More women’s voices on political change

More women’s voices on political change

Date: January 1, 1970
  • SHARE:

As we enter 2009, it seems the year ahead will be full of change and challenges, not least in the political landscape. The worsening political situation in Zimbabwe, the emergence of a new political party ahead of upcoming elections in South Africa, and the first presidential elections in Angola since 1992 (and only the second since the country’s 1975 independence), are just a few examples of how politics shape the region we live in.

Though times and stereotypes are changing, both men and women often consider this political domain a male one, assuming that men should like and excel at politics, much the same way that they should like and excel at sports and technology, for instance. Yet, more and more women, especially young women, are developing more interest in politics, and making their opinions known.  
Ten countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) will have elections over the next three years. If women do not take an interest in politics, they miss opportunities to have a say in how governments run, which of course affects everyone.
In my circle of friends, along with my love for sports (with cricket topping the charts), my above-average interest (compared to that of an “ordinary” woman – whoever she is) in politics stands out as different. I often contend with comments, mostly from men, on how odd this is interest is – “Wow, so you have an opinion on the United State’s invasion of Iraq?” Yeah, I do and I stand by it. 
Throughout most of my life, I have been selective with whom I talk to about politics, because many of my friends did not share this particular interest with me. As a result, I would find myself seeking male friends and any cab driver who would dare listen to me.
At the same time, I was fully aware that I was feeding and perpetuating the stereotype – that by virtue of being a man, the person must be interested and knowledgeable about these issues. Fortunately, as it turns out, my experience is testimony that this is not true.
In the recent past, I have noticed a change. There are more conversations about our political environment among my friends, male and female, and they, not me, are initiating these. There were two turning points.
The first was the election of Barack Obama. The second one, right here at home, was the creation of the splinter party largely from the African National Congress (ANC), which led to the formation of the Congress of the People (COPE). I am not suggesting that prior to these two events women in general had no interest in politics. However, I know that with my friends, it was certainly less visible.
I was not too surprised when, on a visit to a hair salon, I heard conversations about Obama’s historic win and on a visit to a curios shop in Melville, I heard the Kenyans there claim him as their son, celebrating his win with a braai. When I went to a graduation party, I ended up being part of a discussion about COPE’s youth movement as initiated by one of the guests at the party. The latter made the party much more interesting, especially for those who do not dance, cause talk we can.
More and more of the conversations around the dinner table, and during other activities we busy ourselves with, are about the political landscape that is taking shape in the world and in South Africa. I am hearing real questions asked about the potential changes that president Obama in the United States and COPE in South Africa might possibly bring to our lives, communities, and respective countries.
Most importantly, I am seeing more young women taking interest in how their own political decisions are responsible for the environment they work, live, and possibly raise children in, as well as the world they want to leave for future generations. Along with an opening up of dialogue, there seems to be increasing awareness that an individual has a stake in changing the course of a country and can reclaim some of the power handed over to politicians.
For me personally, the Obama and COPE moments have compelled me to act like the change agent I have always believed myself to be. I do want to be actively involved in creating the type of society I want to live in today and tomorrow, and raise children in.
Perhaps the lack of “struggle credentials,” which still tend to command the most respect within our political system, have further marginalised young people from the political arena. As for me, I believe I am no less deserving of an opportunity to shape the place I call home. More significantly, I am hearing a lot more young people and women say this and own the moment.
We must encourage young people, women, and those who often shy away from engaging in politics, changing the face of politics in the process for good. And, of course once the conversations gets going, action is not far behind. And, that should make for  very interesting times ahead indeed.
Judith Mtsewu is the Governance and Justice Programme Officer at Gender Links, based in South Africa. This article is part of the GL Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.

Comment on More women’s voices on political change

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *