South Africa: 5050 legislated quotas hot on the agenda

Date: March 12, 2012
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The issue of 5050 has recently received renewed interest when the Commission on Gender Equality working with National Democratic Institute held a round table discussion on International Women’s Day. Advocate Pansy Tlakula, Chairperson of the Independent Electoral Commission speaking out on the need for a legislated quota system to effect parity in women’s political participation. The issue has also been surfaced by the Women’s Ministry, in its green paper discussions framing the development of a Gender Equality Bill.

Within the context of renewed interest and focus on the issue of 50/50, and the appalling local government election statistics as galvanizing evidence of the need for intervention, the Commission for Gender Equality and the National Democratic Institute today convened a round-table discussion and strategy session, to take this issue forward. Organisations which have been at the forefront of the 50/50 campaign in South Africa were invited to make inputs and share insights from their interventions, with a view to charting a way forward to embed this principle in South African legislation.

At the round-table, the CGE tabled statistics on women’s representation in national, provincial and local government, and its firm position that there is a need to legislate on a quota system to secure parity in women’s representation. Research reveals that the quota system has been used as a mechanism to fast-track women’s access to Parliament and other decision-making and political bodies. It is a tool in the form of affirmative action to help overcome obstacles that prevent women from entering politics in the same way as their male colleagues. The thinking is that if barriers exist preventing women from entering politics, compensatory measures, such as quotas, must be introduced as a means to reach equality. This would not constitute discrimination against men, as gender quotas draw legitimacy from the discourse of exclusion, as the main reasons for women’s under-representation are the exclusionary practices of political parties and political institutions through centuries of patriarchal rule.

The Women’s Legal Centre tabled compelling legal research indicating that the principle of equality and positive discrimination is firmly established in our Constitution. In addition, they noted that the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act imposes a positive obligation on the state to enact equality legislation, and on political parties to develop equity plans, and provides for affirmative action measures in this regard. They further noted that international instruments such as the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Beijing Platform for Action, and the 2008 SADC Gender and Development Protocol create a positive duty on the state to put measures in place to promote women’s representation, remove barriers, set targets and put in place legislative and other measures to attain 50/50. The Protocol has set for signatory states the target of attaining 50/50 representation in all positions of leadership by 2015. GenderLinks outlined regional progress in attaining the Protocol targets, reflecting that only those countries which had enacted quota mechanisms were performing adequately.

To enact a quota system as a Constitutionally sound mechanism to ensure the attainment of this target requires legislative reform, and the WLC tabled suggestions on specific amendments that would be required to the Electoral Act, Municipal Electoral Act and Municipal Structures Act, with proposed provisions and sanctions for non-compliance, through the Electoral Court.

In addition, the meeting focused beyond the attainment of numerical targets, and deliberated on the importance of creating an enabling environment for women to advance within the political terrain. These include the need for measures to ensure women’s access to campaign funding and coaching, child care facilities and maternity benefits. It also requires political parties to squarely address sexual harassment within political parties, and the issue of women’s representation in senior party leadership positions. Support was expressed for the value of women’s multi-party caucuses, and the training and mentoring interventions that institutions such as the National Democratic Institute has put in place to support women in Parliament and political parties, which were outlined at the gathering.

Flowing from this meeting, the CGE and partners will be meeting with key stakeholders such as the Department for Women, Children and People with Disabilities and the IEC to take forward the development and tabling of legislative proposals to enact the quota system. These stakeholders will be engaging with political parties and convening public forums to raise awareness around and build support for such legislation. In addition, the CGE was tasked with urgently taking up with the South African government the need for government to deposit its instruments of ratification of the SADC Protocol, for this to be enacted. The CGE and the NDI were encouraged to take forward their proposed future engagements with political parties on auditing and strengthening their mechanisms to promote women’s full political participation.

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