Women hardly represented in politics

Dudu Myeni, Patricia de Lille and Shameen Thakur-Rajbansi.

Dudu Myeni, Patricia de Lille and Shameen Thakur-Rajbansi.

Published Apr 29, 2024


Durban — As the country reflects on 30 years of democracy, academics, gender activists and others have lamented the lack of women representation in political parties.

The point was raised by Shameen Thakur Rajbansi in her farewell speech in the KwaZulu-Natal Legislature where she noted how women continued to be under-represented in key structures despite being the majority.

Speaking to Sunday Tribune this week, several figures spoke of how patriarchy remained dominant and how the situation was unlikely to change in the immediate future.

EThekwini deputy mayor Zandile Myeni believes women are being sidelined in the coming elections at all levels of government. Picture: Thuli Dlamini

eThekwini deputy mayor Zandile Myeni said it was shameful how women continued to be sidelined and in some instances, pitted against each other by their male counterparts.

Myeni, a member of the National Freedom Party formed by the late Zanele KaMagwaza-Msibi, lamented the current political landscape.

“As we go to the election next month, I can only point to Patricia de Lille as a female leader of a political party who will be contesting, and that illustrates how women continue to be sidelined,” Myeni said.

Patricia de Lille, one of only three women party leaders contesting the elections. Picture: Bongani Mbatha/Independent Newspapers

She said this was evident in both local and provincial governments.

“Based on my experience, political parties tend to suffocate female leaders, and then we also become our own worst enemies when we pull each other down, and that plays straight into the hands of our male counterparts,” she said.

Myeni said women needed to band together if they wanted to change the status quo. They should work together and make demands that are non-negotiable. Such a stance would make it difficult for their demands for fair representation to be ignored, said Myeni.

“This has to start at leagues in our parties where we should have a set of non-negotiables.”

The Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) also noted the dominance of men in the country’s political landscape, expressing concerns.

“This is not a picture that we are pleased with as the country celebrates 30 years of democracy. Political parties seem reluctant to invest in women leaders and that is why we do not have so many of them,” said the CGE’s Javu Baloyi.

He added they had appealed to other organisations, including the Independent Electoral Commission, to develop mechanisms that enable the development and growth of women leaders in politics.

Shameen Thakur-Rajbansi in her farewell speech said women are under-represented. Picture: Jacques Naude

University of Stellenbosch academic Professor Amanda Gouws noted how the political environment had been designed to almost drive women activists away, pointing to how some meetings would be held in the evenings by political parties as a way of sidelining women.

She added that this was one of the reasons that there were so few women leaders.

“There are about 50 parties that will be contesting the elections; only three have women leaders. The question is, why is that?” said Gouws.

She added that such a reality called for more drastic measures to address what she labelled as an anomaly.

“Perhaps political parties should consider adopting a quota system whereby if a position of chairperson is held by a man, the deputy is a woman. because this is not just about investing in women, but a demonstration that women leadership is taken seriously,” said Gouws.

She pointed out that such a policy had been applied in Kenya to address gender inequality.

Gouws noted how leading parties, including the ANC and the DA while preaching gender equality, showed very little in the manner in which women were represented in leadership positions. She said this showed the harshness of the political environment and explained why many women were choosing civil society, where they thrived in leadership positions.

Sunday Tribune