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|Commission for Gender Equality writes for SABC|
Commission for Gender Equality writes for SABC 07 March 2011, 1:00:00
Commission for Gender Equality
Women’s political representation and participation – Progress and Challenges
Janine Hicks, Commissioner
S187 of the Constitution and CGE Act No. 49 of 1996 require the CGE to promote respect for, and the protection, development and attainment of gender equality.The CGE vision is a society free from gender oppression and all forms of inequality. The CGE mandate is to:
The CGE’s thematic focal areas include: gender and poverty; gender based violence; gender, democracy and good governance; gender, cultures, religions and traditions; and gender, HIV and AIDS. The CGE also monitors the National Gender Machinery and engages with structures and processes of this entity.
2.Commitments and progress towards achieving gender equality
Since 1994, gender justice, and the development of gender sensitive policies and practices have become national concerns along with racial and economic justice.The Constitution calls for equality, equal protection and benefit before the law, and non-discrimination. Post the Beijing Conference on Women, the National Policy Framework on Gender Equality was developed by the South African government, establishing a National Gender Machinery to address the social and economic marginalization of South African women.
This has included the creation of entities within every sphere of government to lead on gender mainstreaming and the promotion of gender equality. This includes the newly established national Ministry on Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities within the national and provincial executive, and standing committees on the Quality of Life and Status of Women in national and provincial legislatures. This is supplemented by the appointment of gender focal persons within every department and municipality, to coordinate gendered planning and programme implementation. These state structures are supplemented by the CGE, as an independent statutory body, and civil society structures making up a (now largely fragmented) women’s movement.
These have been key building blocks towards attaining gender equality. Great gains that have been pushed for and attained through intensive lobbying and collaboration across the gender machinery have seen several anti-discriminatory laws promulgated, such as the Employment Equity Act, the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act, the Domestic Violence Act, the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act, and the establishment of Equality Courts at every magistrate’s court to hear any case of discrimination. In addition, key regional and international protocols have been endorsed by South Africa, including the Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Beijing Platform for Action, SADC’s Protocol on Gender and Development, and the Protocol to the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa.
The government has moved to ensure it complies with domestic and international obligations with regard to ensuring gender equality in political representation. The 2008 SADC Protocol on Gender and Development requires a 50/50 representation of women in political leadership by 2015. Since 2004, women’s representation in Parliament has steadily increased from and initial 27%, to 45% attained during our 2009 national and provincial elections.
This is largely as a result of the voluntary 50% quota system adopted by the African National Congress (ANC), coupled with the implementation of a zebra stripe” system in its party lists (every male candidate is followed by a female candidate). This measure, combined with the large majority votes secured by the ANC, has seen women rocketing up in terms of political representation, as a result of South Africa’s proportional representation system. The Pan African Congress (PAC) has recently announced that it will apply a 50/50 principle to its 2011 local government election party lists, which must be warmly welcomed. No other party has adopted a quota system, and the representation of women among their political representatives is accordingly very low, with some parties not even fronting a single woman in some provincial legislatures.
Accordingly, women’s representation in Cabinet has increased from 27% in 1994, to 41% under President Zuma. Five of nine provincial Premiers, and 40% of provincial cabinet members, or Members of the Executive Council, are women. Likewise, women’s representation in provincial legislatures has increased from 24% in 1994, to 42% after our 2009 election. Women’s representation in local government has increased from 19% in 1995, to 39% in 2006, again largely due to the ANC’s then 30% quota system. These figures are set to increase in our forthcoming 2011 local government elections, again courtesy of the ANC’s quota system. However, state departments are behind in targets in terms of placing women in middle and senior management, with the acceptance of women’s leadership apparently still low within the realm of the executive.
