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: Women Candidates Struggle in Local Government Elections

Tinus de Jager

JOHANNESBURG, May 24 2011 (IPS) - Political parties should be forced, through changes in legislation, to bring more women into government.

Only 17.25 percent of councillors who made it onto South African municipalities are women. Credit: Tinus de Jager

Only 17.25 percent of councillors who made it onto South African municipalities are women. Credit: Tinus de Jager

This is the call from the Commission on Gender Equality (CGE) after the country’s local government election saw only 17.25 percent of women elected as councilors out of the total number of candidates standing in the election. Of the candidates running for election, only 37 percent were women.

Janine Hicks from the CGE says the number of female councillors that made it onto South African municipalities is very disappointing.

She says it is clear that more needs to be done to ensure equal representation for women at all levels of government in the future.

“This is in clear conflict of the legislation that guides municipal elections. The legislation calls for 50 percent representation of women on the councils, but it says political parties must ‘endeavour to get there’. Clearly this is not working.”

Hicks says there are two methods available to address the inequality of women in government. Firstly, through legislation and secondly gender groups, activists and other non-governmental organisations must engage with political parties to convince them to push up their numbers.

The low female representation in local government is despite the fact that a majority of voters polled by IPS said they were voting for female candidates, no matter which party they stood for.

In Auckland Park, a suburb of Johannesburg, nine out of eleven voters canvassed on election day said they were voting for the women candidate, not matter which party they stood for.

“Women are more trustworthy,” said 81-year-old Kathleen*. “They are not in politics for the money, they are here to make a change.”

Others questioned were not as vocal, but most of them also supported the female candidate.

After the votes were counted, however, women are falling way short of targets. More than half of the South African population are women but only 37 percent of the candidates in this year’s election were women. Even more dismal were the election results as less than one in five councillors elected are women.

But some political parties say that although they were involved in ensuring that they had women on their ballot sheets, they do not believe in the quota system.

Dr. Pieter Mulder, party leader of Freedom Front Plus, said his party was actively recruiting women before Wednesday’s election.

“In the Free State, for example,” Mulder said, “some 38 percent of our candidates are women. They were mostly young women as well. But they came to the floor on merit … the people nominated them and I think that is good. “I don’t think to nominate women as representatives, based on a quota system, is good for women.”

Mulder did not want to commit himself to equal representation for women candidates in the South African government, “as this practice is artificial and bad for the image of women.”

On the day before the election, the outgoing chief electoral officer, Pansy Tlakula, expressed her concern about the skewed gender representation in South Africa and said if the situation does not improve, the country may have to legislate to address the issue.

Mulder disagreed, and so did the leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA), Helen Zille.

“We don’t believe in quotas,” Zille said, “we believe in fitness for the purpose. The DA has a female party leader, the party with which we are in a merger, currently, has a women leader (the Independent Democrats). The national spokesperson (of the DA) is a woman and we are all there because we can do the job.”

Lisa Vetten, of the Tswaranang Legal Advocacy Centre, said South African women need to be more involved in the daily running of government, on a local, provincial and National level. And that will only happen if their numbers in government are closer to the percentage women make up of the South African population.

“… Sometimes you need to do different things … even if they are not the most popular … to ensure equality, fairness and justice,” Vetten said.

The ruling African National Congress (ANC) saw a drop in overall support, with 61 percent of the vote from 64 percent in 2006. The ANC still controls the majority of local councils in South Africa, followed in a distant second by the DA, which received 24 percent of the total votes cast. Almost one in five South Africans voted in the May 18 election, compared to less than one in five in 2006.

*Not her real name.

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