in shaping the local government agenda for their communities:

Men and women are products of patriarchy which, continues to entrench beliefs about the different gender roles in society. Patriarchy gives men a dominant role in their households and in society and women are given a subordinate role to men within the household and in structures of society.

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Gender empowerment programmes have not dedicated enough resources to the elimination of the deeply entrenched beliefs about the low status of women in society which has been perpetuated for centuries.

These beliefs have a negative impact on women’s self-confidence and self-esteem. Men from the day they are born are prepared to be leaders of society, therefore men are always ready to be leaders of their households and society.

The election of more women into municipal councils can create tension in local communities, because men who traditionally held these positions are likely to resort to violence to deter women from accepting nominations to serve on municipal councils.

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Women can also be subjected to sexual harassment and gender-based violence by men who are bitter about losing their leadership positions. The high levels of unemployment and poverty in South Africa make the competition for election into municipal councils dangerous, with some willing to kill the competitors.

The contestation for election into municipal councils has become a dangerous terrain for women who only want to serve their communities without focusing on the financial benefits.

There is a need for government to invest in gender awareness programmes for men so that they can learn to appreciate the benefits of gender equality on the economic development of communities. This is necessary to ensure that men can become advocates of gender equality when they understand that co-operation between men and women will lead to prosperous families and communities.

Gender equality can be institutionalised in society by promoting gender equality at primary school level, with the aim of making young children aware that girls and boys have equal ability to become successful as leaders of society. Gender equality in local government can contribute to the improvement of the quality of life for everyone because empowered men and women will work together to improve quality of life for their families and society in general.

* Dr Mjoli writes in her personal capacity.

** Dr Mjoli is a gender activist and Chairperson of the Water Research Commission

*** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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