Tough times for SA women in politics

Tough times for SA women in politics

Date: August 8, 2017
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By Tshwaresa Malatji

Johannesburg, 24 July 2017: Politics continues to be male dominated territory with many women facing backlash, harassment and lack of support in the sector.

Women face several obstacles to participate in political life including sexism, misogyny, harassment violence and many others. Structural barriers through discriminatory laws and institutions still limit women’s options to run for office. Capacity gaps mean women are less likely to have the education, contacts and resources needed to become effective leaders.

According to the 2016 Parliamentary Union’s (IPU) global report, “Sexism, Harassment and Violence Against Women Parliamentarians shows how almost two-thirds of women parliamentarians surveyed said they had been repeatedly targeted by humiliating sexist remarks during their terms; 45% had received threats of death, rape, beatings or abduction”. Furthermore, the report notes that Women MPs from sub-Saharan Africa …described photomontages showing them nude, photos of them accompanied by disparaging comments, obscene drawings of their person or information published in the social media suggesting that they had had marital problems and failed private lives.

Many women politicians are easy targets for harassment, intimidation and violence simply for being female and politically active. Recently in South Africa, outspoken African National Congress (ANC) MP Makhosi Khoza received death threats after voicing out her opinions on why the president of the country Jacob Zuma must step down. In Eastern Cape ANC Councillor Thozama Njobe was gunned down on her way to her home from work. It is alleged that her attitude towards anti-corruption is the reason why they killed her; she also received death threats before her death. These stories shows how compromised women are in politics.

Police minister Fikile Mbalula said law enforcement agents were not taking the threats lightly as well and had ordered a team to track down those behind the series of threatening text messages sent to Khoza last week News24. While in the Eastern Cape ANC Council speaker, Thozama Njobe was gunned down and the Eastern Cape SAPS have launched a manhunt for the suspect who brutally shot Njobe. The government together with the police are trying very hard to make sure that women in politics are safe and protected.

There is a growing number of women in politics today. According to UN Women, only 18.3% of government ministers were women; the most commonly held portfolio by women ministers is environment, natural resources, and energy, followed by social sectors, such as social affairs, education and the family. According to the latest World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Gender Gap Report, it will take another 52 years for the world to reach gender parity in parliaments and confine inequality in political representation to history. Despite these very low numbers, women continue to be under-represented and are almost non-existent as leaders despite their proven efforts in the past.

Although women’s representation in government is undoubtedly important this does not guarantee that they will substantially articulate women’s concerns or rally behind the threatened women. Does this mean some women in politics are afraid to embrace women’s rights and be strong figures standing up women’s rights?

There is still a need to create a women-friendly environment that is gender sensitive and capable of removing practices constraining women’s advancement and empowerment in politics. Women’s leagues in different political parties need to be seen standing up for the rights and safety of other women politicians. Women leaders in politics need to break the silence around gender-based violence, especially in the space the operate in and be foot soldiers for implementing long-term initiatives that denounce violations of women in politics

Equality is still not a reality in the political arena. From the local to the global level, women’s leadership and political participation is continuously hindered. The government should provide training for women political candidates to help build their capacities, and offer voter and public education and awareness campaigns on gender equality.

Tshwaresa Malatji is a media intern at Gender Links.

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