SA falls short of gender parity targets at local level

Date: December 6, 2016
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Johannesburg, 6 December: Women’s representation in local government increased from 39% in 2011 to 41% in the 3 August 2016 local elections, falling short of South Africa’s regional and international commitments to gender equality.

According to a report released by Gender Links today, in 2016, women comprised an all-time record high of 48% of PR candidates, yet only 33% of ward candidates. This has been a recurrent theme in local government in South Africa which has a mixed electoral system at the local level.

Invariably women perform well on the list or PR system in which voters vote for a party rather than an individual, compared to the ward or First Past the Post System in which voters vote both for a party and individual. The disparity in women’s performance reflects the deep seated structural barriers to women’s political participation. In short, men are still much more likely to be viewed as “leaders” than women.

The ruling African National Congress (ANC) is the only party with a 50/50 quota for women in elections. This works well in the PR seats, where the ANC has adopted a “zebra” style of one woman, one man, but not the ward seats, where the target has often not been observed, and in which women are often fielded in the riskier seats.

Fears that South Africa would slide backwards in the elections due to the ANC’s reduced majority overall in the local elections were narrowly averted by the ANC improving the proportion of women who won (from 44% in 2011 to 45% in 2016), as well as a strong or stronger performance by the opposition parties.

The party that performed best, with just shy of 50% women winning on its ticket, is the new kid on the block – the Economic Freedom Front (EFF). However, this is thanks largely to its strong performance in the PR seats (50%). The EFF performed dismally on gender in the ward seats (18%). Overall, with less than 10% of the seats, this still guaranteed EFF first place with regard to the proportion of women in local government.

At 45%, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) came close to the 50% target, shored up by 61% women in the PR seats, but only 32% in the ward seats.

As in the past, the main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) did better in the ward seats (38%) than in PR (34%) and is the only party to have done so. The DA has used this as an argument against quotas, arguing that it empowers women to stand on their own feet and fight in elections, rather than being names on party lists.

Overall, women comprised 55% of all voters. In all the provinces, there are more women voters than men voters. Limpopo province (60%) has the highest followed by the Eastern Cape (57%); KwaZulu-Natal (56%); Western Cape, Free State and Mpumalanga (55%); Northern Cape (54%) and then Gauteng (52%).

In tracking women as sources for media commentary related to the elections, Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) reveals that women’ constituted 21.7% of people quoted by the media in the local election coverage.

Media Monitoring Africa reported in a Mail and Guardian article, that “in the 60 days leading up to the local government elections, gender issues were only covered in 12 of more than 4,600 news stories in more than 70 print, broadcast and online sources, including community media”.  This constitutes a shocking 0.002% of elections media coverage, down from 1% in both 2011 local government elections and 2014 national

“It is clear that women still lack voice, choice and control at the local level and in matters affecting their lives,” noted GL CEO Colleen Lowe Morna. “We are launching this campaign during the Sixteen Days of Activism to turn attention to gender responsive local governance.”

Gender Links works with 400 local councils around Southern Africa that have elected to become Centres of Excellence for Gender in Local Government. These councils anchor the Empower Women, End Violence programme that has been rebranded the Sunrise – Give the Gift of Empowerment Campaign.

 (For the full report click here. For more information contact Mariatu Fonnah on 071 818 2810, or Colleen Lowe Morna on 082 651 6995)