3.Women’s political representation: a numbers game?Statistics from our 2009 national and provincial elections registration reveals that 55% of registered voters are women, a welcome demonstration of active interest and participation by women in politics. Despite commitments to 50/50 from the governing party and now the PAC, and the evident increase of women’s representation in politics, there is a worrying trend of women appointees; being replaced by male candidates, from Deputy-President and Speaker of Parliament, to Ministers, mayors and councilors, which undermines the progress attained in this regard.Notably, there are more women proportional representation (PR) councillors than ward councillors, reflecting entrenched attitudes towards women in leadership. In addition, few women councillors tend to stand for a second term, as a result of the male-dominated environment and discrimination experienced within local municipalities and political parties, as well as the struggle to balance a political career with the demands of historically gender-defined domestic and child-care responsibilities in the home.The Employment Equity Commission’s (EEC) 10th annual report findings reveal that women are under-represented in management positions within departments, municipalities and the private sector, with very poor gender transformation demonstrated in terms of the commitment and strategies to appoint, recruit and provide skills training for women to progress to senior management positions. In addition, there are inadequate policies and practice in place to transform the institutional culture of the workplace, and make this more supportive for working women, such as providing for child-care and flexible working hours. The judiciary, political parties and trade unions equally reflect a poor response to gender transformation, with few political parties taking the necessary steps to ensure women occupy significant eadership positions in these institutions.The gender transformation debate does not concern itself merely with numbers, however. While women’s representation is a key indicator of gender transformation within political institutions, there are invisible elements that continue to marginalise women, related to an institutional culture within a demonstratedly male-dominated environment. These relate to internal policies and practice, access to skills training, harassment, and a sense that men are taken more seriously and women have to “earn their stripes” – a situation that is even harder for black women.
In addition to such discrimination and challenges confronting women in the workplace, the International Trade Union Confederation and Incomes Data Services identifies additional factors influencing women’s decisions for work, suggesting that these go beyond opportunities available to women as opposed to those available to men. These are located in the deep-rooted inequalities in child care and household work which still restrict opportunities for women, and impact on career possibilities and working patterns.
Parties need to be challenged to do more to create an enabling environment for women to participate as equals. Having equitable representation does not guarantee that the interests of women will be better served. Both the positions and conditions of women need to be changed for women to claim their rightful space in governance, and have their voices heard. The National Democratic Institute for International Affairs recommends the following measures:
In addition, The Electoral Code of Conduct requires parties to enable women’s free and full political participation. Schedule 2 (6) imposes an obligation on every registered party and candidate to:
4. CGE interventions
The CGE has taken on several initiatives in relation to national, provincial and local government elections. The purpose of these is to surface gender in elections, monitor women’s participation in elections and politics, secure party commitments to promoting gender equality and promote the principle of 50/50 representation and legislation.
For the 2009 national/provincial elections, the CGE embarked on the following:
The CGE compiled an overall report of its interventions and identified several recommendations, which it tabled with the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and Parliament.
For the 2011 local government elections, the CGE has the following interventions underway:
Once again, the CGE will table a full report on these interventions and its recommendations before the IEC and Parliament.
In addition to these political measures, the CGE has taken the lead in ensuring that cases of gender discrimination, such as the rights of women in traditional and religious marriages, the appointment of women as traditional chiefs, the poor pace of gender transformation in public and private institutions, and violence against lesbians is addressed, through our courts, public hearings and public education and awareness interventions. The CGE makes substantive input into the law-making process, to ensure that emerging legislation does not discriminate on the basis of gender, and that the status and rights of women are promoted and protected.
The CGE is monitoring the public and private sectors’ gender transformation processes, and responding to address shortcomings and call for the creation of targets, strategy and enforcement mechanisms to ensure this complies with our Constitutional and international obligations in this regard. The CGE is also assessing the state’s response to poverty and HIV and AIDS, ensuring that policy decisions and delivery on socio-economic rights address the severe inequality and discrimination witnessed in countless communities. The CGE is initiating litigation in appropriate instances to ensure the state delivers on its commitments in this regard.
While South Africa has made substantive gains in ensuring that women attain equal status to men, centuries of patriarchy have ensured deep-rooted inequality, and discrimination against women in attitudes, perception and behaviour. Women’s rights to equal representation and participation in the political arena are compulsive and essential to changing the patriarchal nature of political and governance structures, and approaches to policy formulation.
These keep women marginalised out of decision-making processes, at the receiving end of “empowerment” programmes, and locked in unequal power relations that determine access to resources and the achievement of human dignity. Bold, deliberate and strategic interventions are required to ensure women’s equal participation in political processes, and representation in political and governance structures. This will enable diverse views and solutions to challenges besetting democracy and development in South Africa.arch 2011