South Africa and Namibia debate legislated quotas and draft 50/50 layperson bills

South Africa and Namibia debate legislated quotas and draft 50/50 layperson bills

Date: October 14, 2012
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Prompted by recent electoral declines in women’s political representation, activists in Namibia and South Africa have revitalised draft layperson 50/50 bills as a possible way to get more women elected.

South Africa’s May 2011 elections saw the proportion of women in local government drop from 40% to 38%. In Namibia, the decline following the 2009 national elections was even worse, from 30.9% to 23%.

This spurred a national debate about 50/50 legislated quotas at national and regional-level elections. In contrast, Namibia has adopted affirmative action legislation at the local authority level, which has ensured more than 40% representation of women in local councils since 1998. These figures show that without affirmative action legislation, reaching parity at the national and regional levels by 2015 will be impossible. The next elections are scheduled for 2014.

South Africa currently holds local elections under a mixed system and employs a PR system at the national level. The ruling ANC party has applied a voluntary quota. Those gains made in increasing women’s representation in political decision-making positions in the country have largely been achieved because of political will on the part of the ANC.

The Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) strategised about how to push forward the campaign for 50/50 quotas in South African electoral laws during a roundtable discussion on International Women’s Day on 8 March 2012.

The campaign has recently received renewed interest and the Independent Electoral Commission’s Chair, Pansy Tlakula has spoken out about the need for a legislated quota system to achieve parity in women’s representation in the country. The Ministry of Women, Children and Persons with Disability also addressed the issue in green paper discussions which led to the draft of a Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill. In a televised interview on 4 March 2012, the deputy minister said the bill will be tabled by March 2013.

Meanwhile in Namibia, NANGOF Trust, the Namibia focal point of the Southern Africa Gender Protocol Alliance, with support from the regional Alliance Secretariat and the regional governance cluster, took advantage of public consultations on electoral reforms to submit demands for a 50/50 legislated quota there.

The Alliance delivered the formal submission to Sacky Shangala, chairperson of Namibia’s Law Reform and Development Commission, at a consultative meeting on 14 March 2012. This is part of a submission that will eventually be presented to the minister of justice.

The campaign builds on work begun in 2002. The team provided Shangala with a copy of the research paper on 50/50 options for Namibia that was commissioned by Sister Namibia and produced by the Legal Assistance Centre under the banner of the Namibian Women’s Manifesto Network in 2002.

Shangala welcomed the submission and supporting documents and asked the women’s organisations to commission a lawyer to review the draft 50/50 bill in the current context of impending electoral law reform.

Namibia and South Africa are among the 13 SADC countries which have signed, and nine that have ratified, the SADC Gender Protocol, a binding instrument that calls on States to put in place measures to increase women’s representation in decision-making positions in all SADC countries by 2015. A key target is achieving gender parity in all areas of decision making by 2015.

While South Africa has a relatively strong showing of women in political decision-making positions, it cannot continue to rely solely on the voluntary efforts of the ANC – 50/50 legislation is necessary to continue to advance women’s equality throughout society.

Amendments to the Electoral Act 73 of 1998
3.1 The following subsection is inserted as Section 27(1)(A) in the Electoral Act 73 of 1998, as amended:

“(1) (A) the lists referred to in subsection (1) shall be comprised as follows:
(a) The numbers of men and women on each party list may not differ by more than one;
(b) The names of the men and women on each party list shall alternate, so that each group of two candidates as they appear on the list contains one man and one woman.”

The Women’s Legal Centre (WLC) in South Africa tabled compelling legal research indicating that the principle of equality and positive discrimination is firmly established in the country’s constitution. In addition, it noted that the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act imposes a positive obligation on the state to enact equality legislation – and on political parties to develop equity plans – and provides for affirmative action measures in this regard.

It further noted that international instruments such as the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Beijing Platform for Action, and the 2008 SADC Gender and Development Protocol underscore a state duty to implement measures to promote women’s representation, remove barriers, set targets and apply legislative and other measures to attain parity in decision-making positions.

The WLC tabled suggestions that would be necessary to enact a constitutionally sound quota system. These include specific amendments to the Electoral Act, Municipal Electoral Act and Municipal Structures Act. It also proposed provisions and sanctions for non-compliance.

In addition, the group emphasised extending focus beyond numerical targets, noting the importance of creating an enabling environment for women to advance within the political realm. This includes the need for measures to ensure women’s access to campaign funding and coaching, child care facilities and maternity benefits. It also requires political parties to squarely address sexual harassment within political parties, and the issue of women’s representation in senior party leadership positions.

Following the International Women’s Day meeting, the CGE and partners agreed to take forward the development and tabling of legislative proposals for a quota system in meetings with key stakeholders such as the Department for Women, Children and People with Disabilities and the IEC. These stakeholders will engage with political parties and convene public forums to raise awareness about, and build support for, such legislation.

In addition, the CGE was tasked with urgently lobbying the South African government to deposit its instruments of ratification for the SADC Protocol.

Namibia has suggested the following in its layperson’s 50/50 bill:

– National Council: The two provisions require that regional councils, which have male and female members, must send one male and one female to the National Council. The draft retains the basic election procedures that exist at present. However, the draft requires separate voting for the male representative and the female representative.

– Local Authorities: The draft provides for gender-balanced “zebra lists” which alternate women and men candidates on electoral lists. In the case of local authority councils with uneven numbers of members, the numbers of men and women on the list can differ by one (for example five candidates made up of three women and two men). The draft requires that women’s and men’s names alternate on each party list so that each group of two contains one candidate of each sex. Parties would be free to choose whether to put a man or a woman at the top of the list. The provision would apply to residents’ associations as well as political parties.

– National Assembly Elections: This provision provides for “zebra lists” of candidates for the National Assembly. The current law requires that parties submit lists containing at least 24 but not more than 72 names. Thus, parties could submit lists of odd or even numbers of names. In the case of lists with uneven numbers of candidates, the numbers of men and women on the list can differ by one. Parties would be free to choose whether to put a man or a woman at the top of the list.

– Regional Council Elections: This requires any political party which contests more than one constituency in a region to include equal numbers of men and women amongst its candidates for that region. If the party fields an uneven number of candidates in that region, the numbers of men and women may differ by one.

While affirmative action measures have helped Namibia boast a strong showing of women representatives at the local level, special measures should also be applied to the regional and national level. South Africa can only guarantee its high level of women’s representation in political decision-making if it adopts a legislated quota so that women’s representation is not left to the whims of the leaders of political parties.



One thought on “South Africa and Namibia debate legislated quotas and draft 50/50 layperson bills”

David Kambonde says:

This very important in all leadship to have gender equality.

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