South Africa: Where have all the women gone?

Date: May 17, 2011
  • SHARE:

South Africans will cast their votes this week in the third Local Government Elections. This year’s elections have seen a large increase in the number of political parties contesting: 121 parties have been registered. Yet out of these parties the representation of women as candidates has increased by a very slight percentage. Some political parties do not even have any women as registered candidates.

According to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), of the more than 53 000 candidates, 19 731 women will stand compared to 15 718 registered women candidates in the 2006 local government elections. This is only a two percentage point increase and poses a lot of questions around why the proportion of female candidates increased by such a small amount in the past five years.

It is especially worrying as these are the last local government elections before the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development’s target of 50/50 representation by 2015. Despite South Africa’s signature on this important regional Protocol, it will surely now not meet its commitment.

What is the problem? Where have all the women gone?

The African National Congress (ANC) has the highest proportion of women as registered candidates (47%), followed by the United Democratic Movement (UDM) at 36.9%. The number of female candidates varies per province. The three provinces with the highest proportion of women are Gauteng (40%), Northwest (40%), and the Northern Cape (40%) respectively. The DA dominated Western Cape has the least proportion of female candidates (33%); disappointing, given the fact that the female led Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Independent Democrats (ID) recently joined “forces”, to form a coalition within the Western Cape.

The ANC, with quotas for women’s representation, has come closest to the 50/50 target while the UDM is nearing parity without quotas. The other parties are not doing so well. One would have hoped that boosting the numbers of women candidates would have become a bigger priority by now. Only the ANC has quotas in place to do this.

The low representation of women as political candidates indicates that this is still a major area to be addressed within local government. These low numbers are likely due to a number of factors: the political arena continues to be male-dominated, making it hard for women to access the political domain without fear or prejudice. Women are also not recognised as leaders even by other women within their political parties.

What is possibly even more disappointing is the manner in which women’s issues were (or were not) addressed in election manifestos. Political parties release manifestos in order to drum up support, making promises and pledges for a better life for South Africa’s communities.

Only the ANC made specific reference to women’s issues and set targets as to how it plans to improve the lives of women. None of the other political parties stated how they would work with women.

The DA – which has a woman leader, a young woman spokesperson and a woman mayoral candidate (all prominent in election advertising) – did not even mention the word “women” anywhere in its manifesto. I guess one cannot assume that because a political party is led by a woman it will automatically take on the interests of women.

What is also unacceptable is that even during campaign rallies and election debates none of the political parties have put forward a clear agenda around tackling the issue of getting women into local government. Instead, infrastructural and development issues such as housing, sanitation and healthcare have taken key priority. It is not that these are not important aspects within local government – they certainly are. However, political parties have failed to indicate how these will benefit women, who are the main beneficiaries of these utilities.

So as we cast our votes this week, let’s do so with the hope that the outcome of this election will be better for women than the numbers suggest. Perhaps only when this occurs will we increase the chances of ensuring better women’s representation among candidates in future.

Ntombi Mbadlanyana is the Gender Links South African Local Government Coordinator. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service special series on South African local elections.


Comment on South Africa: Where have all the women gone?

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