Address at the 2nd Annual Women in Politics Africa 2010, by
Deputy Minister of Correctional Services, Professor Hlengiwe Mkhize, MP South Africa, Gold Reef City
21 Oct 2010
Chairperson, Commissioner Yvette Abrahams
Deputy Minister: Department of Tourism, Honorable Thokozile Xasa
MEC: Limpopo Department of Health and Social Development, Hon Miriam Segabutla
Chairperson, Independent Electoral Commission, Dr Brigalia Bam
Vice Chairperson: National Council, Namibia, Honorable Margaret Mensah-Williams
President: BCP Women Wing Chairperson, Botswana, Honorable Joyce Mothudi
Ladies and gentlemen
It is an honour for me to be given the opportunity to speak during this conference and a pleasure to contribute to a topic that is close to my heart. Today I will be speaking on the topic of “Becoming President of Your Country-What is Holding Women Back”. In doing this I have elected to use the South African experience as a case study, to look at some of the factors that, despite the significant progress made, contribute to keeping women out of the political process. It is my hope that in discussing these, we can also draw parallels with sister countries in our continent at the similar development level.
The Freedom Charter
On 26 June 1955 the Congress of the People met in Kliptown and adopted the Freedom Charter which, among other things declared that:
“We, the people of South Africa, declare for all our country and for all to know: that South Africa belongs to all who live in it,…that our country will never be prosperous, or free until our people live in brotherhood, enjoying equal rights and opportunities…”
I have always regarded the freedom charter, the African National Congress’ founding document, to have been forward looking and indeed light years ahead of its time. Even during the darkest days of apartheid South Africa, the oppressed majority of our people, as represented by the African National Congress, believed in the equality of all races and sexes. These are the values that have guided the African National Congress over time and are the values that became part of our democratic government and indeed our body politic after the victorious 1994 elections. Our Constitution and the attendant policy framework bear testimony to this charge.
Some, among you, may wonder why I am evoking the values and norms of the freedom charter during a seemingly unrelated occasion. Let me explain. My reminiscing about the freedom charter is occasioned by the imminent 100 years centenary of the African National Congress in 2012. Despite its 100 years of fighting for non-racism and non-sexism and the increasing number of women in Parliament, the African National Congress is yet to elect a woman as its president.
The democratic state machinery and gender equality
History teaches us that when societies transform the dominant value systems of patriarchy, racism and sexism do not disappear completely but they transmute and continue to stalk our societies in more subtle forms. Commenting on the persistence of dominant value systems, Former President Mbeki during his address on the occasion of the Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture stated “The dominant social values (in our case those such as racism, sexism, tradition, religion and patriarchy) manifest in the democratic state machinery that had, seemingly “seamlessly”, replaced the apartheid state machinery. The new order born of victory in 1994, inherited a well entrenched value system”
I am raising all this not to denigrate our glorious movement but to point out that the intention to do good, however noble in its purpose, does not guarantee that such good will be done.
It is increasingly clear to me that our society needed more than just to transform, but needed a revolution. In his celebrated book “The structure of Scientific Revolutions” Thomas Kuhn points out that all major scientific breakthroughs and discoveries, were marked by a break with tradition. All revolutions, by definition, seek to replace one social order with another. It is for this reason that I make bold to say that we need a socio-political revolution, that will uproot the dominant value system that continues to block women from being, as the topic suggests “Presidents of their own country” and replace it with a new social order and a value system that not only makes it possible for the girl-child to aspire to be President, but actively encourages it.
Towards a society amenable to women involvement in political processes
But what will this desired social order look like? What will need to be done to realise this new look South Africa that is amenable to women joining the political process? Nadezdha Shvedova in International IDEA’s Handbook: Women in Parliament: Beyond numbers identified a number of areas that need re-looking, as a first step towards approximating the ideal.
