Wouda Hanekom – South Africa

Wouda Hanekom – South Africa

Date: May 29, 2012
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I think my story is an interesting story; I did not know that I would end up as a politician at all. In fact, I have never seen myself as a politician, but then again I guess life happens and you end up in a different path than the one you had planned to take initially. I am actually a Social Worker by profession. I am also a community development specialist. Being a former social worker and community specialist gave me the opportunity to work very closely with the community of Ceres and Tulbagh, so making the transition from being a social worker to a politician came as no surprise to me I guess. I have always had a passion for working with local communities, so maybe this even sparked my interest in engaging extensively within local government.

Today, I am a a councillor at Witzenberg Municipality in the Western Cape in Ceres; I am the head of the Community Development Portfolio, and the only female member of the Executive Mayoral Committee within the council. I was elected as a member of the Executive Mayoral Committee in the local government elections that took place last year, and I am a member of the Democratic Alliance Partner.

I am also a mother of two young girls and I am also studying towards my PhD at the moment. I think I have broken a lot of barriers as a woman, and I know I broke a lot of stereotypes as a young girl; I always knew that I wanted to make a difference in the lives of people around me, especially the lives of the poor and disadvantaged women. It is hard growing up and seeing poverty all around you, however in my case that gave me the drive and the ambition to excel and achieve a lot with my life.

My first encounter with Gender Links was very recent; I had a meeting with Abigail Jacobs-Williams with regard to the existing relationship between Gender Links and Witzenberg, since my predecessor had been very instrumental with taking gender issues forward within the council. I was also determined not to let the process fall through the cracks, and I know that we have had a very good working relationship with GL.

As mentioned, I am the only female who is part of the Executive Mayoral Committee, and it has been very interesting indeed, but there is a lack of women within Senior Management in my council. Women do not want to come forward and take up these positions. Last year in the local government elections we only had a few women who had run as possible councillors.

Being the only female in the Executive Mayoral Committee can be very tough as politics is very male dominated. As the Head of the Social Development Portfolio, people think that this portfolio only deals with “soft” issues, so very often it has been a challenge to really stand my ground and gain the respect of my male colleagues. As a woman politician, I have had to ensure that my voice is heard and equally respected. My male colleagues do respect me a lot, but I still need to stand my ground and be on my best form at all times.

It is very important that we look at everything from a gender lens and perspective, and as a female politician this is a very important aspect of my work. Gender issues also need to be brought to our communities; these need to be reflected at grassroots level. There needs to be growth and opportunities created for women.

The difference I am making as a politician within my community is that when the IDP process is being drafted, I call a meeting specifically for women in the community separately, and engage them in terms of what they expect to receive from the Municipality. We know that women have different needs than the larger community, and that they need to be consulted extensively since they are often the main beneficiaries. They are the ones who utilise the facilities offered by the council, and this is something that I learned from Gender Links.

It is very important to have visibility within the community, especially when one is dealing with issues of social development. It is vital to make sure that women are participating effectively, as the decisions we take as an institution can influence a particular woman’s household either by empowering her or disempowering her. I am also very visible with addressing issues of GBV in my community. I am always involved in GBV Awareness campaigns, and I encourage other members of the Executive Mayoral Committee to be actively involved with these issues.

One thing that I am also very proud of is the fact that the council budget has also become very gender aware. Now, there are allocated funds for the Social Development Portfolio which deals with issues of gender, HIV/AIDs and disability. It is not always easy to ensure that this happens; once again this is an important aspect of gender mainstreaming that I gained from Gender Links.

I have always been a tough cookie, and have always maintained that respect needs to be earned. At the same time, as women we need to grab opportunities that are available. Sometimes, one needs to also create those opportunities themselves. I have learned that sometimes men do not take you seriously as a woman. They act like heading a portfolio is an easy job to do. We need to keep reinforcing that idea that women are also leaders and can be change makers.

The women who have risen above tough circumstances are my role models. I also have a lot of respect for men who are visibly making a difference in the lives of women; that takes a lot of courage and vision. It is also my role as a politician and mother to ensure that I make a difference to the lives of others around me. The seed of change that I am planting today will be the legacy that I will leave behind.

My passion for the empowerment of young women and men is an important driving force in my work. We need to have more skills development and capacity building for our young people, since they are future leaders of tomorrow, and they will bring change to the world. I am very fond of working with young people. They have an energy and a curiosity that makes me hopeful about the future.

I plan to use my time as a councilor over the next few years very constructively. Time flies, and the last thing I want is to realise is that I had all this time afforded to me to be a change maker, only to realize at the end of it that I have done nothing. If I leave the arena of politics then I need to know I made a difference when I had the opportunity to do so. I want to see my daughters graduating and also becoming change makers in the world.

I never planned to become a politician. I guess it had to happen eventually though, because my love for my community, my family, and my daughters motivates me to wake up in the morning. I have a lot of hope about the good things that await us all in the future. Especially the emancipation of women from economic dependence, GBV and other social ills. Change happens one day at time though, but we will get there eventually.


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