SA: Women versus youth in local elections

SA: Women versus youth in local elections

Date: July 22, 2016
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By Janine Hicks and Colleen Lowe Morna

The youth sector is the party sweetheart for local government elections in 2016, with few specific considerations for women referred to in party manifestos. Ironically, women constitute 51% of the population, and 53% of registered voters.

One would think party strategists would at least tip their cap to women, if not attempt to woo their support, recognising the potential ballot box significance of this majority. Sadly, after the flurry of female leadership in the 2014 national elections, and despite the spate of high profile female faces in global politics of late, South Africa is sliding back into its old and tired patriarchal slumber.

An analysis by Gender Links of the extent to which gender is reflected in party manifestos in relation to political and economic participation, infrastructure, services and social concerns put the African National Congress (ANC) and the United Democratic Movement (UDM) in lead positions with a score of just 40%. The Congress of the People (COPE), at 36%, the Democratic Alliance (DA) and Economic freedom Front (EFF) at 28% did not do much better. The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) at 24% and Freedom Front (FF+), at 20% tailed the list.

August 2016 is not just the month we will cast our ballots again in local elections. 9 August (Women’s Day) will mark the sixtieth anniversary of the women’s march against apartheid South Africa’s discriminatory policies. What really has changed?

In the 2014 national elections, with Helen Zille leading the DA, and Mamphela Ramphele’s brief foray into politics, we experienced a temporary “normalising” of male and female faces in leadership. Now, even as Hillary Clinton makes a determined bid for the White House and three women vie for leadership of the two main political parties in the UK, every political party in South Africa is led by a man.

Women comprise 38% of elected councillors and 40% of MPs in South Africa – impressive by global standards, but both figures have fallen in recent elections. As the ANC is the only party to have embraced a voluntary quota of 50% women in local and national elections, there is a direct correlation between the ANC’s waning political fortunes, and the extent to which women are represented in parliament.

Women’s equal participation may be guaranteed by the Constitution, but political parties have done little to make sure that it is guaranteed in reality. Every indication is that there will be a further drop in women’s representation in local government in August, at the very moment that South Africa has pledged in regional and global forums to make women equal partners in decision-making.

Nowhere is this more important than at the local level – the coalface of delivery. We see institutionalised challenges to women’s access to land, business finance, technology, extension services and markets.  Women-headed households have less access than men to public and private assets, such as property ownership, water-born sewage, electricity for cooking, and water. (Stats SA, 2012; Status of Women in the South African Economy, 2015).

In the health sector, women face economic, domestic, cultural and legal barriers to health care and sexual and reproductive health rights and services.  HIV/AIDS prevalence among the youth aged between 15 and 24 indicates this is higher for females (8.1%) than for males (4.0%).

The levels of gender-based violence (GBV) against women and girl children, in particular, is a critical issue hindering women’s advancement and development.  While we have seen gains in terms of girls’ access to education, with South Africa reaching parity in enrolment figures and attendance for girls and boys in primary education, there is concern at the drop-out rate of girls over the age of 15, influenced by teenage pregnancy and GBV at schools.

Yet in the analysis of manifestos only the ANC expresses a commitment to work with all sectors to end violence against women and children. The IFP makes a timid reference to women and children “feeling safe in our streets.”  Neither offers any analysis of why women’s rights continue to be so flagrantly violated in this way.

Only the UDM commits to ensuring women’s representation on municipal structures and in decision-making.  The ANC commits to ensuring women constitute 60% of extended public works programme beneficiaries. COPE commits to creating a dedicated women’s fund’ and encouraging women to engage in small, medium and micro businesses.  The UDM envisages supporting youth, women and people with disabilities to be entrepreneurs.  None of the parties provide a gendered analysis of access to resources such as land, housing, and credit.

The ANC notes that an increase in provision of electricity and water to households reduces the burden on rural women in gathering these resources.  Parties such as COPE, DA, EFF and UDM envisage measures to ensure access to these commodities for indigent households, but none identify challenges experienced by women-headed households.

By comparison, most of the parties have revealed an understanding of particular challenges experienced by the youth including economic participation, access to training and entrepreneurial opportunities. But the analysis fails to distinguish between the challenges experienced by young women and young men.

It stands to reason that any party tapping into the issues impacting directly on a majority voting bloc such as women, should enjoy statistical advantage over its competition.  Contentions within the ruling party, shifts in the balance of power between the ANC and its official opposition, the DA, as well as rising contender, the EFF, all indicate that in many municipalities, the vote is up for grabs.

Might a party responsive to the everyday needs of the majority of the electorate – that of women – swing that vote?  It would appear that no party thus far has identified this opportunity!

Download the full version of this report, Gender and the South African Local Government Elections 2016 Briefing Note 1.

(Janine Hicks is a former Commissioner on Gender Equality and Colleen Lowe Morna is CEO of Gender Links) 

Author: Janine Hicks and Colleen Lowe Morna