I found these to resonate with the South African conditions:
Education and Training: There is an urgent need to expand the pool of women who are qualified for recruitment in political careers. One way to do this is to give women access, from an early age, to work patterns that are conducive to political leadership, such as special training in community-based organisations. Common understanding of the concerns of women, gendered political awareness raising, lobbying skills and networking are important for the process of training women for political careers. Women’s leadership schools play a special role. Special attention should be given to young women in political participation.
Political Party Support: Women play an important role in campaigning and mobilising support for their parties, yet they rarely occupy decision-making positions. The selection and nomination process within political parties is also biased against women in that “male characteristics’ are emphasised and often become the criteria in selecting candidates. An old boy’s club atmosphere and prejudices inhibit and prohibit politically inclined women from integrating themselves into their party’s work. Women are often put in a party list in order that they not be elected, if their party wins insufficient votes in an election.
Cooperation with grassroots women organisations: Grassroots women organisations need to work with political and government institutions, to secure electoral changes to facilitate women’s nomination and election. In recently developed or partially developed democracies, there are limited contact and cooperation between women politicians and women’s organisations as they tend to keep their distance from women MP’s. They do not invest in organised channels of communications and lobbying on issues related to promoting women to decision making-levels. Experiences in established democracies reveal that women organisations do affect women representation in Parliament.
Socio-economic Obstacles: In South Africa like in most developing democracies, poverty and unemployment are feminised. It goes without saying that the social and economic status of women in society has a direct influence on their participation in political institutions and elected bodies.
The effect of development and culture on women representation: Development correlates with women’s representation levels. Development leads to a weakening of traditional values, decreased fertility rates, increased urbanisation, greater education and work force participation for women and attitudinal changes in perceptions regarding the appropriate role for women – these factors increase women’s political resources and decrease existing barriers to political activity.
Development increases the number of women who are likely to have formal positions and experience. Culture is related to development and, as development increases, women’s standing in society relative to men becomes more equal. More women start to acquire the resources needed to become politically powerful – resources such as education, salaried labour force experience and training in the professions that dominate politics. This leads to the formation of a critical mass. When the number of women with the necessary resources becomes substantial, they then start to become an effective interest group demanding greater representation.
The dual burden: Women also have to contend with the dual burden of domestic tasks and professional obligations. A traditional, strong patriarchal value system favours sexually segregated roles, and traditional cultural values militate against the advancement, progress and participation of women in any political process. The image of a women leader requires that she be asexual in her speech and manners.
The more authoritative and “manly” a woman is, the more she corresponds to the undeclared male rules of the game.
Eradicating the prevalent masculine model of political life and of elected governmental bodies: Political life is organised according to male norms and values, in some cases, even male lifestyles. For instance the political model is based on the idea of competition and confrontation, rather than on mutual respect, collaboration and consensus building. This environment is often alien to women. The result is that women reject politics altogether. The content and priorities of decision making is different for men and women. Women tend to give priority to societal concerns such as social security, national health care and children’s issues.
The role of the mass media: In any society the media has two roles – to serve as chronicler of current events and as an informer of public opinion. Often the media tends to minimise coverage of events of interest to women. The media, including women publications, does not adequately inform the public about the rights and roles of women in society. Women’s job is to build a civilised society according to a paradigm that reflects their values, strengths and aspirations, thereby reinforcing their ability to be attracted to and to participate in political processes.
The limitations and obstacles to women attaining a political role, not only deny them their democratic rights, but also undermine democracy. Democracy does not mean political rights for males citizens only and it should not in any way be discriminatory in its application. The extent of women participation in political leadership of any society is the litmus test of the progress of democracy. It is my fervent hope that as we celebrate 100 years of the ANC’s existence, we take the time to review the work done and to plan ahead for another 100 years.
Let me conclude my address with a quote from Anna Tibaijuka, Professor, of Tanzania
“Women have tried to enter politics trying to look like men. This will not work. We have to bring our differences, our emotions, our way of seeing things, even our tears to the process”.
I thank you.
Source: Department of Correctional Services
Issued by: Department of Correctional Services
21 Oct 2010
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