GL calls for legislated quota for women’s political participation in SA following backsliding in local elections

Date: July 6, 2011
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Gender in the 2011 South African Local Government Elections

The 2011 local government elections that witnessed a decline in women’s representation at the very moment that South Africa should be redoubling its efforts to achieve gender parity underscores the need for a legislated quota for women in national and local elections. This is the conclusion reached by Gender Links (GL), the Johannesburg-based research and advocacy organisation following a gender analysis of the 18 May 2011 local government election results.

The analysis shows that women now constitute 38% of councillors following the 18 May polls, down from 40% in 2006. GL predicted this outcome to the exact percentage point, based on an analysis of the likely decline in support for the African National Congress (ANC), the only party that endeavoured (but even then did not quite succeed) in fielding equal numbers of women and men candidates in both ward and Proportional Representation (PR) seats.

While the main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) is led by two prominent women, Helen Zille and Patricia de Lille (formerly leader of the Independent Democrats), the party opposes quotas. The local elections again witnessed a war of words between Zille and the ANC over her having an all-male cabinet in the Western Cape where she is premier, after de Lille moved from the provincial cabinet to become mayor of Cape Town. Zille counter accused the ANC of fielding very few women for mayors of the new councils.

The decline in women at all levels of local government comes against the backdrop of the 2008 Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development (to which South Africa is a signatory) that calls for gender parity in all areas of decision-making by 2015. Unless the ANC succeeds in its current endeavours to get national and local election dates synchronised leading to an unexpected round of local elections along with the scheduled national elections in 2014, South Africa has missed the chance (so tantalizingly possible) of achieving the parity target at the local level on time, since the next local elections would ordinarily be in 2016.

Ironically, as South Africa prepared for the 2011 local elections, Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities Lulu Xingwana was put the finishing touches to the Gender Equality Bill that would result in punitive measures for companies and individuals that do not meet the government’s gender equality targets.

Yet the government did not seize the call made by NGOs, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and the Commission for Gender Equality to legislate quotas for women’s representation in South African elections so that this is not left to the whims of political parties.

The gender analysis of the 2011 elections contained in this report demonstrates clearly how leaving women’s representation to political parties is fraught with problems, and why a legislated quota is urgently required if South Africa is to meet its 2015 obligations.


The full report can be accessed here.


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